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Ordeal by Innocence (TV series)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ordeal by Innocence
Series titles over a house engulfed in flames
Based onOrdeal by Innocence
by Agatha Christie
Screenplay bySarah Phelps
Directed bySandra Goldbacher
Theme music composerStuart Earl
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of episodes3
Executive producer(s)
Producer(s)Roopesh Parekh
Running time57 minutes
Production company(s)Mammoth Screen
Agatha Christie Limited
Original networkBBC One
Original release1 April (2018-04-01) –
15 April 2018 (2018-04-15)
External links

Ordeal by Innocence is a three-part BBC drama that was first broadcast during April 2018. It is based on the Agatha Christie novel of the same name and is the third English-language filmed version to be broadcast. The drama stars Morven Christie, Bill Nighy, Anna Chancellor, Alice Eve and Eleanor Tomlinson amongst others.

The show was originally intended to be broadcast as part of the BBC Christmas programming but was held back due to original cast member Ed Westwick being accused of sexual assault. His scenes were later reshot with Christian Cooke taking his place.

The series attracted positive reviews despite some backlash over the changes made to the plot. The direction and styling were afforded particular praise. The series was released on DVD through Universal Pictures UK on 11 March 2019.[1]


Wealthy heiress Rachel Argyll is found bludgeoned to death in her palatial home where she lives with her husband, Leo; their five adopted children Mary, Mickey, Jack, Tina, and Hester; and their maid, Kirsten Lindquist. Jack is arrested for the crime as his fingerprints are found on the presumed murder weapon, but is killed in jail before he can stand trial.

Eighteen months later, Leo is set to marry his secretary Gwenda Vaughn, much to his children's dismay. A man named Arthur Calgary arrives and provides an alibi for Jack: he had given him a ride at the time of the murder. Calgary claims to have been working in the Arctic since the murder and only just learned about it. Leo believes him to be a charlatan and Mickey threatens him. Calgary is later approached by Mary's husband, Philip Durrant, who has become embittered towards the Argylls after being paralyzed in a car crash and suggests they work together to extort money from the family. Calgary rejects his offer but promises to clear Jack's name. Flashbacks reveal that Rachel was a cruel and unloving mother who alienated her children, leaving any of them with motive to murder her.

As Calgary returns to the Argyll estate, a car tries to run him down but crashes and kills the driver, Bellamy Gould, the police detective who investigated Rachel's murder. Calgary meets with Leo and admits that he had lied about his background. He was a scientist who had worked on the atomic bomb and suffered a mental breakdown from guilt. The night of the murder, Calgary escaped from a mental asylum and was recaptured after giving Jack a ride, and says that he saw another on the road that night. Durrant, having antagonized many of the family members, is confronted by the killer, who murders him via a drug overdose.

The next morning, Durrant's body is discovered by Leo and Calgary. The Argyll children and Kirsten begin to piece together what happened. Flashbacks show the events leading up to the murder. Jack, in an attempt to goad his mother, had confronted her with the fact that Mickey and Tina had become lovers. She, in turn, reveals to him that Kirsten is his biological mother and Leo his father, which causes him to flee the house. Rachel discovers Leo having an affair with Gwenda and threatens to divorce him, so he bludgeons her to death with one of his Egyptian statuettes. Bellamy Gould helps frame Jack, out of rage at Jack's affair with his wife. To prevent Jack from revealing the truth about his parentage, Leo and Bellamy conspire to have him killed before he can stand trial.

In the present, Calgary is taken away to the mental hospital on Leo's recommendation. Kirsten and the children confront Leo with their knowledge of his crime. Later that day, the police search for Leo, who has disappeared. Some time later, the Argyll siblings visit Calgary at the mental hospital, while Kirsten checks on Leo, imprisoned in the family's bomb shelter.

Differences from the novel

Just like many other novels and stories by Agatha Christie, Ordeal by Innocence is set in the West Country of England.[2] This production shifted the location to Scotland and it was filmed in and around Inverkip.[3]

The family name in the book is Argyle, whereas it is spelt Argyll in the programme (although the pronunciation is the same).[4] The main suspect character, Jack, is called Jacko in the book,[5] and he dies in prison from pneumonia instead of being beaten to death.

With regard to characters, Kirsten Lindstrom, the family's housekeeper, is a middle-aged Nordic woman in the novel, a detail that plays a key role in the book's solution; in the miniseries, she is depicted as a Scottish woman in her thirties, who is one of Rachel's foundlings. The subplot of her and Leo being the biological parents of Jack was created for the series. Dr Calgary is portrayed as mentally disturbed in this version, putting his testimony into doubt, whereas in the book his testimony is seen as reliable from the very beginning. Other characters, such as Gwenda Vaughan, Mary Durrant, and Hester Argyll, are portrayed less uncritically than they were in the novel: Gwenda is bossy and smug, Mary is deeply embittered, and Hester is a secret alcoholic.

