Thursday, December 11, 2014

Three Rendell movies

Here be spoilers...

We've watched three episodes from the ongoing series, Ruth Rendell Mysteries, over the last few days. They're not all from the same year, but have been bundled together as a package. The titles are Master of the Moor, Vanity Dies Hard, and A Case of Coincidence. 

Master of the Moor dates from 1994, and stars a youngish Colin Firth. It was made a year before his appearance in Pride and Prejudice. This was the least satisfactory of the stories. It seemed to be dragged out considerably over the three episodes. Firth plays Stephen Walby, a man whose main love is the moor. After meeting a woman artist working on it one day he's shocked to find her dead body the next. The detective working on the case immediately senses that Walby is the killer, and aims to charge him. Then another woman goes missing and Walby is able to lead the police to her body without difficulty. Meanwhile Walby's lonely wife, Lyn, played by Emma Croft, starts an affair with the young Londoner filling in at the local pet shop his for his sick uncle. He discovers that she's still a virgin, in spite of having been married for four years. Walby, whose mother left him suddenly when he was a boy, has been psychologically affected, and has an odd relationship with women. His father was also badly affected by his wife's departure, and, while he continues to work at his old job, is on medication and seeing a psychiatrist.
It's all a bit heavy going, not helped by the policeman seeming to be as odd as everyone else. A new character is introduced late in the proceedings (new in a sense; we've seen him before without knowing who he was - and he's odd too!) and is briefly suspected by Walby himself, and then Lyn is killed. The whole thing turns upside down and Walby and his Dad prove to be the murderers between them. Not one of Rendall's best - unless it's the adaptation that's at fault. The cast do their very best with it, but since they're all hiding things from each other it becomes a bit overwrought.
We were a bit inclined not to watch the second film, but it turned out to be much better, and keeps you guessing right till the end.
It concerns a wealthy woman who marries a younger man, who's not of the same station (as the woman's unpleasant uncle keeps reminding everyone). The main thrust of the story is that eventually the woman begins to suspect she's being poisoned and finally comes to the conclusion that it must be her husband, because he wants to get his hands on her money. But intertwined with this is a complex story about the woman's friend who apparently goes missing. Halfway through we think it's the husband who's killed her off. The suspicions keep shifting until at the end we realise that we should have known who the murderer was all along (we're kept guessing in part because we're not even sure that there has been a murder!) This was a much more satisfactory piece, with lots of red herrings, some clever casting (it has hints of Hitchcock's Suspicion, especially in the way it casts a handsome young man as the husband, but one who could easily be an outright liar), and a continually involving story.
Michael Fitzgerald, in a
completely different role.
The third film, A Case of Coincidence, is shorter than the other two, and concerns the murder of five women in a marshland area. Four of the women, it turns out, have been murdered by the same man (this is discovered in a rather odd way, and isn't very believable), but whether the fifth was killed by the same man or not, isn't so easy to work out...for the police, that is. We're pretty certain early on that she wasn't. Her husband, a top surgeon, lives something of a separate life from his wife, and after her death keeps fainting or sweating heavily or being given medication and put to bed (by a fellow-surgeon, a female, who's plainly madly in love with him) and not really getting back to work. His over-protective mother turns up and treats the woman surgeon like a kind of high-class maid, but the surgeon herself is equally over-protective. Fatally, as it happens.The half-wit murderer of the other four is accused of the fifth murder as well, and is hung. But the husband, as we guessed, murdered his wife, and seemingly because someone else has been tried and hung for the crime, can't be convicted. This seemed a bit odd.
However, the cast is superb, and does a terrific job with a rather unbelievable story (it's an adaptation of a short story by Rendall, and it seems almost as though the adaptor had got himself in a bit of a tangle). Michael Fitzgerald (see picture), as the 'half-wit' man convicted of the crimes, is marvellously moving.

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