Mommie Dearest Must Die (Series Review: “Ordeal by Innocence”)


For anyone who thinks they’ve got the most dysfunctional family on the planet, here’s an Agatha Christie murder mystery that will send you shrieking to therapy. Welcome home!

SnapShot Plot

In this sinister and (frankly) titillating adaptation of the 1958 Christie novel, Ordeal by Innocence opens on a recent Christmas Eve when the matriarch of a wealthy British family is brutally murdered, and all fingers point to one of her many adopted children. The young man – Jack – is summarily found guilty and sent to prison, until almost 2 years later when the real story begins. A stranger appears out of the blue claiming they convicted the wrong man, further asserting that he himself is Jack’s alibi.

Thus begins a potboiler family drama with a fine ensemble cast led by the renowned actress, Anna Chancellor (forever known as ‘Duckie’ in Four Weddings & A Funeral) whose character Rachel makes the Joan Crawford ‘Mommie Dearest’ legend look like Mother Hubbard in comparison. The patriarch of the family is the inimitable Bill Nighy, which would have been reason alone to see this 3-part miniseries. But the rest of the cast is uniformly impressive, including Matthew Goode, Ella Purnell (Wildlike on Netflix), Anthony Boyle, Morven Christie, Crystal Clarke, and Alice Eve. It seems everyone had good and solid reasons for hating Rachel, a woman with absolutely no maternal instinct yet who persisted in adopting children as if it were an aristocratic hobby. So if Jack’s alibi proves correct, it makes solving the mystery that much harder with so many suspects and the secrets and grudges just piling up by the minute. . . classic Christie.



Parting Shot

Adapted from the original text by Sarah Phelps and directed by Sandra Goldbacher, the series does well for keeping to the mores of upper crust British life in the 1950s, yet the script and characters’ expositions benefit from the more modern, psychological inferences this kind of story begs. Keeping it to a 3-part episodic was smart, too; it’s a perfect rainy day weekend screening. Visually, this production is a stunner, with Downton Abbey-like attention to costumes, sets and props. And the exterior shots of the estate are lushly photographed, making us just a bit envious of that lifestyle. . . of course until we realize that all rolling hills and titles in the world can’t make up for a good life.

Ordeal by Innocence is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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YouTube Trailer:

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