Place of Execution Reviews
I grew up watching PBS, which means I grew up watching a lot of BBC productions. It also means that I have very clear views in my head of who the host should be for certain shows and what the opening credits look like. Okay, so I'm aware that Sir Alistair Cooke is dead. (It's only an honourary knighthood, because he was a US citizen, but I'm still weird about that sort of thing.) This means that we can't have him as our host anymore, and I accept that. David Tennant isn't a bad replacement, either. And, okay, they've spun [i]Masterpiece Theatre[/i] off into multiple variations, and this is [i]Masterpiece Contemporary[/i], so it doesn't have that great old opening with the books. Yeah, okay. It still makes me kind of sad. And don't even get me started on the fact that [i]Mystery![/i] doesn't have the Charles Addams intro anymore. That was one of my favourite parts of Mom's Sunday viewing, when I was a kid.
Catherine Heathcote (Juliet Stevenson) is a filmmaker for something like the BBC, I think. She is making a movie about the disappearance of Alison Carter (Poppy Goodburn), who left her home in Scardale in 1963 and was never seen or heard from again. The police decided she was murdered, and though her body was never found, her bloodied and semen-stained clothing was. Her stepfather, Philip Hawkin (Greg Wise), is accused of the murder based on circumstantial evidence, but he claims the evidence is doctored and points out that they don't have proof that she's dead. Catherine had been on good terms with the lead investigator on the case, George Bennett (Lee Ingleby in flashback and Philip Jackson in the later stuff), but he calls her at work one day and tells her that he will no longer work with her and wants no part of her documentary. Catherine, confused and angry, continues her investigation regardless, learning that there is more to the story than was uncovered at the time.
Of course, there wouldn't be much of a movie if Hawkin had just been guilty, so you know all along that we're going to find something wasn't right. I'll admit that the exact solution surprised me, though I'll also say that it didn't completely make sense to me. I am given to understand that at least part of the issue is my less than complete understanding of the class issues of certain rural parts of the UK in the early '60s, but I still feel as though the ending is unnecessarily convoluted and not completely plausible. It does explain certain things, and it leaves George Bennett as being worthy of Catherine's respect, but that doesn't mean it completely flows. Maybe it works better in the book; such things are often the case. However, I haven't read the book. I'm only so-so about mystery novels, even though I do seem to watch a lot of mystery films--and, naturally, back episodes of [i]Mystery![/i] Still, if you can't make it work in the movie, "it works in the book" isn't an excuse.
I was also less than interested in the character of Sasha (Elizabeth Day), Catherine's daughter. I think we're supposed to see her as a possible parallel to Alison, but that would only have worked if the film had built up the idea that Alison had a rebellious streak, and it didn't. We have no reason to believe she had one, in fact. If she had, would anyone have taken it seriously when her mother reported her missing to the cops after only a few hours. And maybe we're supposed to see her as a sign that Catherine spends all her time working; Sasha mostly remembers her mother behind a camera, even during family situations. But I'm frankly tired of the "overworking single mother" character, and I'd really like it to go away now. We spend a lot of time on Sasha's problems, and I don't think it drives the plot. It's okay in a novel, of course, when you have more time to work with, but I think it's detrimental to the film.
I concede that my failure to follow the plot may have been because I was trying to take care of a fussy baby. However, I clearly missed several important details, based on certain aspects of the ending. While I concede that it could have been my fault, that does also mean to me that they should have emphasized a few things a bit more. They turn out to be extremely important, and I missed them. This wasn't even a case of being home alone with a fussy baby; Graham was home, and Simon wasn't terribly fussy. I looked away for a feeding or a diaper change, and I missed something that would possibly have made the ending make more sense. Neither of those are things that take very long--during feedings, I can still mostly concentrate on the screen. He doesn't cry a whole heck of a lot, and I tend to watch movies with closed captioning on about half the time, just because so many of them have such badly balanced sound these days. (Which may be a problem with my DVD player instead.) It might be my fault, but I doubt it; I think the movie was treating it too lightly.