The Murder at Road Hill House (2011) – reviewed by George

This British television movie, based on a true crime book by Kate Summerscale, was written by Neil McKay and directed by James Hawes. It is excellent in every department, and I suppose that excellence is what caused the creation of three additional movies under the umbrella title “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher” These appeared in 2013, 2013, and 2014.
The story takes place in 1860, with the failure of a hearing to produce sufficient evidence to sustain a trial, and the suspect is released. Mr. Jack Whicher (Paddy Considine) is furious at the defeat, which everyone present takes as an adequate excuse to mock the Inspector as he leaves the room, gets in an open cart, and leaves for the railroad trip back to London. Then we back up two months to a morning in a village outside of Wiltshire, where the best-off family in the area awakens to discover the three-year-old son missing. The family consists of the father Samuel Kent (Peter Capaldi), his wife Mary (Emma Fielding), his children by his first wife, Constance and William (Alexandra Roach and Charlie Hiett), and his beloved 3-year-old Savill by his current wife. The servants are dispatched to find the child and soon the day is filled with cries of “Savill!” The groundsmen are called in and the search widens to the outdoors, and then the child’s body is found in the privy.
Parliament goes ballistic with one member (Julian Firth) shouting about “a man’s castle” and if this could happen in Wiltshire, it could happen to any family anywhere in England, which sort of overlooks motive and opportunity completely.
The head of Scotland Yard, Commissioner Mayne (Tim Pigott-Smith), calls in Inspector Whicher and tells him that the village’s constables are no better than idiots, and the Wiltshire Constabulary is even worse: “They’re arrogant, obstructive. Unscientific. And they’re getting absolutely nowhere.” He further says that the Home Secretary is demanding that an intelligent officer be sent at once, and that since Whicher’s record is impeccable – he shall go.
Mayne: “The reputation of the Detective Branch depends on this case.”
Whicher: “I shan’t let you down, sir.”
On arrival at Wiltshire, Whicher meets Superintendent Foley (Tom Georgeson), who defends the family when Whicher asks about windows and locks, “Mr. Kent is very particular about security.” When challenged he adds, “Liberties have been taken. There’s been trespass – fruit stolen from the orchards, fish poached from the river.” Whicher asks, “He’s not well-liked?” And Foley supplies the motive without knowing it, “He’s prosperous. And in a place like this, envy can easily turn to a deeper malice.”
As Whicher builds his case, develops a theory, and starts to back it up with evidence, he comes up first against the press. He tells the reporters, “And from now on, this investigation will be driven by me, not by you.” So there is a lot he simply couldn’t overcome: the resentment of the press, the countryman’s antipathy toward the city and its representatives, and most importantly an almost preternaturally clever killer.
So at the hearing to decide whether or not to bind the killer over for trial, the defense has an attorney while the prosecution does not, Whicher is held to a too-short timetable regarding finding the crucial piece of evidence, and the killer walks. Also noteworthy: the defense attorney says, “The one fact is the suspicion of Mr. Whicher.”
Jack returns to London and is put on leave. Jump to five years later where we learn that back then a doctor discharged him from the force citing “congestion of the brain”. And now the killer has confessed, Supt. Foley has admitted to finding the evidence and hiding that fact, and we prepare for a happy ending.
This is really superior stuff, and trust me, I have not told too much. The interactions among the various characters, the undercurrents of ill feeling, and the secrets that are exposed, make for a special viewing experience.

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