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Series / Ordeal by Innocence

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Ordeal by Innocence is a three-part BBC drama based on the Agatha Christie novel by the same name, first broadcast in April 2018. It is notable for the changes made to the plot, especially regarding the identity of the culprit, as well as having had a very difficult time in post-production, being pulled from its originally intended Christmas broadcast only a month before it was scheduled to air when one of the actors was accused of rape; said actor was later recast and the production remounted to reshoot all their scenes so it could be shown at Easter.


In addition to the tropes applying to the novel, the miniseries adaptation has examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: Jacko becomes Jack, and the Argyles become the Argylls - though with the same pronunciation.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Almost everyone:
    • Mary becomes a Stepford Smiler, married to an emotionally abusive addict, who is bitterly resentful of her siblings because as the first adopted she desperately wanted to keep their parents love and attention all to herself.
    • Phillip has become said emotionally abusive addict (see Adaptational Villainy).
    • Tina's mixed-race heritage, which was only briefly alluded to in the original, is physically obvious and acknowledged here, and has clearly affected her upbringing in an otherwise white family.
    • Mickey is now a war veteran with a childhood history of self-harm.
    • Arthur Calgary goes from a steady-minded scientist to becoming a full-blown Broken Bird.
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    • Mickey and Tina's possible Relationship Upgrade in the novel was only met with acceptance and support. In the series they have to keep their relationship secret, and when it get's found out their mother is furious, causing them to split up.
    • Kirsten was either coerced into having sex or raped by Leo Argyll as a teenager, and Jack is the result. She got to help raise him, but watch her dear friend be called his mother. Not to mention constantly interacting with the man who'd probably raped her.
    • Hester in the novel is mildly irritable but fairly well-adjusted given her circumstances, and almost-engaged to her doctor boyfriend Don. In the miniseries, she shows signs of depression and is possibly The Alcoholic note  due to suffering a Trauma Conga Line even before Rachel's murder: her mother paid off her poor but supposedly devoted secret husband to leave her, then drugged her and convinced her doctors to give her an abortion without her consent.
  • Adaptational Badass:
    • Mickey and Phillip are both ex-servicemen. Mickey is specifically said to have served in The Korean War.
    • Played with for Arthur Calgary: yes, the man's now a sensitive and anxious Broken Bird instead of a calm and successful scientist turned Amateur Sleuth. But for anyone who's struggled with depression or mental health issues, Arthur's determination and ultimate success in his mission to clear Jack's name is very impressive.
  • Adaptational Heroism: A given, due to the solution of the mystery being different:
    • While his Jerkass qualities are still intact (if not ramped up a bit), Jack Argyll is not behind the murder of his mother this time. In fact, he's actually a victim, as the murderer (his own father) has him killed to keep him quiet.
    • Unlike the novel, where she killed two people and tried to kill a third, Kirsten Lindstrom is now completely innocent. Like Jack, she is now more of a victim due to how her life was ruined by the actual murderer.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • Phillip Durrant is now a functioning alcoholic, morphine addicted Jerkass who emotionally abuses his wife, sexually harasses his teenage sister-in-law, and plots to extort money from Leo. When Mickey states that Mary would have been better off if Phillip had died in the car crash that paralysed him, it's hard to disagree.
    • Due to the ending being changed from the book: Leo Argyll murdered his wife. He was also Jack's biological father through an affair with a then-teenage Kirsten (possibly less than willing on her part); when Jack proclaimed his intention to tell all on the stand, Leo conspired with Bellamy Gould for Jack to be murdered in prison. In order to cover up his further crimes, he murders Phillip and has Arthur involuntarily committed.
  • Adaptation Relationship Overhaul: A big one that dramatically alters the plot. Rather than being Jack's lover and partner in crime, Kirsten is his mother. Leo Argyll, in turn, is his biological father as well as his adoptive father.
  • Adapted Out: There's no sign of Hester's Disposable Fiancée Donald. Justified by his having nothing whatsoever to do with the plot. He's replaced by an almost-literal disposable husband; both to give Hester a motive - Rachel paid him to leave her, and then drugged Hester in order to have an abortion performed on her - and to give her an alibi in the viewer's eyes - Hester is so groggy and weak from the operation that she can't walk unaided, let alone hit Rachel with enough force to kill her.
