Add a Review

  • Warning: Spoilers
    If this film were a spoof, a send-up, a parody of a typical PBS Mystery Show, it would succeed admirably. But it is not. We are intended to take it seriously, and suffer a 160-minute disaster, which proves again that the PBS Mystery Show is off the rails.

    This film starts promisingly by introducing us to Dr. Edmund Bickleigh and his older, overbearing wife, Julia. But it never makes clear how this mismatched couple came to be married. Julia was of the upper class and remains a snob. Edmund Bickleigh had told Julia and others that his father was a doctor, but in reality, his father was a quack who sold a nostrum made of gin, chalk dust, and sugar syrup that his father and mother cooked up in their kitchen. With no explanation of how this twosome met and came to marry, we'll just have to accept their marriage as "the given" of this show. Plausibility is definitely not this film's strong point.

    Into a nearby mansion moves the young and beautiful Madeleine Cranmere. Beautiful is probably not the correct word--flashy, trendy, and perhaps even tacky would be more appropriate to describe her looks. Anyone with an iota of sense would understand immediately that this woman was a phony and on the make. But not Edmund. He quickly falls in lust with her, and with her ardent encouragement, they begin an affair--a sexless affair, however, for Madeleine always stops Edmund before they can have sex. Her object is marriage to a rich man, for she is actually broke and on the lam from French debt collectors.

    Madeleine is supposed to be the femme fatale of this mystery, but she is so badly acted by Megan Dodds that she's a caricature, a hoot--appropriate for a spoof but not a serious film. Even her obvious blond wig was funny. In every scene that she appeared, I watched closely to see how bad her acting would be.

    At this point, viewers will fall out of sympathy with Edmund, and the film begins to fail, for there is no other character to sympathize with. Edmund is obviously a fool propelled by his gonads, hot to trot with any available woman. We learn that Julia knows of several affairs Edmund has had over the years but ignored them because the women were "lower class." The remaining characters are domineering (the wife), nags (Ivy), liars and fakes (Madeleine), adulterers, drunks (Madeleine's husband Denny), stupid, unperceptive (Rev. Hessary Torr), gossips, hypocrites, etc. The viewer is set adrift and can only watch what has now become a predictable drama unfold.

    To be able to marry Madeleine, Edmund plots to kill Julia and does so. But it's too late. By the time Edmund has administered a fatal dose of morphine to Julia, Madeleine has already agreed to marry Denny Bourne, a rich young alcoholic. In his eagerness to stop this marriage, Edmund declares himself available, stupidly revealing to Madeleine that Julia is dead--BEFORE Julia's body is found and their maid phones Edmund at Madeleine's place to inform him of his wife's death.

    The plot goes on and on, ricocheting from one film noir cliché to another, eventually ending up with the biggest cliché of all--Edmund found not guilty of the murder he did commit but convicted and hanged for one he did NOT commit.

    We have a trial scene here that marks the nadir of the film and perhaps of the entire PBS Mystery Series itself. The judges are stereotyped bewigged old farts asking their long, involved questions in plumy tones. The spectators hum and haw and gasp on cue. If this film were a spoof, this courtroom scene would be perfection.

    "Malice Aforethought" has already been made once for the Mystery series. Why did we need another version, and a poor one at that? Is this what PBS is using my donations for? The new Miss Marple series gives the old woman a backstory consisting of an adulterous relationship with a soldier who is killed in World War I, a Miss Marple who reads Raymond Chandler (Could anyone be further from Philip Marlowe than Miss Marple?) and, in the first episode's conclusion, the grisly reality of showing the two culprits being readied for their hangings. Please! No more of this Marple series for me, despite Geraldine McEwan.

    According to Spoto's biography of Alfred Hitchcock, page 341, just after Hitchcock had finished "I Confess," Hitchcock wanted to turn Malice Aforethought into a film starring Alec Guinness as the mild-mannered but murderous doctor. However, Guinness would not be available to make the film for at least a year, so Hitchcock went on to "Dial M for Murder." I wonder what Hitchcock would have made of this novel had he filmed it. Hitchcock made some stinkers in his day, but I don't think he would have made one this bad
  • So, you can't help feel sorry for Dr. Bickleigh...his older wife constantly puts him down, bosses him around, and is a general pain in the butt. He isn't a saint himself, he chose to marry her and also to have numerous women on the side. All the while tho, you can't help but root for Bickleigh and hope that he gets away with his actions. A horrifying idea really, since his motives are quite evil. Even worse, when you watch the film, you start to think to yourself that his motives aren't that evil at all, and you almost understand why he does what he does. Maybe, in the same situation, you might think of plotting the way he does as well.

