If your response to the season finale of HBO’s Succession was longing for more time spent with a toxic and damaged family whose members all seem to be trying to shank each other, good news: Amazon’s Ordeal by Innocence is here. The three-part BBC adaptation of the 1958 Agatha Christie novel is replete with stars, including Bill Nighy, Alice Eve, Matthew Goode, and Anna Chancellor. But it’s also curiously dark, stuffed with repetitive flashbacks, moody imagery, and nasty people committing acts of emotional torture. The surprise at the end isn’t that one of them is a murderer—it’s that the rest of them aren’t.
Succession balances its unrelenting awfulness with bleak comedy. Ordeal by Innocence, which was adapted by Sarah Phelps and directed by Sandra Goldbacher, relies on sumptuous, color-saturated visuals, using the palatial country-manor setting to frame striking shots of vivid green forests and mustard-yellow 1950s dining rooms. It’s lovely but overstylized, amping up the arthouse melodrama to the point where the plot often feels like an afterthought.
In a subversion of Christie’s typical structure, the story begins not with a mystery, but with a conviction. Rachel Argyll (Chancellor), the wealthy mother of five adopted children, is found bludgeoned to death in her bedroom. One of her sons, Jack (Anthony Boyle), is accused of her murder and arrested. Eighteen months later, Jack has died in prison, and Rachel’s husband, Leo (Nighy), is marrying his former secretary (Eve). The four remaining Argyll children are processing their feelings about their various losses, and about their grasping and highly strung stepmother-to-be, when a stranger shows up at the house insisting that Jack was innocent, with an alibi to prove it.