The solution has also been radically altered. In the book, the murderer is Kirsten, who is seduced by Jacko and instructed to kill Rachel. Jacko then intends to use Calgary to establish an alibi for himself, but this backfires when the police are unable to locate him.


Changes in cast

  1. ^ Catherine Keener was originally cast in the role of Rachel Argyll.[8]
  2. ^ Ed Westwick was originally cast in the role of Mickey Argyll.[8]


The mystery drama was adapted for the screen by Sarah Phelps who was behind the previous two Christie adaptations for the BBC over the Christmas period (And Then There Were None and The Witness for the Prosecution).[11] Phelps acknowledged changing some elements of the story, particularly the ending, and when asked about what the purists might think, she responded "I don’t give a bollocks about people saying it has to be pure. No, it doesn’t. If you want a pure adaptation, go and get someone else to do it."[12]

The three-parter was filmed in, and around, the town of Inverkip in the Inverclyde district west of Glasgow. Ardgowan House was used as the Argyll family home of Sunny Point.[13]

The series was originally supposed to have been broadcast over the Christmas and New Year holidays of 2017/2018, but was cancelled due to the sexual assault allegations against Westwick. Its broadcast over the Eastertide of 2018 has split the series into three episodes across three weeks which has led to some dubbing it "ordeal by iPlayer".[14]


No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateUK viewers
1"Episode 1"Sandra GoldbacherSarah Phelps1 April 2018 (2018-04-01)7.80
Rachel Argyll falls to the floor, bleeding profusely from a wound to the back of her head caused by a whisky decanter. As her body is being carried off on a stretcher, one of her five adopted children, Jack, is fingerprinted and talks the crime over with his dad, Leo Argyll, at the police station. Jack is later beaten to death in prison and the family buries him. Eighteen months later, Leo Argyll is preparing to marry his secretary, Gwenda Vaughan. This sees the return of son Mickey to the house and the arrival of a strange visitor, Dr Arthur Calgary, who reveals that he gave a lift to Jack at the time that Rachel Argyll was murdered, thus proving belatedly Jack's innocence. The delay in coming forward is explained away by Calgary being a physicist who has been in the Arctic on a research project. Later, whilst Calgary is sleeping in his hotel room, Mickey Argyll goes to question him and warn him off. At the hotel, Philip Durrant, the husband of Rachel's eldest adopted daughter, joins Calgary for dinner to propose a plan to make money from Calgary's revelation by selling the story to the newspapers. Durrant, a former Royal Air Force pilot who was disabled in a car crash, is shown as an abusive husband and a morphine addict. His wife Mary Durrant is also nasty to Tina Argyll and tells Gwenda that she will never replace her mother.
2"Episode 2"Sandra GoldbacherSarah Phelps8 April 2018 (2018-04-08)6.11
Dr Calgary revisits Sunny Point and is spotted by Hester before Mickey forces him into a car and drives him to a railway station. He assaults Calgary and firmly puts him on a train and tells him to leave. Whilst in motion, Calgary gets the train to stop in the middle of nowhere so he can get off and go back. Over breakfast at Sunny Point, Phillip antagonises everyone and causes many arguments between the siblings. He points out that trying to hide the new found evidence from Calgary, would look suspicious to the police. Calgary later telephones the house with the housemaid, Kirsten, picking up the phone at the same time as Leo Argyll. Calgary informs Argyll that he is going to the police with Kirsten overhearing it all but saying nothing. Whilst Calgary is walking on the road, he is stopped by Bellamy Gould, Chief Constable and friend of Leo Argyll, who is driving a car. Gould questions Calgary's statement and seems to leave only to turn around and try to run Calgary down. Gould dies in trying, but Calgary survives. Calgary eventually gets a fair hearing from Leo Argyll and stays overnight at the house giving his version of events over dinner. The four remaining Argyll siblings meet later that night in the woods and argue about where they all were on the night of Rachel's murder and bicker in a display of sibling rivalry with Mary Durrant appearing as the most upset by events and how she feels the other children spoilt her relationship with Rachel. Near the end of the episode, Phillip Durrant is trying to leave the house when he hears footsteps behind him, he turns and says "of course it's you!". In the morning, Calgary reveals he wrote a detonation formula for the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this led him to go mad and be detained against his will at an asylum, not away at the Arctic, as he claimed in the first episode. On the night that Rachel died, he escaped and gave a lift to Jack. At breakfast, Calgary mentions that the shower in the Durrant's room has been going for some time. Leo Argyll and Calgary go to investigate and find Phillip Durrant dead on the floor of the shower with a hypodermic needle in his arm.
3"Episode 3"Sandra GoldbacherSarah Phelps15 April 2018 (2018-04-15)5.87
This episode runs over a very short time period but has flashbacks for all the characters and details their reasons for possibly being the killer of Rachel. Hester runs away from the house and when Rachel tracks her down, she drugs her and takes her to hospital where she instructs the doctor to terminate the pregnancy. Jack witnesses Mickey and Tina in a passionate embrace and uses this against Rachel. Later we see Rachel telling Tina that she is filth. When Rachel goes into Leo's study and discovers women's underwear on the floor, she goes to the very top floor of the house and catches Leo and Gwenda on the bed. She informs Gwenda that Leo has a habit of sleeping with the staff and that she is not the first. Gwenda retaliates in kind and Rachel smacks her across the face. Rachel tells Leo she is divorcing him and through the conversation, it is understood that the money is in her name and he will be penniless. When she leaves Leo's study, she is confronted by Mary who is upset that Rachel does not love her. Rachel tells her that she only adopted her because she was sad, and that it wasn't Mary's fault she could not stop her sadness. Jack witnesses this and is aghast, so he confronts his mother and she in turn tells him he is the son of Kirsten, the cook. Jack goes to see Kirsten and through another flashback, Jack is shown in the police station telling Leo that he knows that Leo is his father and that Kirsten is his mother. He tells Leo acidly that he will destroy him and ruin his life. Rachel is then shown being hit on the head with an Egyptian statuette by Leo and soon afterwards, Kirsten goes in to confront her about telling Jack of his parentage. Rachel dies in Kirsten's arms and the policeman, Gould, conspires with Leo to have Jack killed in prison. After Phillip is discovered dead, Leo has Calgary taken away to the asylum and Leo is confronted by his children and Kirsten who show him the statuette as the murder weapon, not the decanter that had Jack's fingerprints on it. Later, Gwenda and the four remaining children are shown on the dock by the lake dressed up for the wedding, but with police divers searching the lake. They tell Gwenda Leo killed himself after admitting to killing their mother. Later, the children are seen rescuing Calgary from the asylum. Meanwhile, Leo is shown waking up in the bunker underneath the house and pleading to be let out whilst Kirsten walks away smiling.


