Friday, November 18, 2011

What I Watched Last Night: PLACE OF EXECUTION - Masterpiece Classics - Based on the book by Val McDermid.

Lee Ingleby, Juliet Stevenson, Greg Wise.

This is brilliant television, this 2008 three episode series (now on Netflix as a two parter) based on a book by an award winning author I'm not really familiar with thought I've heard of Val McDermid, of course.

When a young girl, Alison Carter, goes missing from an English manor house on the moors, DI George Bennett (Lee Ingleby) and DS Tommy Clough (Tony Maudsley) work tirelessly to find her. Bennett, especially, becomes obsessed with the case.

Lee Ingleby, Tony Maudsley.

Circumstantial evidence leads them to suspect not only that the girl is dead, but that she was killed by someone in her family.

The accused is tried, convicted and hanged, but Alison's body is never found.

Forty five years later, television news reporter Catherine Heathcote (Juliet Stevenson) a harried, divorced mother of a troubled teen, is working on a documentary based on the crime.

Catherine has interviewed George Bennett who, now retired from the police force, had gone on to have a highly respected career in law enforcement. She and her boss feel that a certain spark of something is missing from the current docu-film. But when Catherine next speaks to Bennett, he tells her he has changed him mind and will no longer participate in the film or sign a release.

Afraid the job is blowing up in her face, Catherine rushes off with her daughter in tow, to visit George and try and talk him out of walking away from the project. He agrees to a brief meeting but will not explain what is troubling him.

When later, George suffers a massive heart attack, Catherine decides to see his retired partner Tommy to get an idea of what has gone wrong. There's a nagging something about the case which is bothering her. She wants to get at the full truth of what happened 45 years before.

The acting by all the principles, in fact, the entire cast, is superb. None more so than Lee Ingleby as the young George Bennett, a man consumed by his first big case.

When we meet him years later he is played wonderfully by Phillip Jackson who is known here primarily for his role as Chief Inspector Japp in the Hercule Poirot mysteries.

Casting is key here, because we meet most of the characters years later and great care was taken to have the older actors actually have a lingering resemblance to the younger cast. (My only quibble is that the actress who played Alison Carter as a young girl, just didn't look the thirteen she was supposed to be.)

Lee Ingleby as the intense, driven George Bennett is remarkable. I don't think I've ever seen him before, but I will definitely look for him again. But really, everyone excels in this dark disturbing story of the vilest of crimes. Greg Wise as Philip Hawkin is another stand-out.

I didn't even mind the shifting back and forth from present tense to past, something I'm usually not wild about. It was handled very well and added to the tension and suspense.

There is a stunning surprise ending which, while a bit improbable, still works. There's also a revelation which will catch you completely off-guard.

Don't miss this.


  1. Yes, this is brilliant television.

    Val MacDermid is a Scottish mystery writer of stand-alones and several series.

    I had not read this book when I saw the series. Liked it so much that I began looking for her books.

    Wish we had this type of series weekly. Sometimes PBS Mystery series is good.

    And Juliet Stephenson is always good.

  2. Yvette,

    Thanks for the review. It's already in my netflix queue, but perhaps I'll move it up a few notches.

  3. Kathy: Yes, I'd heard of McDermid and knew she was Scottish. But that's about it. Oh wait, I also knew she is a highly respected writer.

    PLACE OF EXECUTION, I understand, is considered her best book.

  4. Fred: Oh movie it up. You'll see why when you watch it. It's pretty damn good. Brilliant, actually.

  5. In retrospect the structure of this story is very similar to ROUGH CIDER by Peter Lovesey. I had not read Lovesey's book at the time I saw this though. If you liked this, try that book by Lovesey see if you agree with me.

    This was a superior movie. Though I did not read the book so I can't say if it's true to the plot. I like McDermid's Tony Hill series, but since those books are all about serial killers I'm sure you'll avoid them, Yvette. But if I can tempt you - THE MERMAIDS SINGING is like no other serial killer novel ever written, believe me. Truly brilliant.

  6. Coincidentally, John, among the four books I'm reading now, one of them is by Lovesey: BLOODHOUNDS. It's quite wonderful.

    I'm adding ROUGH CIDER to my list of definites. Thanks for the tip.

    I'll take a look at THE MERMAIDS SINGING, but I ain't promising anything. :)

  7. I thought the book was far superior to this series. It dragged it out too much for me.

  8. Patti: I haven't read the book, but I was quite bowled over by the series. I thought the acting was wonderful.

  9. I liked this series, although I started to guess at what really happened. But it didn't spoil it for me.

    MacDermid's A Darker Domain is reportedly excellent, too, and not a blood-and-guts or serial killer book. It is a stand-alone. It's been on my TBR list for ages, and I must get to it.

    I'll put Lovesey's Bloodhounds on the list, too.

  10. I sort of guessed too, Kathy. But not completely. It was still a shocker for me. :) Though I still say it was highly improbable.

    That Greg Wise as the step father was eerily good. Ugh.

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  12. Yes, it was excellent, though dark!! Lee I. plays George Gently's sidekick in that series. Very good actor. And I do adore Juliet Stevenson. I think Truly, Madly, Deeply is one of the best movies. Can't get it on dvd now. Don't know why.

  13. You know, Nan, Lee looks so different in this series that I didn't recognize him from the Gently stories. Wow.

    Is that Juliet Stevenson movie the one where her husband dies and he is a ghost in their house? Something like that? If so, it's a good one.


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