Ordeal by Innocence Review
An Agatha Christie adaptation that is worth checking out if you're a fan of her work
This review comes from my Letterboxd profile, where I write reviews of the movies and limited series I watch.
I didn't expect I was gonna review this, but my parents randomly found this on Amazon and since it was only three episodes, I decided to give it a watch with them just to add something to my filmography. Long story short, I'm glad I watched it, but... yeah, this is gonna be one of those reviews where I have to figure out exactly why I didn't love this show AS I'm writing my review because I really have to figure out how to process my thoughts.
First off, let me start by saying this is absolutely not an awful show by any means. In fact, technically, I'm not sure I can find a whole ton wrong with the show. I personally liked all of the actors, especially during the second half of the show, it's directed pretty competently, and in terms of a murder mystery, I like the directions it decides to go. Apparently, this adaptation varies wildly from Agatha Christie's original novel. I wouldn't know because I haven't read it (or any of Christie's work, to be honest... yeah, I'm not much of a reader and I gotta work on that), but I personally like the way the script takes the mystery and the way that the final twist reveals itself. It felt natural to me, and that's a conundrum that I'm going to circle back around to later. I also really liked some of the shots in this show. There's a shot in episode 2 where the camera follows Dr. Calgary walking beside a long tree branch that seemingly winds its way in the direction that he's walking in that I genuinely loved, and there is some absolutely gorgeous scenery throughout the course of this show.
So, technically, I can't find much wrong with the show. Why am I giving it such a low rating, then? Simple: this show didn't engage me. At all. I didn't care about any of the characters throughout the course of this show, and believe me, I tried. There's potential for some great backstories here, but they're not properly set up until the last episode. In other words, by the time you're finally interested in the backstory of the characters, the mystery is almost revealed and it's almost time for the audience to go home (or turn the TV off in this case, I suppose). Again, it's not any of the actor's faults, they just weren't given a whole ton of development. I feel like the show tried to set up too much in too little time. Sure, you can argue that all of the proper setup is there, but it doesn't feel like it's given enough time to truly feel important or integral to the character's lives. This show really needed another two or three episodes to develop the characters and the mystery more to really engage the audience.
I don't think I've ever mentioned this before, so I'll mention it now: my personal favorite TV show of all time is Broadchurch, specifically the first season. The third season did falter towards it second half (man, I hated the finale) and the second season isn't quite as good (although it's still great), but to me, the first season literally has no flaws. It's a perfect TV show season in every single way, and part of the reason why is because all of its characters are given the proper amount of development. Sure, there are a lot of characters to focus on, but the show focuses on the lead characters first (the characters that they feel are the most important for you to care about in order for you to keep watching the show) and develops the other characters more as the season goes on when the time is right. In the case of Ordeal by Innocence, the writers only have three episodes to develop all of the members of this really crazy household, so they have to start developing everyone's backstories pretty much immediately without giving you time to focus on specific characters and engage with them more.
Another example that I'll give here to demonstrate why I think the pacing of this show suffers is The Haunting of Hill House. That show gives plenty of time to develop all of its main family members throughout the course of the show so that by the final episode, you feel a strong connection with the entire family. That show dedicated an entire episode to EACH of the kids in the family and developed the parents as they went along. The season was also 10 episodes in length. That should show you that with only three episodes and around the same number of family members to develop, they're probably not going to get as much development. Now, look, at the beginning of the show, part of me was thinking that we weren't necessarily going to empathize with the characters, but the show was going to get us hooked by keeping us invested in why this family is so freaky. In that case, they should have kept the backstories of the characters hidden for longer so that we watch them act completely nuts towards each other and then see more and more layers peel back as the story goes on. Unfortunately, with only three episodes, neither of these options ended up working out and I just didn't care about any of the characters here.
You know what really stinks about all of this? I genuinely LOVE some of the ideas that are developed in the final episode involving the relationships between all of the family members. I feel that with a lot more time given to each plot, all of those awesome storylines would have felt more satisfying to watch. Unfortunately, this show doesn't really hook us on interesting characters from the get-go, so we have no choice but to watch and hope that the story development gets better. Again, I think the direction overall is really good, I think there are some fantastic shots, I think the plot overall is written well, and I like all of the actors here (my god, did they edit Christian Cooke's reshoots into this show seamlessly). However, I was uninterested in the plot as a whole and, to be honest, there was some really bad editing here. Some sequences have jumpcuts that just cut out a second or so at a time that were so jarring, and the repetitiveness of some of the flashback sequences got on my nerves after a little bit. Still, if you're looking for a disposable mystery story with fun actors and a cool story, I would recommend at least watching this show on Amazon Prime and seeing what you think.
Letter Grade: B
Sidenote, I just found out that Catherine Keener was originally supposed to play the mother and was then recast. Why? I think she would have killed it in the role. It's not like Ed Westwick where they had a genuine reason to recast him with Christian Cooke. Why was Keener recast? The world may never know.