The Mystery of Edwin Drood (PBS) is indeed a Victorian murder mystery but the real mystery of “Edwin Drood” is how Charles Dickens intended to end his final, unfinished novel. He died leaving a half-written, unresolved manuscript with no indication of his intended solution to the mystery. No unfinished novel has seen so many adaptations and interpretations on the big screen, on the small screen, and on stage. This British production comes up with an inventive (if not exactly Dickensian) solution. Matthew Rhys plays John Jasper, opium-addicted choir master and uncle to Edwin (Freddie Fox), a likable if sometimes insufferable beneficiary of a small trust. To complicate things, Edwin is betrothed to Jasper’s beautiful young student Rosa Bud (Tamzin Merchant), not the subtlest of Dickens’ character names, and Jasper is so infatuated with the young woman that he dreams of strangling Edwin, and sure enough a strangling comes to pass, but that’s the beginning of a tale that offers a missing corpse, the sudden appearance of two orphans from India, and the sudden, unsettling transformation of Japser into an overbearing stalker. Alun Armstrong co-stars as Rosa’s guardian who turns detective when the suspicion falls on the hot-tempered Indian ward of the local priest, and David Dawson is what you might call his legman, chasing evidence in the procedural portion of the story.
Gwyneth Hughes scripts this new production and offers third act that is as beholden to modern psychology and contemporary British TV mystery as it is to the Dickensian drama of bloodlines, legitimacy, denied identity, and the barriers of class and culture, and director Diarmuid Lawrence shifts the film into a register of shadowy Gothic mystery in the second half. It’s unlikely Dickens had something quite so intricately contrived in mind, but it is quite clever, entertaining, and in its own satisfying as both a murder mystery and a Victorian drama. Blu-ray and DVD, no supplements, presented with the “Masterpiece Classic” introduction seen in the U.S.