“I miss your healing hands.”
There is a point in all unhappy marriages when a certain pleasure is derived from making one’s spouse miserable. Dr. and Mrs. Bickleigh have reached that point. Set in the picturesque coastal British village of Wyvern’s Cross, Malice Aforethought is the story of the Bickleigh’s miserable marriage, and how Dr. Edmund Bickleigh (Ben Miller) decides to free himself from it.
It is the consensus of village gossips that Julia Bickleigh (Barbara Flynn) married beneath her. Julia, a rigid snob, who never fails to mention her family connections, agrees that her husband is a lowlife. Every chance Julia gets, she exposes her much younger husband to ridicule and public humiliation. It’s a way of making him behave. Dr. Bickleigh may have his professional status, but his roots are humble. Julia’s continuous insults always reach their target, and Bickleigh engages in a series of affairs as a form of defiance. The Bickleighs’ bad behaviour–her insults and his affairs–serve as a balance system in their relationship.
Bickleigh’s current amour is Ivy Ridgeway (Lucy Brown), and their affair is common knowledge–although Bickleigh and Ivy imagine it’s their little secret. Into this domestic maelstrom enters Madeleine Cranmere (Megan Dodds)–a glamourous bohemian whose artistic pretensions match Bickleigh’s. To Bickleigh’s smitten heart, Madeleine makes Ivy look like a dull country maid. Bickleigh promptly dumps Ivy and pursues Madeleine.
Madeleine, however, isn’t as naïve or as plaint as Ivy, and she also states that she can’t possibly marry a divorced man. Bickleigh concludes that Julia is standing in between him and happiness ….
If you are a fan of British mysteries (this one is set in the 20s), then you won’t be disappointed in Malice Aforethought. Bold characterizations mix with strong drama and a touch of black humour to produce 180 minutes of solid entertainment. The acting is excellent, the sets splendid, and the village scenery quite beautiful. But it’s the small touches that make this an excellent film–the maliciousness of the village gossips–two seemingly innocent elderly ladies, for example who parrot each other’s condemnations of the local doctor. Another humourous aspect is Dr. Bickleigh’s perception that he’s well thought of in the village. The Dr. and the seductive vamp, Madeleine deserve each other. The film is based on a novel by France Iles. If you enjoy Malice Aforethought, I also recommend Dandelion Dead.