Thursday, May 17, 2012

Malice Aforethought (TV)

Directed by
Cyril Coke
Written by Philip Mackie, from a novel by Francis Iles (Anthony Berkeley Cox)
Starring Hywel Bennett, Judy Parfitt, Cheryl Campbell
IMDB Entry

Anthony Berkeley Cox wrote mysteries, but didn’t seem to like to admit the fact.  He wrote a series of stories and novels starring the detective Roger Sherringham, using the pseudonym of Anthony Berkeley (and the first of those originally had no author’s name at all).  He also wrote a series of books using the name “Francis Iles.”  Cox seemed to have an affinity toward poisoners, and that’s the situation in his book Malice Aforethought.  The book was first dramatized in 1979, and British miniseries that played on Mystery! on PBS in the US.

Doctor BickleighIn it, Dr. Edmund Bickleigh (Hywel Bennett) decides to murder his wife, Julia (Judy Parfitt).*  And he succeeds – only to have his plans slowly unravel.

The story is more than just its outline.  Bickleigh is a sympathetic man, shown as being badly henpecked by Julia and pathetically showing a schoolboy crush on other women.  He also has a nice sense of humor, making the viewer sympathize with him and his goal.

But there were two things that always impressed me about the miniseries.  Most importantly, the way the show made us change our opinions of the characters.  Both Bickleigh and Julia are not what the appear at first, and the change in our impressions is handled brilliantly.

Hywel Bennett makes Bickleigh come alive in a very strong performance.

The other is far more minor, if more personal.  One of the minor characters is a woman named Quarnian Torr.  I loved her first name, and used it for the protagonist of my science fiction novel.

The miniseries was rerun a couple of times, then forgotten.  And, in 2005, the BBC made a new version of the story, which means the earlier one is further obscured.

*Note to those who fear spoilers:  this fact is laid out immediately.  The book begins: “It was not until several weeks after he decided to murder his wife that Dr. Bickleigh took any active steps in the matter. Murder is a serious business. The slightest slip may be disastrous. Dr. Bickleigh had no intention of risking disaster.” This narration is also used in the miniseries.

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