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Original Sin (1996) – DVD Review

P.D. James: Original Sin DVD


Written by Michael Chaplin based on the novel by P. D. James
Directed by Andrew Grieve
Starring Roy Marsden, Ian Bannen, Lizzy McInnerny, Tim Dutton, Cathryn Harrison, Amanda Root, Sylvia Syms, James Wilby, Raymond Gérôme


  • Cast biographies
  • P. D. James bio

Released by: Wellspring.
Rating: NR
Region: 1
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Catch it on PBS’ Mystery.

[ad#longpost]As you cruise down the Thames you will see, among the docks and warehouses, an Italian palace. It is Innocence House, the home of Peverell Publishing, a venerable firm with a distinguish history and some serious money problems. And while the new head of the firm, Gerald Etienne (Wilby), is a financial whiz, his hard-ass attitude is poisoning the once-friendly atmosphere. When vicious letters attacking staff appear and petty vandalism occur, Gabriel Dauntsey (Bannen), one time poet and current Peverell staff member, contacts his friend, Commander Dalgliesh (Marsden), to have a look round.

What he finds is the suicide of a long time employee about to be fired by Etienne to cut costs. This event does nothing to relieve the already tense environment. It’s not a big surprise that Etienne is found in the same office as the suicide with a plush snake stuffed in his mouth. There are plenty of suspects for Dalgliesh to investigate: Etienne’s sister Claudia (Harrison) needed money to help out her boyfriend; Etienne’s one time lover and only living member of the Peverells, Frances (Root), who violently objected to Etienne selling Innocence House; or long time author Esme Carling (Syms), whose latest book was rejected by Etienne. It could even have been an enemy of Etienne’s father who fought in the French Resistance. Dalgliesh must dig through the secrets of the suspects with Detective Inspectors Miskin (McInnerny) and Aron (Dutton) to determine the truth. But as more people die, they must use all their resources to find who is committing this Original Sin.

A mystery story can be used to explore character. Because the investigator must determine if someone is lying or if they even capable of murder, they must try to understand their suspects. P.D. James is a master at this technique, as her success will attest. Of course some of this exploration is lost when you adapt a book into a movie or television feature. The filmmaker can’t rely on internal monologue to flesh things out. The actors compensate for this through projecting the role’s attitudes and personalities. Roy Marsden easily conveys the weariness of a man who must dig out the flaws and petty jealousies that can lead to death. He sees men and women as they truly are without and pretense or illusion. But he soldiers on, fulfilling his duty as an officer of the law.

The rest of the cast gives excellent performances as most British casts do. It is interesting to see how production values have improved since Shroud for a Nightingale, especially the Italian interiors of the publishing firm. You can almost imagine a Borgia silently enjoying the murderous spectacle. I wish the actual the actual mystery was as good. Maybe it’s because I’ve read a fair amount of mysteries in my time, but I had a pretty good idea who did it and why. With adaptations, it’s hard to tell if it was James’ fault or the scribe who adapted it. Still, it is an interesting character study and some fine acting.

The special features are sparse. There is a Roy Marsden bio but it’s only a screen’s worth of information. That’s pathetic. The P. D. James biography is a little more complete, listing her books and her awards, but the actual biography is only two screens. And there’s absolutely nothing on the rest of the cast. Original Sin is worth watching, but you do better to find it on TV than renting the DVD.

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