Koch Vision // 1991 // 310 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // August 28th, 2008
"I tend to believe in an absolute morality, independent of time or circumstance." -- Adam Dalgleish
P.D. James is a name familiar to mystery fans. Starting with 1962's Cover Her Face, she wrote around a dozen mysteries featuring Commander Adam Dalgleish.
In her own words as seen on her official site, James adapted "an outworn form to produce a contemporary novel which would provide excitement and mystery and yet say something true about contemporary men and women under the trauma of a police investigation."
Roy Marsden brought numerous Adam Dalgleish stories to life on TV, including P.D. James: Devices and Desires, a six-hour drama for British TV.
London copper Adam Dalgleish (Roy Marsden, The Sandbaggers), on leave, is settling into life in scenic and rural Norfolk with the help of Meg (Susannah York, A Man For All Seasons), who's catching him up on all the local gossip.
Meanwhile, there's a serial killer known as The Whistler roaming the countryside. The murders first hit home for Dalgleish at a dinner party; one of the guests is late because he stumbled on a body. Naturally, he tells more of what he saw to the assembled guests than is wise.
The case is about to hit home for Dalgleish again: he finds the body of a woman from the nearby nuclear plant after she is killed by an unknown assailant. It looks like The Whistler has struck again, but Dalgleish has his doubts. After all, with her trying to evict a broke widower and his kids from the home she lets, refusing to get out of the life of the boss she slept with, and taking legal action against anti-nuclear activists, there are quite a few suspects -- several of whom now know The Whistler's trademarks.
Devices and Desires has the feel of a soap opera rather than a gripping thriller. The clues are telegraphed too obviously, with ominous music and meaningful expressions from the actors contributing to the melodramatic atmosphere.
I figured out whose murder would be central to the plot in the first episode. The suspects were lined up neatly in the second, with a couple of them standing out. Thus, when the murder actually took place at the end of the second episode, it was already anticlimactic. I was surprised by a subplot about a possible nuclear disaster which turned up in the last two segments, but it didn't help much.
Roy Marsden's Adam Dalgleish is blandly likeable, giving lifts to the widower's waiflike children and ambling around the countryside with an expression that seems more glum than it should be. Just so you know he's a hero, he wears a leather jacket.
Despite its modern and soap operatic trappings, Devices and Desires has some nods to the cozy mystery, with its rural setting, a detective living in a quaint windmill, and a town full of gossip.
The production has the cheap look that you'd expect from videotape, especially seventeen-year-old videotape. There's flaring and some murky scenes, and the bits where the killer shines a light to hide his face (from the viewers, presumably, since the victims won't be telling anyone) will just hurt your eyes. Scenes shot from the viewpoint of the killer just look cheap and not very scary. If that weren't enough, there's a brief freeze in there.
Oh, and did I mention the extended scene of people standing over the murdered woman's naked body? When stretched out too long, it's not dramatic, just weird.
One of the things you don't have to worry about here is seeing too much cut out. While I didn't go for it, purists and hardcore P.D. James fans might love it.
I'll also note that I watched this one in a couple of marathon sessions, while it was originally shown in six parts on TV. It could play better given a more relaxed time frame.
While I can see the makings of a gripping thriller in P.D. James' story, the TV version of Devices and Desires comes across as dull and drawn out.
Guilty of overkill.
Review content copyright © 2008 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 310 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* P.D. James Official Site