Strong Poison (1987)
Review by HTQ4

Directed by Christopher Hodson
Written by Phillip Broadley, based on the novel by Dorothy L. Sayers
Starring Harriet Walter, Edward Petherbridge, Richard Morant, Clive Francis, Paul Hastings


Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format

My Advice: Rent it

Lord Peter Wimsey (Petherbridge) reads the story of novelist Harriet Vane (Walter) in the newspaper one morning. She is on trial for the poisoning murder of her former lover. Wimsey falls completely in love with her photograph and decides that such a delicate creature could not have possible committed murder. He vows to prove that she did not do it. He steps in to her inquest just in time to hear the judge repeat the entire story and the jury to pronounce themselves hung (that is unable to agree on her guilt or innocence). Wimsey has two weeks to find enough evidence to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ms. Vane is completely innocent.

This is the first of the 1987 BBC productions of the Sayers Mysteries and it picks up with the introduction of Wimsey's love interest for the next several novels, Harriet Vane. The Wimsey of this story is unlike any we've seen thus far. He's completely mad with love for Ms. Vane and will stop at nothing to prove her innocence...up to and including having several of his friends and colleagues break into offices looking for information.

I immediately noticed one problem with Wimsey's relationship to Bunter (played here by Richard Morant): it is too formal. Having been familiar with the previous Wimsey stories, I know that Wimsey and Bunter fought side by side in the trenches of World War I and developed a friendship that seemed to supercede the relationship of Master and Manservant. That relationship is definitely missing from this story. However, it is sort of replaced by the infatuation that Wimsey has for Vane. Harriet Walter was born to play Harriet Vane. She is infinitely charming and it is perfectly believable that Wimsey falls in love with her just from her picture.

The overall production quality is lacking, but the direction seems stable. Broadley has made the transition of Sayers' story a very natural progression with his script. None of the dialogue seems forced or too stereotypical given the genre of the film and the introduction of Harriet Vane into Wimsey's life seems very natural. The only flaw with the script is the delivery of the exposition by the judge at the trial. It is a very long monologue delivered in a very dry, judicial (go figure!) tone, and it goes on for about twenty minutes. There are flashbacks during the monologue, but it quickly becomes very boring to listen to the story of the night of the murder.

The DVD itself is a disappointment. There are only two options under the special features menu: Who's Who and Trailers. Who's Who is the principal cast biography and filmography and well, that's about it. The trailers are for the BBC's Blue Planet DVD and an overall trailer for BBC America. That's all you get. I would like to have some DVD-ROM links about the life and times of Ms. Sayers, or even some kind of trivia game about the mysteries.

This mini-series is worth watching at least once. The story is intriguing and you quickly become hooked, so pick it up at your local DVD rental emporium and enjoy.

Buy it from Amazon!
Buy the novel from Amazon!

Discuss the review in the Gabfest!

Greetings to our visitors from the IMDB, OFCS, and Rotten Tomatoes!
Stick around and have some coffee!