After the drama had completed filming, the actor playing the part of Mickey Argyll (Ed Westwick) was accused of sexual assault in 2014 by two women.[15] In the wake of other sexual assault scandals in 2017, the BBC decided to delay the broadcast pending an investigation into the allegations against Westwick.[16]

When a third woman came forward to allege another 2014 assault by Westwick, the BBC auditioned a new actor and re-shot Westwick's part with Christian Cooke. The BBC explained that as Ridley Scott had already done something similar with All the Money in the World (replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer),[17] they decided to re-shoot too as, as they described it, "hundreds and hundreds of hours of people's hard earned work would have been lost". Westwick has strenuously denied the allegations and had stated that nothing had been proven.[18]

Forty-five minutes of footage from 35 scenes was shot over 12 days with Christian Cooke.[12] The other actors in the production were drafted in and whilst most made the time, (one production personality described them all as very busy actors), not all of them were on set together at the same time. Alice Eve, who played Gwenda Vaughn, could not make it back from America and had to be split-screened into the new footage.[19] The actor Christian Cooke praised the production staff in getting things organised so quickly and, apart from one scene where Cooke's character has icy breath (in what was supposedly mid-summer), most critics agreed that the re-shoot went very well and that the production was "seamless".[20][21]

Critical reception

Lucy Mangan, writing in The Guardian, gave the first episode a maximum of five stars saying "The latest adaptation, rich, dark, adult and drawing on a backdrop of postwar grief and instability, are a far cry from the sunny – still murderous, but sunny – uplands scattered with millet seed for Joan Hickson to peck at as Miss Marple".[19]

Michael Hogan, writing in The Sunday Telegraph, gave the episode four stars out of a possible five saying that "initially, it was ponderous and confusing, with time-hops and a wide cast of characters", but that later "the pace steadily picked up [and] by the end of the hour, this whodunit had its hooks into me".[13] Also in The Sunday Telegraph, Ed Cumming described the series as "taut writing" but questioned the necessity for three episodes. He also noted that "everyone was so unlikeable".[22]

