Saturday 21 October 2017

'Suspicions of Mr Whicher' review - 'Paddy Considine is the only saving grace in a plodding tale'

Paddy Considine in 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher'
Paddy Considine in 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher'

Jonathan ‘Jack’ Whicher, the celebrated 19th century Scotland Yard policeman who Dickens christened “the Prince of Detectives” was a fascinating character. What would he think of the grossly fictionalised version of himself in ITV’s feature-length drama?

Whicher was the hero, and in many ways a secondary victim, in Kate Summerscale’s excellent factual book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, or The Murder at Road Mill House, a gripping account of the case that pretty much did for his glittering career on the force.

In 1860, Whicher was called in to investigate the savage murder of Francis Saville Kent, the three-year-old son of a prosperous family in Wiltshire.

The incompetent local police had hung the crime on the child’s nursemaid; Whicher was convinced the boy’s half-sister, Constance, was the killer, though he failed to find a vital piece of evidence that would convict her.

The establishment and the press, outraged that a mere policeman, and a working-class policeman at that, would dare blacken the reputation of a respectable family with such accusations, turned on Whicher and his career never really recovered.

What gives his story such poignancy is that, many years later, Constance turned herself in and confessed to killing the boy. Whicher had been right all along.

ITV’s flat, disappointing 2011 adaptation of the book, starring Paddy Considine, was followed by a sequel featuring Whicher's entirely fictionalised adventures as a private detective.

Now comes the first of two new (again, completely made-up) mysteries. Whicher finds himself back among the toffs and trying to track down an Indian man who is menacing the son of the very government minister who sacked him from the force.

Considine, who’s always watchable, was the only saving grace in a plodding tale that saw Whicher skulking around the foggy, gaslit streets of Victorian London (you half-expected him to bump into Sherlock Holmes chasing Jack the Ripper) between dull scenes crushed under slabs of expository dialogue.

To crassly distort the well-documented life of a real person in a drama is bad enough; to make the end result so formulaic and mediocre is simply compounding the crime.

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