  • Adopt-a-Servant: Leo and Rachel adopted Kirsten, who is their servant, which seems especially egregious as they have other adopted children at that point that they treat like their children. And Leo raped her, so they adopted her son, though they treated him as a son, too.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Seems to be the main reason for Jack's success with women. Might also explain Hester's ill-fated marriage; it's implied that Jack introduced them. He definitely knew about it, being the Best Man.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Leo and Kirsten's affair, with Jack being the result. Was it an affair, with Leo being weak and Kirsten being inexperienced and full of teenage hormones? Or was Kirsten groomed and molested? Jack speculates on this, but seems to think it was the latter. Either way, Kirsten was fifteen and Leo had to be at least late thirties and her employer, which definitely has loads of Questionable Consent and Squick.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Played with. When Arthur makes his first visit to Sunny Point, Leo asks him what he was doing and what he was wearing. He says he was in a dinner suit on his way to a dinner party, which doesn't match up to Jack's description of him, and Leo coldly and politely throws him out. It turns out Arthur was telling the truth about being Jack's alibi. He was lying about why he was driving by Sunny Point that night and his clothing at the time.
  • Artistic Title: The title sequence spans over Sunny Point and its woody surroundings, all made out of newspapers.
  • The Atoner: Arthur Calgary feels he is damned due to contributing to the production of Fat Man and Little Boy, and thus the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. He sees clearing Jack as his chance to atone by doing 'one good, true thing'.
  • Bedlam House: The flashbacks to Arthur Calgary's stay in the asylum show it as this trope.
  • Big Fancy House: Not only is the Argyll manor huge — the grounds of Sunny Point look to be about the size of Delaware.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Just like the book, only with extra angst. Interestingly, this isn't done via Adaptational Villainy (except in Phillip's case), more of a Reality Ensues of what could happen when you adopt several children from troubled, possibly traumatic backgrounds. Especially when one - Jack, to be exact - shows many signs of being a sociopath.
  • Black Sheep: Tina and Mickey, which might be one of the reasons they fall in love. Tina's race makes her stand out against her Caucasian adopted family, and leaves her open to bigoted behaviour among the community. (Her adopted family, however, is never seen making an issue of this. Leo is explicitly seen chiding her for losing her temper in public, saying (paraphrase)'you are an Argyll, and thus need to hold a high standard of public behaviour'). Mickey, on the other hand, is never able to lose his lower-class accent, works a blue-collar job (mechanic) which also marks him out, and at the time of the series is the only Argyll child not living in Sunny Point. Interestingly, they come across as the most functional and stable of the sibling group, though that's not saying much.
  • Broken Bird:
    • Poor Arthur Calgary. In the book, he's a quite solid and stable person despite over a year of Easy Amnesia. In the miniseries he never made it to his research mission in the Arctic. Instead he was forcibly committed to an asylum. He gave Jack a lift during his short-lived escape. He comes to Sunny Point to clear Jack's name as soon as he's released. It's strongly implied he's had a nervous breakdown after contributing to the development of Fat Man and Little Boy. It actually gives him a stronger reason for his actions in the plot: he's desperate to do 'one true, good thing' in the world.
    • Kirsten, too. She was raped by Leo as little more than a child herself. She conceived Jack, forced to watch him grow up treating Rachel, Leo's wife, as his mother, he grew up to have serious emotional issues thanks to that, and when Jack found out the truth about his parentage, Leo killed him. And it ends with him embracing the hysterical Kirsten.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: The miniseries takes a much darker view of the romance between adoptive siblings Mickey and Tina.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: While awaiting trial, Jack gives his father a thorough verbal lashing.
  • Cassandra Truth:
    • The Argylls refuse to listen to Dr. Calgary, because of his odd, jittery demeanor and his suspicious elusiveness concerning his work and his history.
    • Jack's alibi was for real, and he was innocent like he said he was.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • One of the very first shots in the series is that of some Egyptian statue. The statue of Anubis turns out to be the murder weapon.
    • In Leo's first scene, he's floating on the lake in the 'Anubis' rowboat. When his children decide to fake his death and imprison him in the bomb shelter, they set up an 'accident' with the rowboat.
    • The nuclear war basement. Initially, it seems to only signify Rachel's worry for the future, but the fact that it being soundproofed, isolated, and totally stocked for living means that it's where the Argylls keep Leo prisoner.
  • Child by Rape: Jack is this to Kirsten, thanks to Leo.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: A jittery Hester has to light up after Phillip grabs her and sticks his tongue down her throat.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Every time a radio is heard it's someone talking about the threat of nuclear war. This both explains why the family has a bomb shelter, and foreshadows the finale.
