P.D. James‘ Character Adam Dalgliesh was a long-running character; she created the detective in 1962’s novel Cover her FaceHis last appearance was in 2008’s novel The Private Patient. His character was able to endure for so long because he was more sympathetic than most detectives from British mystery novels. He used this empathy to solve the mysteries that were presented to him. The character’s latest adaptation is on the Acorn TV series Dalgliesh.
DALGLIESHSTREAM IT / SKIP IT
Opening ShotOne student wakes up screaming at her alarm when she hears it go off in a nursing school on a windy night.
The Gist At the school, the students find out who will be playing the “patient” during that day’s demonstration. Heather Pearce (Beccy Henderson) has been switched to the patient role, after the initial student, Josephine Fallon (Siobhán Cullen), falls ill. She’s supposed to be fed warm milk through an esophageal tube to demonstrate the technique, but when she’s given the milky substance, it turns out to be a corrosive household cleaner instead. Stephen CourtneyBriggs (Richard Dillane), the school’s physician, cut her open to massage her heart.
Bertie Carvel plays DCI Adam Dalgliesh, and he meets his younger partner, DS Charles Masterson (Jeremy Irvine). Dalgliesh is a thoughtful sort, who has a second life as a published poet, and he’s pretty sure that Pearce’s death wasn’t accidental, and it wasn’t meant for someone else.
Christine Dakers (Helen Aluko), who was the only nursing student to have been associated with Pearce, is the first suspect. But Dalgliesh isn’t convinced; he still thinks that Dr. Courtney-Briggs, who turns out has associations with Fallon and Sister Brumfett (Amanda Root), one of the school’s instructors. Brumfett is consistently seen at the side of the school’s matron, Mary Taylor (Natasha Little), who chafes less at the presence of Dalgliesh and Masterson than any of her staff seems to.
As Dalgliesh narrows down who might want to do away with Pearce, she finds out more about Fallon and why she was admitted to the school’s hospital wing, and just as he realizes that she may be connected in some fashion, tragedy strikes again.
What Shows will it Remind You of? The format of Dalgliesh Based on P.D. James’ popular novel series, follows that of many British detective series, with the season consisting of three 90-minute, self-contained mysteries. Acorn TV’s 90-minute episodes are divided into two 45 minute parts. Dalgliesh himself is basically Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of Sherlock Holmes, but with more empathy and less drug-taking.
Our Take: James’ Dalgliesh novels, especially Shroud For A Nightingale, which is this new series’ first mystery, have been adapted for television before. This series, written by Stephen Greenhorn, Helen Edmundson and Helen Dalgliesh, places Adam Dalgliesh in 1975 shortly after he lost his wife. We know he’s a poet of some renown, and we know that he’s not one of those kinds of detectives that browbeats confessions out of his suspects. He’s a thoughtful, empathetic detective, who also seems to look authoritative in his wide-lapeled ’70s-era three-piece suits.
But we don’t really find out much more about Dalgliesh, or his partner, Charles Masterson, than what we see during the course of the investigation. In that regard, Dalgliesh (actually pronounced almost like “dog leash”), is truly a classic British police procedural. You’re not going to find out a ton about the main characters unless you’re already familiar with James’ novels or one of the many Dalgliesh adaptations.
And that’s just fine; we liked the versatile Carvel’s warm but businesslike portrayal of the title character; he can give a determined grimace like there’s nobody’s business, to the point where we forgot that the last time we saw him was in Neil Best’s series The SisterAs the sinister Bob. All the supporting actors do excellent jobs in their roles.
The problem is that the mystery involves many characters who are fascinating but fade into the background as Dalgliesh narrows down the details. By the second half of the first episode, most of what we’re seeing is Dalgliesh-centric, and any of the red herrings that are thrown at us are quickly forgotten. It’s one of those viewing experiences where you go, “hey what happened with this person?” after realizing that the story was more or less dropped without much of a solution or resolution.
Carvel’s performance is so compelling that it smooths over some of the narrative problems of the first mystery, but it doesn’t smooth things over so completely that you’re not left with questions after everything is resolved.
Sex and skin:Two characters have sex in cars, but we hear more noises than we see anything.
Parting shot:As the mystery is solved, the killer is arrested, Dalgliesh gazes up at the dreadful school building as he drives away in his roadster.
Sleeper Star: Helen Aluko does an effective job as Nurse Christine Dakers, but by midway through the mystery’s second half, her involvement is so thoroughly debunked that the character is hardly even a factor by the end of the episode.
Most Pilot-y Line: A batty woman whose son died in the care of the nursing school’s hospital wing forces Masterson to dance with her in order to get her information. Masterson believes everything she claims.
Our Call:STREAM IT. If you enjoy straightforward British procedurals based upon classic characters, then Dalgliesh won’t disappoint. But there seems to be a lost opportunity to dive more into Dalgliesh’s interesting character, especially given who is playing the detective this time around.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate and Salon. RollingStone.com? VanityFair.com, Fast Company and other places
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