The Murder Room (2004)

“His life always seemed to be crowding in on him.”

In The Murder Room, a British television production of the P.D. James novel, Commander Adam Dalgliesh (Martin Shaw) investigates a murder committed at the Dupayne Museum in London. Siblings Neville (Michael Maloney), Caroline (Samantha Bond), and Marcus Dupayne (Nicholas Le Prevost) are trustees of the museum, and they must all agree and sign the upcoming lease renewal in order for the museum to remain open. Neville, a psychiatrist, loathes the museum–partly because it dwells unhealthily on the past, and partly because it’s a monument to a father he hated. Neville is under tremendous pressure–his siblings (and there’s no love lost here)–are pressuring him to sign. Neville’s daughter is pressuring him not to sign. Between family pressures and patient demands, Neville slices a small time of escape when he picks up his parked Jaguar from the museum and drives off for solitary weekends in the country.

When Neville is horribly murdered, there is no shortage of suspects. Neville’s decision to close the museum resulted in plenty of people who’d like him dead–there’s Tally (Anita Carey) the kindly, cat-loving housekeeper who would lose her job and her home, Ryan (Sid Mitchell)–one of Neville’s ex-patients, and squabbling siblings, Marcus and Caroline.

To complicate matters, Neville’s murder is a copy-cat slaying of one of the crimes memorialized by the museum’s ‘Murder Room’–a room devoted to some of the most heinous murders of the 20th century. Commander Dalgleish must find the killer while deftly not offending his superiors (who take an inordinate amount of interest in the museum) or upsetting the surviving, volatile Dupaynes. While trying to solve the case, Dalgleish is involved with Emma (Janie Dee–Death in Holy Orders)–and the course of true love does not run smooth.

The Murder Room is an elegant, interesting mystery, but suffers a little from unnecessary distractions. Can a mystery have too many suspects? Perhaps or perhaps not–but there are several sub-plots here that amount to distractions when viewers really do want to stay firmly on the trail. Also, while there’s a nice parallel drawn to Neville Dupayne’s inability to establish intimate relationships and Commander Dalgleish’s own tentative romance with Emma, somehow Emma’s romance with Dalgleish is unbelievable. He wrestles with his demons, and she has a tantrum about his scheduling. Dalgliesh’s difficulties with intimacy fit his character, but Emma’s inability to accept the demands of his profession seem ludicrously and curiously flighty. Ultimately, in view of Emma’s failure to accept the demands of Dalgleish’s career, their romance is unlikely at best. Fans of British mystery & Dalgleish will not be disappointed, however, in this extremely well conducted programme. Special note for the entertaining performance of Jack Shepherd as James Caulder-Hale. Extras include an interview with author P.D. James and information about the cast.

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