  • Catchphrase: Arthur Calgary states several times that he badly wants to do 'one good, true thing'.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Philip emotionally abuses Mary to vent his frustrations over his paralysis. When he begins to suspect she is the murderer, she doesn't deny it and gleefully points out that he's still physically dependent on a woman who may have killed before and has every reason to want him dead. During her speech, Philip visibly regrets every decision he's made over the last few years.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Hester — the baby on the family — enjoying herself on a swing while her brother-in-law Phillip creepily watches her during his physio.
  • Evil Stepmother: Mary believes that Gwenda will be one. Mickey, on the other hand, refuses to go along with her plan to stop the wedding, and Hester and Tina don't seem to have any issues with it aside from the relentless wedding planning. It's possible that some of Gwenda's more unpleasant personality traits are heightened and exacerbated by Bridezilla syndrome.
  • Faking the Dead: In the changed ending. Since they're unable to prove in a court of law that Leo killed Rachel, Kirsten and the remaining Argyll children fake his death, and instead sentence him to life imprisonment in Sunny Point's bomb shelter.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • One of the first shots of the miniseries is a photograph of Rachel and the children; Jack is behind her, looking over her shoulder, with his arm around Rachel's throat like he's about to choke her. In the book, Jack is the one who plotted her murder. In the miniseries, they're the first two people to die. In either case, their deaths are the cause of the plot
    • In Arthur Calgary's first scene, he looks at a deep gash on his hand, picks out a shard of glass, and binds it with his handkerchief. He later tells Mickey he got it pulling himself free of a bramble patch. in the second episode, a flashback shows him smashing the glass bottles of lithium pills he was prescribed upon release from the asylum, because he believes he doesn't deserve the peace of mind they bring, emphasizing his status as The Atoner.
    • When Arthur first walks up to Sunny Point, Gwenda drives by him; Hester gives him a long look from the back seat. Later, Hester is the first one to believe his story, and the first and second time Arthur returns to Sunny Point, she's the first person he finds. While their Last Minute Hookup doesn't happen in the series, she shows a lot of admiration for him, and throughout the series, Hester seems to sympathise with him the most. The final scenes imply that the remaining Argyll siblings will, at the very least, consider him a Fire-Forged Friend.
    • During his first conversation with Leo, Arthur says that he's a doctor, but of physics, not medicine. Arthur has dinner with Phillip Durrant, and when asked about his Arctic project, says that he's not allowed to talk about it. Phillip immediately talks about the Official Secrets Act. Arthur never made it to the Arctic, but he's not allowed to talk about his work because he worked on the development of Fat Man and Little Boy.
    • Rachel installed a fall-out shelter in Sunny Point (at one stage Kirsten hides away in it) and several scenes have a radio announcer detailing emergency procedures in the background. Arthur Calgary contributed to the making of Fat Man and Little Boy. More importantly, the fall-out shelter is where the family imprisons Leo in the end.
    • Jack seduces Chief Constable Bellamy Gould's wife, and she gives him money. When confronted about it, he accuses Gould of being a pervert, and when Bellamy leaves he tells Leo that if Jack repeats the accusation, he won't hesitate "to kick his head in half, and break every bone in his body". It's implied, and later confirmed, that Gould is responsible for the prison beating that killed Jack. That's why he tried to run down Arthur before he reached the police station. He also conspired with Leo to frame Jack for Rachel's murder in the first place.
    • In the opening scenes, Phillip stares out the window at Hester, and something about his gaze is quite disturbing. In the second episode, he forces a kiss on her that Hester is visibly repelled by.
    • In the flashback to Mickey's return from war, his siblings meet him at the train station. Jack brags about his affair with Helen Gould, and Mickey laughingly tells him he needs to watch himself with women, or it's going to get him killed. In retaliation for the affair, Bellamy Gould tampers with evidence to frame Jack for Rachel's murder, then organises his death in prison.
    • A more subtle one: Phillip, in his final words, says 'Ah, God. Of course it's you' with a kind of twisted satisfaction. Given Phillip's petty and malicious state of mind, what could be more satisfying than this grand murder mystery of a rich and respected family turning out to be (as far as he knows) simply a tawdry, nasty little matter of a man killing his wife after getting caught shagging his secretary?
