Being 5 hrs. long, shot on "live" film stock resembling soap operas and taped plays, and having a cast of typically good British actors, a miniseries like "Shroud for a Nightingale" (SfaN) is certainly a unique and potentially very good viewing opportunity. SfaN falls far short of that potential, however.
Since adaptations of mystery novels often suffer from short running times and insufficient consideration of clues, you would think a 5-hr. miniseries format would be ideal for letting the viewer try to solve the mystery herself. Thus it's disappointing when, after investing so much time, SfaN gives up on the "fair play" solve-it-yourself aspect, choosing simply to reveal the answer in a way that no viewer could discover. (And it's not the only Dalgliesh miniseries to do this.) Strangely, SfaN goes on and on for 5 hours but never seems to think about clues any more than a 90 minute movie.
In fact, SfaN fails to maintain coherence or resolve some basic questions, even as it wastes time on redundant scenes. A character's mysterious knowledge of a victim's private financial details is treated as suspicious, then never explained. Certain innocent suspects act excessively secretive for no apparent reason. Meanwhile, events that could be conveyed in seconds are given minute upon minute of dead time. In the end, there's no reason this program should be 5 hrs. long.
One "mystery" is why sidekick Massingham, typically so accommodating to his bossy boss, suddenly spazzes out a couple of times. Goodall remarks that fellow nursing student Fallon is old compared to most students, yet Goodall looks at least 40. Weirdest of all is the scene of a drunk dancing to music from "The Godfather!" This precedes a sudden, absurd turn to bedroom farce, only enjoyable because it takes the priggish Dalgliesh down a notch.
Speaking of whom...
Lots of film fans understandably chafe at formulaic Hollywood conventions, like the insistence on making main characters "likable." However, doing the exact opposite, and having a main character who is completely unlikable, simply isn't viable for a 5-hr. miniseries. SfaN does this, and it's a serious detriment. Dalgliesh here may be the most insufferable, imperious detective protagonist I've seen. He acts like his greatest aspiration is to treat suspects as disrespectfully, even cruelly, as possible. Most of the time, my reaction was, "(insert vulgar phrase) this guy"...and to think, "Why should I spend my time with this character?"
He's associated with another series problem. Reactionary moralizing seems to surface now and then in the Dalgliesh shows I've seen. It feels just as weak and outdated as the appearance of Dalgliesh himself -- balding, mustachioed, forever in 3-piece suits and blue tie.
SfaN is not as bad as another Dalgliesh series, in which Dalgliesh went up to a sexually active bachelorette who was unconnected with the crimes, and basically blamed her promiscuity as partly responsible for what happened. Still, when one or two promiscuous people in SfaN question if Dalgliesh disapproves of their activity, he only stares at them stonily for a moment, then asks something else.
In a series that gives the soapbox to no less than three anti-abortion advocates, it would've been nice to also have at least one person stand up for a prochoice outlook. Predictably, but still annoyingly, no less than a minister persuades the pregnant woman to change her mind and not have her abortion. A holy roller proves to be a hypocritical blackmailer, but the series quickly brushes her off as an anomaly from a tiny radical sect. This time around, lesbians lose out on the sympathetic portrayal they got in "Death of an Expert Witness" -- here, they're all misandrist, crooked, and/or dirty old women.
The one challenge to this reactionary tinge is a scenario made from the blackest of irony -- a character prays for God's guidance to a good life, literally at the same time s/he unwittingly finishes his/her murderer's job with his/her own two hands. The angriest of atheists would avoid writing such a scene as too contrived!
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