Inspector Lynley is asked by his old school friend to investigate when one of his pupils is killed. The school in question is Bredgar Hall, a haven for the rich and the privileged with annual fees of £20,000 a year. The dead boy however, 13 year-old Matthew Whately didn't come from a rich family. From all accounts, he was well liked and fit into the school and its unique culture quite well. DS Havers is appalled with the whole concept of parents shipping their children off to a boarding school just when they need parenting the most. Faced with school administrators who seem more concerned with the school's reputation than the boy's death, Lynley and Havers must determine if the threat is from students, staff or someone not at all connected with the school.Written by
I've been an atheist for almost as long as I can remember. The whole invisible-almighty-geriatric-in-the-sky malarky never seemed to me either a good government system or a fantasy to find comfort in. However, dear reader, this, second, episode of "Inspector Lynley Mysteries", turned me religious. Yes, indeed, a miracle occurred and a wayward son returned to god, if merely, for a brief second, for when "Well Schooled in Murder" finally stumbled to a close, I made the sign of the cross and thanked the good lord for releasing me of this self-imposed imprisonment. This may seem overly dramatic to those who've not suffered through this 90-minute harrowing, but my fellow travellers who've found themselves subjected to this insufferably bad excuse of a detective story will no doubt find themselves in my Lynley-inspired religious awakening.
Oh, indeed, the plot sounds promising enough. A pupil at an exclusive, all-boys school shows up murdered and a former pupil turned police inspector, now has to carefully navigate the labyrinthine net of false friendships and misplaced loyalties weaved by a bunch of misguided and frightened teenagers and dogmatic teachers all in the name of "old school ties". However, right from the start, it is evident that "Well Schooled in Murder" will stubbornly and continuously refuse to capitalise on its intriguing premise or naturally atmospheric setting. Namely, the story begins as one of the teachers (John Sessions) rushes through a rainy night towards a small house in the countryside to inquire whether one of his pupils has unexpectedly returned home. Upon finding out he has not, he receives a phone call informing him that the child's body has been found mutilated and laid out on school grounds. This sequence, potentially mesmerising and intense on paper, shows up on screen strikingly lacking in both atmosphere and urgency. Robert Young, a British director who's failed to rise to any great stature during his many, many years of continuous work, directs this thriller in such a "by-the-book", matter-of-fact way that even the most generous of viewers will find it difficult to be thrilled by it. There is not one ounce of visual inventiveness, atmosphere, or drama. Urgency never rears its head either and I'm not sure Mr Young even knows what suspense is. Instead, the episode meanders pacelessly and stutteringly to a finale so unexciting and utterly uninvolving I couldn't believe it wasn't just yet another red herring.
Which brings me to the script. Written by Simon Block, it is a mess. A shambolic, bland, needlessly drawn-out retread of various thriller cliches better utilised in most other crime dramas of the past 60 years or so. Here be gay teachers, drunkard accountants, uncaring headmasters, and ambiguously gay students galore and all of them so painfully dull and shallow that I found myself paying more attention to the sound mix than their dialogue. And here was I thinking that such a sad myriad of two-dimensional bores can only be seen during Prime Minister's Questions. None of them has any interesting developments during the story, character arcs, or even character traits beyond the most basic plot-mandated descriptions (drunkard, paedophile, drug addict etc.), Which brings us to our two leads. Two characters whom to call wooden would be an insult to trees whom I've heard can be quite charismatic if they try really, really hard. Inspector Lynley (as portrayed by muttering, mumbling, softly-softly in my chin Nathaniel Parker) is for a lack of words a total upstart prick who charges through the plot with a dismissive manner and highly annoying smirk on his very slappable face. He is sort of like Morse if you stripped Morse of his soulfulness, melancholy, and basic human decency. Beyond these traits, of course, Lynley has no character and I emerged from this episode without ever learning anything about him at all. Sharon Small emerges from this mess looking a little better, if only because she's a far more capable actress than Mr Parker, however, her character is equally as annoying because her chip-on-the-shoulder non-sequitur soliloquies on class differences are so horribly written I kept waiting for the real leader of the opposition to show up. Again, beyond this character trait, DS Havers is a big nothing. Not even a few asides about her (apparently) dying father help fill out the massive, gaping holes in her "character". It is, of course, also highly telling of the quality of your script, when not even the highly venerable supporting cast consisting of Bill Nighy, Martin Jarvis, John Sessions, and Frederick Treves manage to make anything out of their dialogue. Nighy twitches and hops through his role seemingly entirely unrestrained by his typically uncaring director, Jarvis stumbles around pretending to be drunk and is about as convincing as a four-year-old swearing he didn't bring the mud into the house, and Treves looks surprised, in his one scene, that his agent even dared offer him such dreck as this. Sessions, is the only actor in this dreadful mess, to emerge unscathed mainly because ineffective authority figures who may or may not be gay happen to be his speciality and he seems to be able to direct himself. But his fine performance is merely a drop of good in an overall sea of embarrassing dreadfulness.
That the British Broadcasting Corporation would ever put their name to something as wholly incompetent, dry, bland, and shambolic as this is only telling of the state they're in. While at the same time, someone in the same corporation was making the exquisite, stylish, and clever "Messiah 2: Vengeance is Mine", these poor souls were trapped in the limbo that is "Inspector Lynley Mysteries". It has been a long time since I was both so completely bored and yet utterly transfixed by the sheer incompetence of a production. "Well-Schooled in Murder" should stand alongside "Keith Chegwin's Naked Shame" as one of those cautionary tales about how not to do IT, whatever IT may be. Our killer may be well-schooled in murder, but sadly the filmmakers have no clue how to do their jobs.
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