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'Ordeal by Innocence' spins Agatha Christie into juicy miniseries

Amazon is ramping up production of new programming, but in the meantime the streaming service is making the ...

Posted: Aug 10, 2018 1:05 PM
Updated: Aug 10, 2018 1:05 PM

Amazon is ramping up production of new programming, but in the meantime the streaming service is making the most out of British imports -- and specifically, miniseries. After the splendid "A Very English Scandal" comes "Agatha Christie's Ordeal by Innocence," a star-speckled three-part mystery, juicily constructed from one of the prolific crime writer's later works.

Focusing on the Argylls, another one of those wealthy, completely messed-up aristocratic families (hey, not everyone can be the "Downton Abbey" gang), the plot focuses on the murder of a wealthy woman (Anna Chancellor), which prompted the arrest and conviction of one of her adopted sons.

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Eighteen months later -- as the widowed dad (Bill Nighy) is preparing to marry his former secretary -- an alibi for the kid shows up, throwing the event into understandable turmoil, and suddenly turning everybody in the house into a suspect, hiding a dizzying array of potential motives.

Beyond Nighy and Chancellor (the latter relegated largely to flashbacks, naturally), the cast of characters in this handsome BBC production includes Matthew Goode, Alice Eve and Ella Purnell.

Writer Sarah Phelps has taken considerable liberties with the original story, and there are plenty of tawdry elements baked into it. Given the period trappings and look, those flourishes feel especially juicy, since the upper lips here are about as stiff as they come, with Nighy muttering foreboding lines like, "Everything's coming home to roost."

If there's one thing that's notably missing, it's the absence of a Christie master detective to sniff out what transpired. That makes unraveling what happened a bit less zesty, but also allows the storytelling to feel more realistic, dark and erotic than the author's more fanciful works.

The project does carry one significant footnote: Ed Westwick was replaced, and his scenes were reshot, in the wake of sexual-assault allegations against him that surfaced last year. (Prosecutors decided not to file charges against the actor in July.)

Amazon has a trio of Christie adaptations in the pipeline, and "Ordeal by Innocence" marks a fine way to inaugurate that collaboration. Granted, it seems like every U.S. channel is snapping up British drama these days to help flesh out its lineup, making this slick adaptation less distinctive; still, there's a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for good mysteries, and adding this one to the menu isn't an ordeal at all.

"Agatha Christie's Ordeal by Innocence" premieres Aug. 10 on Amazon.

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