Christmas 1954. Wealthy philanthropist Rachel Argyll is murdered at her family estate Sunny Point. Her adopted son Jack Argyll is arrested for her murder. He vehemently protests his innocence.
Ordeal by Innocence is a three-part BBC drama that was first broadcast during April 2018. It is based on the Agatha Christienovel of the same name and is the third English-language filmed version to be broadcast. The drama stars Morven Christie, Bill Nighy, Anna Chancellor, Alice Eve and Eleanor Tomlinson amongst others.
The show was originally intended to be broadcast as part of the BBC Christmas programming but was held back due to original cast member Ed Westwick being accused of sexual assault. His scenes were later reshot with Christian Cooke taking his place.
The series attracted positive reviews despite some backlash over the changes made to the plot. The direction and styling were afforded particular praise.
Set in 1956, the programme opens with the death of Rachel Argyll, a wealthy heiress who, with her husband, Leo Argyll, has adopted five children as they cannot have their own. Initially, son Jack Argyll is accused and awaits trial in prison before he himself is killed at the hands of another prisoner. Eighteen months later and the family is gearing up for a wedding; Leo Argyll is due to marry the Argyll family's former secretary, Gwenda Vaughn, when a mysterious stranger arrives at the door claiming to have an alibi for Jack on the night of the murder. The stranger, Dr Calgary, has come back to help get Jack released from jail – unaware that Jack is dead. Because the family has received many visits from fraudsters claiming to be Jack's alibi, Dr Calgary's testimony is coldly received, and he is told in no uncertain terms to leave the family alone.
Dr Calgary is then threatened by the other son, Mickey Argyll, but is approached by Philip Durrant, the disabled husband of Mary who sees Dr Calgary as a cash cow. Dr Calgary is disgusted, but telephones Leo Argyll and tells him that his wife's murderer is still on the loose.
Differences from the novel
Just like many other novels and stories by Agatha Christie, Ordeal by Innocence is set in the West Country of England. This production shifted the location to Scotland and it was filmed in and around Inverkip.
The family name in the book is Argyle, whereas it is spelt Argyll in the programme (although the pronunciation is the same). The main suspect character, Jack, is called Jacko in the book, and he dies in prison from pneumonia, not by being beaten to death.
With regard to characters, Kirsten Lindstrom, the family's housekeeper, is a middle-aged Nordic woman in the novel—a detail that plays a key role in the book's solution; in the miniseries, she is turned into a Scottish woman in her thirties, who is one of Rachel's foundlings. Dr Calgary is portrayed as mentally disturbed in this version, putting his testimony into doubt, whereas in the book his testimony is seen as reliable from the very beginning. Other characters, such as Gwenda Vaughan, Mary Durrant, and Hester Argyll, are portrayed much more negatively than they were in the novel: Gwenda is bossy and smug, Mary is deeply embittered, and Hester is a secret alcoholic.
The solution has also been radically altered. In the book, Kirsten is seduced by Jack, who instructs her to murder Rachel and steal her money so that he can pay off his debts; he, in the meantime, establishes an alibi for himself by hitchhiking into town. His plan backfires when Dr Calgary does not come forward to corroborate his version of events, and Kirsten learns that he is already married. In the programme, it is Leo who murders Rachel after she catches him with Gwenda and demands a divorce. He kills her using an Egyptian statuette, and blames Jack for the crime when his fingerprints are found on Rachel's whisky decanter. Jack is revealed to be completely innocent, and his hitchhiking to town unpremeditated. In this version, Kirsten is not his lover, but his mother. It transpires that Leo impregnated her as a teenager, and allowed her to remain on as the family's housekeeper while Jack was raised with the other children. Jack learns of his parentage shortly before Rachel's murder; while in custody, he correctly guesses that Leo is the murderer and threatens retaliation. In turn, Leo has his corrupt police acquaintance, Bellamy Gould, beat Jack to death while in prison (as Jack had publicly accused Gould of paedophilia and was having an affair with his wife, Lydia). Like Kirsten in the novel, Leo later murders Philip when he begins nosing around too much (only Philip dies by being injected with a morphine overdose; in the novel, he is stabbed in the back of the head). Tina is also stabbed in the novel, though she survives; in the programme, this attack on her life does not occur.
The ending is also darker than Christie's original. After uncovering the truth, Kirsten tells the other children, who confront Leo with the real murder weapon. They then stage Leo's suicide so that Gwenda believes that he is dead, while in reality, they lock Leo up in the house's nuclear bunker—presumably for the rest of his life. Also, before he is confronted, Leo has Dr Calgary institutionalized again, but the children are later seen visiting him at the asylum, with the implication that they will attempt to have him released.