Review: ‘Mystery! a Dark Adapted Eye’

Faith has the natural instincts of a snoop as she eyeballs her older aunt, Vera (Celia Imrie), and beautiful Eden (Sophie Ward) going about their close lives.

Faith has the natural instincts of a snoop as she eyeballs her older aunt, Vera (Celia Imrie), and beautiful Eden (Sophie Ward) going about their close lives.

Vera’s husband, Gerald, is away at war and her nasty son, Francis (Steven Mackintosh), oozes acid. Vera is upset whensister Eden joins the British navy, while she stays on at the house.

Eden sends a wire home saying she’s had a baby, Jamie, though Vera’s been saying she was the one who was pregnant. One of the mysteries is, who had the baby? More important, why does Vera slaughter Eden and get hanged for it?

Relationships aren’t always clear, nor is time itself. Story flashes back and forth as an older Faith, now married for the second time, pokes into the past to sort out as many details as possible. Faith finds there’s a loose wire among family members and of course wonders if she’s connected.

There’s all sorts of mischief during the telecast, with multiple murders adding up and Faith stumbling repeatedly on juicy sources of gossip.

Carter, Imrie and Ward are particularly effective, and Tim Fywell’s stunning direction works well within the teleplay’s demanding framework. Robin Ellis, one-time “Poldark” of “Masterpiece Theatre,” plays Faith’s portly papa, and Polly Adams is his, Vera and Eden’s half-sister, Helen. A family tree would help.

Rex Maidment’s camerawork slyly observes the happenings, while David Ferguson provides an appropriately foreboding score. Paul Munting’s design is absolutely first rate.

Off-putting at first, “A Dark Adapted Eye” is worth some patience. Although some plot elements, like Faith’s fortuitous presence for a major piece of detection, edge on the forced, Phillippa Giles’ atmospheric production works its magic; it’s a spellbinder.

Mystery! a Dark Adapted Eye

(Wed. (4), Thurs. (5), 9-10:30 p.m., PBS)

Production

Filmed in England by BBC, presented by WGBH. Producer, Phillippa Giles; series executive producer, Rebecca Eaton; director, Tim Fywell; writer, Sandy Welch; based on Barbara Vine's novel; camera, Rex Maidment; editor, Paul Garrick; sound , Terry Elms; music, David Ferguson; production designer, Paul Munting. #Cast: Helena Bonham Carter, Celia Imrie, Sophie Ward, Robin Ellis, Steven Mackintosh, Honeysuckle Weeks, Bernice Stegers, Polly Adams, Brian Hickey, Ciaran Hinds, William Gaminara, Pip Torrens, Guy Witcher, Franz Gilbert, Jason Durr, Michael Healy, Sarah Hadland, Rachel Bell, Polly Grant, Kelly Marcel, Guy Faulkner, Mark Brignal, David Cann, Siobhan Burke, Paul Bentall, Emma Croft, Emma Shaw, Randal Herley, Thomas Campbell-Todd, Jack Dancer, Max Curtis, Richard Syms, Philip Childs, Joanne Good, Valerie Minifie, Carol Holt, Elaine Hallam, Gemma Street, Frazer Gilbert, Susan Vidler, Linda Broughton. #Host: Diana Rigg. Scripter Sandy Welch has spun off a three-hour account based on Britisher Barbara Vine's 1986 fact-based novel about the 1951 murder of one sister by another and how it might have come about. Complex, frank, sometimes confusing, sometimes grim, the latest "Mystery!" winning entry needs two successive nights to unfold; it's that involved. Vidpic starts in wartime Sussex, as teenage Faith (Helena Bonham Carter) is sent to her aunts' home to escape German bombing.
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