  • Idiot Ball: Jack, in an entirely different way from the novel. Jack knows he's been framed. Then tells Leo he's worked out all his little secrets and can't wait to spill them on the stand with relish. Given that Leo has either framed him, or very good friends with Bellamy Gould, who was instrumental in said frame, he really should have guessed that was going to end badly for him.
  • Improbable Age: Arthur Calgary is wrecked with guilt over having contributed to the production of Fat Man and Little Boy. The Manhattan project took place between 1942-45; however, the miniseries is set in the summer of 1956, and Arthur looks to be 30 at most (Luke Treadaway was 32 during filming). Arthur could be older than he appears; but if he was some kind of child prodigy when he worked on this project, that might explain his feelings of extreme guilt.
  • Improvised Imprisonment: After they realized that he murdered his wife, raped Kirsten, and arranged to have his own son with Kirsten hanged for the murder he committed, the kids lock their father Leo in the nuclear bunker in their country house.
  • It's All About Me: Gwenda definitely has this attitude most of the time. But then, she wouldn't be the first woman to have that attitude right before her wedding.
  • Hallucinations: Calgary's very vivid visions of a nuclear fallout are a touch of surrealism in the otherwise realistic show.
  • Hate Sink:
    • Jack, in-universe. In just about every flashback, he seems to be deliberately trying to make as many people angry with him or downright hate him as possible. In fact, it's a little surprising he isn't the murder victim, instead of Rachel. The only people he seems to get along with are his siblings and Kirsten. On the other hand, he's the one who tells Rachel about Mickey and Tina's love affair, and he aids and abets Hester into making a very ill-advised, and probably illegal marriage.
    • Phillip, also in-universe; he takes clear joy in being as antagonistic, petty and predatory as possible.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Phillip, pre-series. Just before Rachel's death, he lost some money at the races, drove home drunk, and crashed the car - the accident is the reason for his paralysis. On the other hand, it made him the only person in the family with an unimpeachable alibi for Rachel's death.
    • Also Chief Constable Bellamy Gould. In part 2, he approaches Arthur on the road, questions him about his story, drives off, then turns the car around and tries to run Arthur down. Arthur dodges, then Bellamy loses control of the car and dies in the resulting crash.
  • Hotter and Sexier: This isn't prim and proper Christie. Mickey and Phillip both get shirtless scenes (in fact, for the latter, it's his Establishing Character Moment), Jack gets a naked scene (with full frontal barely avoided) and Gwenda tends to lounge about in her bathing suit.
  • Impairment Shot: Rachel, as she's dying from being bashed on the head by a blunt instrument.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Rachel. She makes it clear from the start that she thinks Mary marrying Phillip is a mistake, and is already proven correct by the time of her murder. Then there's her actions with Hester: Hester makes a runaway marriage. Rachel finds out by recognising her handwriting on a letter to Kirsten, and opening it. On the day of her murder, Rachel tracks them down, and then bribes Hester's husband to leave her. She then drugs Hester and takes her to a clinic with instructions to check Hester for possible 'results', and then okays an abortion, without Hester's explicit consent. Most of these actions - especially the abortion - are obviously bad. However, Hester's husband is paid off with a relatively small amount of money - and his attitude at getting the money implies he was expecting it - and he doesn't come back when Rachel's death hits the paper to offer support. Given Hester's apparent age (Ella Purnell was 18 at the time of filming) and that the marriage happened eighteen months in the past, the marriage was probably illegal as well. The family also already has a sterling example of how badly a wrong choice of spouse can go in Mary and Phillip. As for the abortion... unwed mothers were treated very badly in the 1950's, and frankly, Hester really doesn't seem to be ready for motherhood. And again, though the Argyll children don't know it, there's already another example of a teenage girl being seduced and impregnated with disastrous results in Kirsten. While Hester says to Tina at Rachel's grave that 'I hated her that day, I could have killed her' (and no one denies that she was justified in feeling that way), Hester doesn't express any regret at losing her husband, wishing she had her baby, or a belief that she would be a happy wife and mother without her mother's actions.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Mickey. In the first half, he threatens Arthur and literally runs him out of town. It turns out he's just fiercely protective of his family, who have had numerous false claimants (and even fake psychics!) turn up.
