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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Make no mistake, despite the title, this BBC adaptation really is not Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence.  It is without doubt writer Sarah Phelps’s Ordeal by Innocence, and it stands out as the best of her recent adaptations of Christie’s works.  In many ways, the 2018 television series is better than its source material.  Phelps is known for adding prurient subtext and graphic imagery to her film versions, efforts that typically seem uncomfortably gratuitous (such as the gore and sado-masochism in The ABC Murders, reviewed here at borg).  But in the case of Ordeal by Innocence, the delivery is more even-handed and her departures make the story better.  I came into the three-part miniseries immediately after reading Christie’s novel.  Published in 1958, Ordeal by Innocence centers around the classic mystery trope of the missing alibi witness, but with a tragic twist.

One lonesome night, scientist Arthur Calgary (played by Attack the Block’s Luke Treadaway) picks up a hitchhiker, and then is unavoidably detained, unaware that his testimony could make or break a murder trial.  Jack Argyll (Jacko in the novel, played here by Derry Girls’ Anthony Boyle) has been convicted of the murder of his adopted mother, philanthropist Rachel Argyll, matriarch of a clan of adopted children and assorted other household members.  Jack, with his contentious relationship with Rachel and a history of petty crime, seems the ideal suspect for the crime.  When Dr. Calgary appears long after the fact to clear Jack’s name, his mission of mercy and justice is met with strange reactions from all involved.  It’s almost as if they want brother and son Jack to be guilty.

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