Review: Amazon's 'Ordeal by Innocence' is pure Agatha Christie — even with some new twists

Review: Amazon's 'Ordeal by Innocence' is pure Agatha Christie — even with some new twists
Amazon's adaptation of Agatha Christie's "Ordeal by Innocence" is an intriguing update on an old classic and features a stellar ensemble cast that includes Bill Nighy as Leo Argyll. (James Fisher / ACL)

The ticktock of a grandfather clock.

Droplets of blood on parchment paper.


An eavesdropping housekeeper.

Screams heard up and down the winding staircase of a stately English mansion.

Stylistically, Amazon Prime’s “Ordeal by Innocence” is Agatha Christie through and through, and that should come as no surprise. The limited series, out Friday, is adapted from her 1958 novel of the same name, the first of three original Christie adaptations to premiere on the streaming service.

The unexpected twist here, however, is that the three-episode period drama deviates from the book’s narrative yet still manages to weave an equally intriguing whodunit.

Christie devotees may find the off-the-book story lines disrespectful to the beloved author — if not altogether blasphemous. But this series produced in the U.K. for BBC One does an artful job building out new puzzles atop the old while still honoring the work of Christie.

It’s the mid-1950s when we meet the Argyll family. Egyptologist Leo Argyll (Bill Nighy) is the patriarch of the well-to-do British family, his philanthropist Mrs. Rachel Argyll (Anna Chancellor) was murdered over a year ago, and one of the family’s five adopted adult children was convicted of the crime. The perp, black-sheep son Jack (Anthony Boyle), has since died in jail. Left are Mickey (Christian Cooke), Hester (Ella Purnell), Mary (Eleanor Tomlinson) and Tina (Crystal Clarke) as well as drunken, bitter son-in-law Philip (Matthew Goode) and Leo’s new flame, voluptuous gold digger Gwenda (Alice Eve).

But when a mysterious man who goes by the name of Dr. Calgary (Luke Treadaway) shows up on the Argylls’ polished doorstep claiming that the wrong man was convicted of Rachel’s murder, new questions arise around Rachel’s death and the family begins to suspect one another.

Each hour-long episode takes audiences through a series of flashbacks that paints a vivid picture of the dysfunctional, mother-child relationships. No one particularly liked, let alone loved, the prickly, cold matriarch. The series does a great job in giving everyone here — including maid Kirsten (Morven Christie) — ample motives to stab her in the parlor, or was it the drawing room?

The collective talent of the cast — Nighy, Chancellor, Goode -- is another critical piece in bringing Christie’s tale to life by honoring the author’s attention to detail in her characters. The Argylls in this adaptation are not particularly likable, but they are all intriguing and full of mystery.

The drama is beautifully shot. Family secrets unfold in the foggy English countryside, the wooded forests and inside the ornate Argyll mansion. The wardrobe is also part of the rich viewing experience here: tweed jackets, elegant dinner gowns.

As for the new twists? No spoilers here, but suffice to say this version of “Ordeal by Innocence” is a worthy if not slightly darker take on an old classic.

‘Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence’

Where: Amazon


When: Any time

Rated: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under age 17)