The 3 hour-long BBC television production The Blackheath Poisonings is a period piece set in Victorian England. It concerns the Collard and Vandervent families–joined by marriage and a toy manufacturing business. The extended families all live together in the sumptuous family mansion, and the matriarch, Harriet Collard (Judy Parfitt) rules everyone with a rod of iron. Harriet has three children: Beatrix who is married to Roger, Georgie who is married to Isabel, and old maid Charlotte. Charlotte cast her eyes on the unreliable adventurer, Robert Dangerfield–a match most members of the family find quite unsuitable.
The atmosphere in the Collard/Vandervent mansion is suffocating and oppressive at best. All the inhabitants find methods of release, and some of the habits are inevitably destructive. It seems two of the family–related by marriage–are indulging in a passionate love affair under the very noses of everyone else. But just as the affair may be revealed, one of the family members dies a horrible death. Is it “gastric misadventure” as the puffy, old family doctor announces, or is poison the cause of death?
The sets, costumes and acting of this BBC production are all, as always, impeccable. The plot is initially very strong and compelling. Everyone is a suspect, everyone has a motive, and this makes for a fascinating story. The plot very cleverly plays with all the suspects, so that at first you think perhaps it’s one character, but then suspicion shifts to someone else. However, the denouement is far too rapid, disjointed and choppy. After the truth is revealed, the explanation seems preposterous. Many unanswered questions remain and consequently one is left with the lingering feeling of disappointment.