    Odd how a film can make you feel the opposite of what you should feel morally and reasonably. But this story does just that, and to me that's a sign of a good story when it can affect you on that level.

    The cast is wonderful, and the settings are gorgeous- you never once feel as if you're watching a modern day tale merely set in the early part of the century, you just feel like you're there with them in a small British town, nearly a century in the past.

    Ben Miller, who I only saw once before in a British comedy series called The Worst Week of My Life, was great as Bickleigh. He played the part so well, he was the real reason you rooted for him even when he was acting in such vile ways. He did a good of making you sympathize with the character and you easily found yourself understanding why he did what he did.

    The plot was interesting, nothing too fancy or complicated, but a few twists were thrown in. I had no idea what the final outcome would ultimately be, and in the end, I was partly smiling to myself due to irony of it all, and I was also partly upset because it didn't seem as believable as the rest of the story. It seemed too easy the way things turned out, and after all that happened, it doesn't make sense that this would be his downfall- especially since there were some logical holes with the way things turned out. (I'm trying to explain this without spoiling any of the plot!) Anyhow, a nice piece of storytelling here, which is usually the case with the Mystery! films.
  • What a lovely, absorbing production. Bursting with period style supported by actors clearly enjoying the opportunity given to them. Ben Miller especially and intensely so.

    Even the most grotesquely contrived modern TV soap story line would struggle to compete with this dark plot. Love, sex, greed, jealousy, murder most foul and to cap it off, a twist in the tail.

    Most of all I enjoyed the pace. I dare say the whole thing could have been crammed into a Miss Marple style one hour afternoon TV filler but thankfully it wasn't. Three hours was timed to perfection. Enough time to absorb the period whilst the plot unfolds at a suitably measured pace.

    Unlike some two part TV dramas, there's no padding. We don't experience the disappointment of a promising first part followed by a damp squid second.

    A credit to all involved, especially it's producers.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    More murders take place in Britsh films and television than have ever occurred in reality. Moreover, the best of these crime stories are set in beautiful, almost idyllic surroundings, so that it becomes true that 'every prospect pleases, and only man is vile'. And, the people in this village are vile indeed. They are so mean-spirited, filled with gossip, selfish and conniving, and purposefully hurtful, that one feels sympathy for the murderer and wishes that he not only get away with his crime, but that he gets rid of the whole lot of his neighbors, too. The vicar is a schemer, revelling in local gossip, without a charitable thought in his body. His wife tells him that he has absolutely no knowledge of human nature, which is the reason he's a clergyman. His fat daughter is a block off the old chip. The elderly spinster sisters have not had a kind or decent thought in their heads since puberty and are certainly long overdue in meeting their Maker. The young women with whom the murderer has consorted are extremely beautiful and embarrassingly stupid. The young men in the village are even less intelligent, simply meaner. The locale, on the other hand, is exquisite. The furnishings and costumes are wonderfully evocative of rural England between the wars. The art direction, therefore, is typically marvelous. The English do it better than anybody. The script is intelligent and crisp. The story moves swiftly. The sex is moderately discreet but the hot-blood frequently surges. It's a pleasure to watch. What this village needs, however, is one of those old "Cobalt Bombs", the kind that destroys all the living creatures, but leaves the buildings and vegetation intact. They hardly will be missed, they hardly will be missed, I have a little list.
  • I had the great pleasure of watching installment one of this film on PBS last night. All I can say is "wow." The Brits have, done it again! Amazing setting, great costuming and Ben Miller as Dr. Edmund Bickleigh is amazing.

    I am an independent director and am preparing a short film for the State of Virginia set in the Revolutionary War and if we weren't so short for time (and sadly, budget, I'm sure Ben would cost a packet) I would SCRAMBLE to get him to play SOME part in this film! He has an intensity that I have not seen recently and his character is entirely believable.

    The rest of the cast is just as impressive: Barbar Flynn, Lucy Brown, all of them absolutely amazing.

    If you haven't yet seen this film and have the opportunity to do so, I could not recommend it more enthusiastically.

    Semper Fidelis, Sean Annapolis, MD
  • Several reviewers have asked why Bickleigh married his wife in the first place. I haven't read the book, or been able to view this 2005 remake, but I've seen the 1979 version a couple of times and was amused by the plot and impressed with the acting. In the 1979 version, Mrs. Bickleigh - a delightfully authoritarian Judy Parfitt - states that they didn't love each other when they married, but she needed to "get away from a situation at home." The book by Francis Iles (one of Anthony Berkeley Cox's nommes de plume) is available for a few dollars from eBay, and that probably has more background on Mrs. B's problem at home before marrying the slick doctor.

