Ordeal by Innocence

The Beeb’s latest blockbusting Agatha Christie adaptation may have arrived a bit later than scheduled (it was bumped from Christmas and re-shot to remove the actor Ed Westwick, who is facing sex abuse allegations) – but, once here, it didn’t waste any time getting down to business. In the first four minutes we saw Anna Chancellor’s chilly matriarch Rachel Argyll bludgeoned to death with a decanter, her ‘demon seed’ adopted son Jack jailed for the murder, the introduction of a mystery man offering a potential alibi, and Jack’s own death in prison – all before the opening credits.

Fast-forward 18 months, and widower Leo Argyll (the great Bill Nighy) is on the verge of marrying his gold-digging secretary (Alice Eve). His squabbling brood will submit to this new wicked stepmother over their dead bodies – which, this being a Christie, is not necessarily just a metaphor. Though so far the only other victim is Leo’s son-in-law Philip (Matthew Goode), a crippled flying ace-turned-viper in the nest who treated his wife Mary (Poldark’s Eleanor Tomlinson) like a ‘whipped dog’, and took sadistic pleasure in dropping at least three emotional grenades before breakfast. He had it coming, is what I’m saying.

Argyll is lord of the manor at Sunny Point, which in reality is about as sunny as a black hole. A suffocating mausoleum of dark secrets and poisonous sibling rivalries, with skeletons rattling around in every closet, you could stab the atmosphere with a kitchen knife.

In reaching for ‘cinematic’, Sandra Goldbacher’s showy direction – all swelling strings and slo-mo, punctuated by artful close-ups of chiming clocks and coils of crimson blood – is in danger of tipping over into full gothic pastiche at times. But Sarah Phelps’ script is thrilling, pulse-quickening stuff, retooling Christie’s drawing room mystery as a fevered, full-blooded melodrama. 

It’s also a story that appears to be as much about sex as death. Was Agatha Christie always this erotic? Have I been missing the smouldering sexual subtext of Miss Marple all these years? It would certainly explain why Poirot’s always got that funny little smile on his face.

TV extra:


Cunk on Britain

Diane Morgan’s gloriously vacant creation continued her odyssey through the history of this sceptred isle with her unique take on the Tudors (including ‘will.i.am Shakespeare’), the English Civil War (‘like fight between Wayne Rooney and Noel Fielding’) and the Restoration. Along the way, she suggested Isaac Newton’s greatest contribution to the world was Tipping Point, and that Matt Baker would make a good Pope. #Fakenews has rarely been such fun.


In the Long Run

Idris Elba’s first sitcom, based on his own childhood on a Hackney council estate, mixes 80s nostalgia – He-Man, Bullseye, Berni Inns – with less fondly remembered moments of casual racism (‘How would you feel if your wife slept with a black man?’ Elba’s neighbour, played by Bill Bailey, asked him). It’s more warmly amusing than laugh-out-loud funny, but anything that teams The Wire’s Stringer Bell with the late Bella Emberg is okay by me.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, April 12, 2018

(c) Waitrose Weekend