The Times gave the first episode four stars out of five and noted that in spite of the production having to have 35 scenes re-shot with new actor Christian Cooke, the production was seamless.[21] Similarly, the second episode was awarded four stars out of five. The reviewer lamented that the series had been "eked out over three weeks instead of a fortnight" but had described the episode as "rattling along rather nicely". Special mention was made of Matthew Goode who "...didn't just steal every scene he was in, he convinced us that the scene belonged to him in the first place".[23] The third episode also garnered four stars out of five from The Times. Carol Midgley said the ending where Leo Argyll ended up being locked away in the bunker by Kirsten, "unexpected". She also said that the plot was "overboiled" and did not show whether the "Argyll children were in on it, or did they think he'd drowned?". Midgley liked it overall and said that "apart from those final shark-jumping moments, I relished every other dark, delicious thing that the writer Sarah Phelps did to the story".[24]

The Radio Times reported that viewer feedback was positive although some had commented that the programme was confusing due to its forwards and backwards time jumps. Others criticised its soundtrack music and accused the male characters of looking too similar to each other.[25]


  1. ^ "Agatha Christie: Ordeal By Innocence [DVD]". Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  2. ^ Webb, Claire (1 April 2018). "Where is BBC Agatha Christie drama Ordeal by Innocence filmed?". Radio Times. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  3. ^ Coulter, Paul John (10 January 2018). "Film star Bill Nighy set for Ardgowan House return to re-shoot Agatha Christie drama". Greenock Telegraph. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  4. ^ Zemboy, James (2008). The Detective Novels of Agatha Christie: A Reader's Guide. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Publishers. p. 312. ISBN 978-0-7864-3914-0.
  5. ^ Billen, Andrew (31 March 2018). "Ordeal by Innocence: the Christie Mystery that almost got away". The Times (72497). Saturday Review. p. 4. ISSN 0140-0460.
  6. ^ a b "Episode 1, Series 1, Ordeal by Innocence - Credits - BBC One". Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  7. ^ "Meet the cast of Agatha Christie drama Ordeal by Innocence". Radio Times. 1 April 2018. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  8. ^ a b "Ordeal by Innocence casting". BBC Media Centre. 5 July 2017. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  9. ^ a b "Episode 2, Series 1, Ordeal by Innocence - Credits - BBC One". Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  10. ^ a b c "Episode 3, Series 1, Ordeal by Innocence - Credits - BBC One". Retrieved 6 April 2018.
  11. ^ Billen, Andrew (31 March 2018). "Ordeal by Innocence: the Christie Mystery that almost got away". The Times (72497). Saturday Review. pp. 4–5. ISSN 0140-0460.
  12. ^ a b Hughes, Sarah (25 March 2018). "Shot and shot again: the Agatha Christie TV mystery that rose from the dead". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  13. ^ a b Hogan, Michael (1 April 2018). "Ordeal by Innocence, review – this gripping, all-star whodunit was well worth the wait". The Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  14. ^ Clay, Joe (14 April 2018). "Critic's choice; Ordeal by Innocence". The Times (72509). Saturday Review. p. 28. ISSN 0140-0460.
  15. ^ Blankstein, Andrew; Ortiz, Erik (27 July 2018). "Ed Westwick won't be prosecuted over sexual assault allegations". NBC News. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  16. ^ "BBC One shelves drama after rape claims". BBC News. 10 November 2017. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  17. ^ Gilbert, Gerard (27 March 2018). "Actor Bill Nighy on BBC1's 'Ordeal of Innocence': 'I long to be typecast'". The Independent. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  18. ^ "How Ordeal by Innocence was re-shot". BBC News. 20 March 2018. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  19. ^ a b Mangan, Lucy (1 April 2018). "Ordeal By Innocence review - crime saga seamlessly sifts truth from lies". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  20. ^ Kennedy, Maev (30 March 2018). "Agatha Christie reshoot with Ed Westwick stand-in is 'seamless'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 April 2018.
  21. ^ a b Midgley, Carol (2 April 2018). "A delicious helping of murder most menacing". The Times (72498). Times 2. p. 10. ISSN 0140-0460.CS1 maint: location (link)
  22. ^ Cumming, Ed (8 April 2018). "Ordeal by Innocence, episode two review – Agatha Christie's legacy is safe with this masterful BBC adaptation". The Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  23. ^ Bennion, Chris (9 April 2018). "This heady whodunnit is rattling along nicely". The Times (72504). Times2. p. 10. ISSN 0140-0460.CS1 maint: location (link)
  24. ^ Midgley, Carol (16 April 2018). "I relished this murderous family and its secrets". The Times (72510). Times2. p. 10. ISSN 0140-0460.CS1 maint: location (link)
  25. ^ Allen, Ben (2 April 2018). "Viewers are already hooked on "brilliant" Ordeal By Innocence adaptation". Retrieved 3 April 2018.

External links

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