    In 1979, Madeleine was superbly played by the always-wonderful Cheryl Campbell. Please catch that version if you can, it's in four 50-minute installments, without feeling like three and a half hours. Denny is not an alcoholic in that one, and there wasn't a hint of any French or other nationality creditors pursuing Madeleine.
  • From 2005, "Malice Aforethought" is another adaptation of the 1931 book by Anthony Berkeley, this one starring Ben Miller, Barbara Flynn, Lucy Brown, and Megan Dodds.

    The story takes place in an English village between the wars and concerns one Dr. Edmund Bickleigh, married to an older woman, Julia (Barbara Flynn), who is an upper class, domineering snob. Edmund busies himself with doctoring, his art work, and an affair with Ivy (Lucy Brown), which the whole town seems to know about. When the flashy Madeleine (Megan Dobbs) moves into town, he becomes very interested in her. Anxious to marry her, he kills Julia over time by giving her a drug withdrawn from the market because it causes severe headaches, and helping the headaches with larger and larger amounts of morphine. When she dies, it's assumed from the injection sites that she was a morphine addict.

    Things don't work out for dear Edmund as he planned, however. Madeleine, it turns out, despite the fancy house, is broke and needs to marry someone with money, which she does. Ivy marries William Chatford (Richard Armitage) and confesses her affair with Edmund to him. He therefore hates Edmund and has an axe to grind against him. Before long, suspicion has fallen on Edmund, and he is forced to take desperate measures.

    Excellent story, and though I haven't read the book or seen the 1979 version, I liked it. I loved the production values, and Ben Miller made an attractive Edmund who tries to keep his cool in the face of some difficult questions.

    Hywel Bennett played the role in 1979 and he has been described as "darker" - I'm sure his portrayal worked beautifully in that production. Here, I liked the fact that Miller didn't seem particularly menacing. Often narcissists or people out for themselves take the need to murder as a matter of course and feel it's a necessity, and that's how Miller played the role.

    The rest of the cast was very good, and the ironic ending will be a cause for discussion if you're not aware of what happens.

    I get the feeling this version was given a lighter touch than previously. Because the story is so good, I think it works fine. Supposedly it differs from the book in some key spots, including the doctor's relationship with his wife. Enjoy.
  • Excellent! And 25 or so years later after the BBC version this production is indeed excellent, but my thoughts do go back to the BBC version with Hywel Bennett back in 1979 with Judy Parfitt playing his overdosed wife which was so very dark. Bennett at the time had the looks to play any lead character, but the darkness of Bickleigh he portrayed with true style and strength. Ben Miller's excellent as ever, met him once as is Barbara Flynn who's consistently one of our best actresses and voice over artists in the UK, this is a great revival but I'd love to see the 1979 BBC version as well... Just think Bennett's portrayal was darker... At the time he was the man of the moment coming off the back of Dennis Potter's 'Pennies From Heaven' Peter Tilbury's excellent 'Shelly' and then in Le Carre's 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' as Ricki Tarr. He was the actor of that time. Please BBC release the 1979 version.

    John, Manchester UK
  • Rick-565 September 2010
    Warning: Spoilers
    The problem with this show is that the main character is so unsympathetic. He's a hubristic and conniving murderer, suffering from satyriasis. And none of the other characters are particularly appealing except, maybe, Ivy, who'll do anything for love. But can anyone enlighten me on Melanie? Did she murder her drunken husband? What was the meaning of the flies in her house - to show that she was actually poor or to show that she was actually brewing up some typhoid? And did she frame the doctor merely to redirect any suspicion away from her or because she was a psychopath? The production values were first-class and the acting good, though the lead actor lacks charisma and we're never quite sure why so many women want to have an illicit affair with him. And, as one other reviewer here pointed out, how did he and his wife end up together in the first place? Was he just a gold-digger? And, if she was such a snob, why did she marry him?
  • I thought this was unusually good - there was enough irony, a sense that he story was presented a little tongue-in-cheek, that it was easy to suspend disbelief. Had the drama been entirely 'straight,' the fact that more or less all the characters were unsympathetic would have been annoying - one must care what happens in order to keep watching.

    Instead, the very self-aware tone well complemented the fine acting and the later plot twists.

    I am interested that the original novel dates from 1931 and is said to have been generically significant a) by exploring the psychology of a murderer and b) in that the identity of the murderer is known at the very beginning; the 'mystery' is therefore whether he gets away with it, and indeed, who else he intends to target.