    • Rachel, in the end. She had a difficult relationship with all her children - who, in turn, were all troubled one way or another before she adopted them - but seemed to really try very hard to be the best parent she could. (This could also be because she was evidently the Disciplinarian to Leo's 'indulgent parent'.) She was a good friend to Kirsten, despite her affair with Leo. Not only did Kirsten keep her job, Rachel was careful to reassure her 'It wasn't your fault' while visiting her in the maternity ward, and even adopted baby Jack. There's also at least one flashback which implies she was struggling with mental health issues of her own.
  • The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: In the scene where Hester and Tina visit the cemetery, they are surrounded by marble tombstones... except for Jack's grave, which is marked only by a wooden cross with a brass plaque.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The killer, as in the book, even if the person responsible has been changed. Leo killed Rachel to keep from being thrown out of Sunny Point, losing access to Rachel's wealth, being separated from his children and being held to account for sleeping with his secretary. In the end, his children have found out his actions, and turn against him. The morning of his wedding to Gwenda, he wakes up imprisoned in the nuclear fallout shelter, presumably for the rest of his life. He's lost Gwenda, his children, and his wealthy lifestyle, and it's implied that the only person he's going to see again is Kirsten. The woman he raped and betrayed (possibly even molested) when she was a teenager, and who knows he killed their son and the dear friend who never blamed Kirsten for it.
  • Killed By The Adaptation: Chief Constable Bellamy Gould.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident:
    • The murder of Phillip is made to look like a morphine overdose. In other circumstances it might have played, but given that the family's in an uproar from a now-unsolved murder no one really buys it for more than a minute.
    • In the ending, this is how the Argylls and Kirsten fake Leo's death. Everyone outside the family believes that Leo took the Anubis rowboat out very early, and fell out and drowned. The children do tell Gwenda that Leo admitted to them that he killed Rachel, implying that Leo committed suicide to avoid prosecution.
  • Meaningful Name: Leo is an amateur Egyptologist, and in his first scene he's floating on the lake in a rowboat bearing the name 'Anubis'. Anubis is an Egyptian God associated with death and the afterlife: one of his tasks is to escort souls to the underworld, and attend 'The Weighing of the Heart', which judges the amount of guilt or innocence in a dead person's soul. The real murder weapon used by Leo was a small statue of Anubis.
  • Ms. Fanservice: If Gwenda isn't wobbling around the mansion in tight dresses, she's a Sweater Girl (in the flashbacks to the murder), and if she isn't a Sweater Girl, she's sunning in a bikini on the lawn.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Adoptive siblings Mickey and Tina are romantically involved with one another. However, whereas in the original novel and the other adaptations, they are openly living together, in the miniseries their relationship was very secret, and ended pre-series. In fact, it ended when Rachel found out about it, because she saw it as a very different trope, giving Mickey and Tina their possible motive. It also plays with their alibis: they told the police they were in town at their respective residences, but had actually driven up to Sunny Point. However, viewers know they were together in the grounds when Kristen discovered Rachel's body.
  • Offing the Offspring: Leo ordered the death of Jack, who is both his adopted and biological son.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: Leo holding the hysterical Kirsten after Jack's death is replayed once we know that Leo raped Kirsten and murdered their son, Jack. As a result, it's revealed to be a much more manipulative and sinister gesture, adding trauma upon trauma and making it very plausible why Kirsten wouldn't have told anybody the truth.
  • Race Lift: Downplayed. Tina is of Mixed Ancestry in the original. Here she is played by Crystal Clarke
  • Rustproof Blood: Kirsten discovers that the Anubis statuette has blood in a crack in its base, which is still a fairly vibrant red color despite being eighteen months old.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Mickey, after Rachel's death and Tina breaking up with him. He only returns for Leo's wedding.
  • Slasher Smile: Adult Jack has a slanted and rather creepy one.
  • Swing Low, Sweet Harriet: Phillip watches with a hungry look as Hester swings on a tree swing. Sure enough, he later forcefully kisses her.
  • "Take That!" Kiss: In a flashback, Jack kisses Bellamy Gould and even erotically sucks his finger while taunting him over his affair with the latter's wife.
  • Tears of Fear: Dr. Calgary, whenever he's threatened and/or manhandled by Mickey.
  • Trophy Wife: What Gwenda obviously is, much older Leo now marrying her after he's inherited the family money from his wife.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole?: Despite a genuine desire to be a good parent and help other children in need, Rachel Argyll was a stern woman who didn't express warm emotions very much, and who was often very difficult to get along with, and it seems everyone had a motive of some kind for her murder.

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