The BBC’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ final novel begins with a murder, portrayed in vibrant colours which seem almost out of place until it becomes apparent that what we are actually watching is an opium-fuelled hallucination, in which John Jasper (Matthew Rhys), the brooding choirmaster, throttles his nephew with his scarf. After he has roused himself from this hallucination, we learn that the aforementioned nephew, the eponymous Edwin Drood (Freddie Fox), is about to arrive in town to visit his betrothed, Rosa Bud (Tamzin Merchant).
Given the sequence of events which follows, he would have done better had he stayed away. He is cocky, boastful, and arrogant, and by the end of the hour-long first installment, most viewers are probably itching to reach into the screen and murder him themselves. Luckily, there are plenty of characters lining up to do the job for them. Chief among them, perhaps unsurprisingly, is John Jasper, who harbours an obsession with Edwin’s bride-to-be which everyone seems to be aware of except for Edwin. Rosa is also a possibility, unhappy with her fiancé’s high-handed treatment of her, although she seems unlikely to do anything but pout about her misfortune. But someone else has taken offence to that treatment, Neville Landless (Sacha Dhawan) is newly arrived from the East, and shows his quick temper when he picks a fight with Edwin not long after meeting him.
The presence of so many potential murderers, not to mention those whose involvement would be completely unexpected such as the seemingly benevolent Reverend Crisparkle (Rory Kinnear), his doting mother Mrs Crisparkle (Julia McKenzie), or Rosa’s guardian Mr Grewgious (Alun Armstrong), leads to a thrilling build up of tension. Unfortunately though, this is all ruined in the final few minutes, when the murder is committed and the murderer revealed to us.
This, to me, seemed a waste of all that well-crafted tension, which could easily have been left to build further, leaving the resolution of the mystery until the second and final installment. Dickens’ unfinished manuscript ended with Drood’s disappearance, not his death, and this would have been a more mysterious end to Episode 1 of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Perhaps I will be proven wrong in my suspicions, but for now I am left feeling that the mystery has been removed from the story too early, and I will be awaiting Episode 2 with less anticipation than I might have predicted.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Episode 1 will be repeated on BBC One at 01:25 on Tuesday 17th January. Episode 2 will air on Wednesday 11th January at 21:00 on BBC Two and again on Wednesday 18th January on BBC One. Both episodes are available on BBC iPlayer (Episode 2 will only be available after it has aired).
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