Director: Diarmuid Lawrence
Screenplay: Gwyneth Hughes
Starring: Matthew Rhys, Freddie Fox, Tamzin Merchant
BBFC Certification: 12
Duration: 120 min
I read Charles Dickens’ final, unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood back in 2011 during my final year at university. Despite it only being, in essence, half a novel (Dickens had been writing it when he died in 1870), I enjoyed it. Although lacking a conclusion, the mystery of the title didn’t completely feel unsolved – Dickens made it fairly clear who the murderer of poor Edwin probably was – his uncle, John Jasper.
When I started to watch this film (or episodes – it’s split into two hour long segments), I was curious as to how the mystery would be resolved. Jasper as the culprit was the obvious conclusion, but perhaps they would choose to pin the murder on a less obvious suspect, or on a character that hadn’t been considered a suspect at all.
Well, I was partly right. The writer has attempted (and succeeded with) a creative ending, beyond the possibilities I considered before and during the episodes. I was genuinely surprised, not just by one revelation, but by three. I won’t spoil these, but let me fill you in on the story behind them.
17 year old Edwin Drood arrives in Cloisterham to visit his fiancée, Rosa Bud, and uncle, John Jasper. His visit coincides with the arrival of Neville and Helena Landless, immigrants from India. While Edwin and Neville get off on the wrong foot, Jasper, in opium-fuelled states, lusts after Rosa and dreams of killing Edwin, in order to take his place by Rosa’s side. Unbeknownst to him, Edwin and Rosa decide to break off their engagement and ‘live as brother and sister.’
At the end of the first episode, after witnessing Edwin and Rosa’s affection (not knowing that he was witnessing their joy at ending their engagement), we see Jasper stride up to Edwin in the cathedral and strangle him to death.
The second episode begins with Jasper panicking that Edwin’s bed hasn’t been slept in and the realisation that he really does seem to have killed him. He alerts the town and searches for Edwin ensue. Jasper points the finger of suspicion at Neville and visits Rosa, telling her he will pursue her ‘to the death.’ She becomes convinced that Jasper is to blame for Edwin’s disappearance and shares her thoughts with other characters, leading to an undercover investigation.
The last 15 minutes of the second episode exceeded my expectations. Events come to a head and truths are revealed in a most satisfying manner. Screenwriter Hughes should be commended for these excellent twists to the story, alongside the blending of dreams and reality that occur throughout.
The episodes are well cast, Matthew Rhys as Jasper shone in particular. As a disturbed, duplicitous man he is convincing, but his portrayal also invokes pity for the character – something I didn’t feel when I read the book.
Cinematography is good too. The moments Edwin stands in front of windows and is illuminated with golden sunlight – giving him an ethereal quality – are particular highlights.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood is an interesting and creative spin on an unfinished tale and one of the best series’ (if you can call it that, with only two episodes) adapted from a novel I’ve seen in years.