A Murder Of Quality

A Murder Of Quality

***1/2

Reviewed by: Josh Morrall

A Murder Of Quality, based on John Le Carré's novel, faultlessly falls into the convention of a typical English murder mystery. Yet, inside the suffocating structure of the genre, director Gavin Millar tries something new in terms of character development, especially with Denholm Elliott, an actor who died one year after the making of the film.

George Smiley (Elliott), an ex spy, comes to the aid of his old friend Alisa (Glenda Jackson), when she is sent a letter from a woman who predicts that her husband, a teacher at Carne School for boys, will murder her. George uncovers corruption at the school, as he aids Inspector Rigby (Matthew Scurfield) in his investigations. All evidence points towards the husband, but a number of the town folk have their own motives for murder.

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Working within the confines of a genre that has been so rigourously exploited by other directors can be intimidating, especially when you are up against films which have been based on the work of writers as distinguished as Agatha Christie. Therefore, it is fair to assume that this low budget, made-for-TV movie will offer nothing new and certainly nothing special. Yet somehow, A Murder Of Quality draws you in to its clichéd story through the charm of its well developed and coyly satirical characters.

Smiley is a subtle impersonation of Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote and the relationship and contrast between Inspector Rigby and his sergeant are reminiscent of other double teams from Midsummer Murders and Inspector Morse. Careful acting fleshes out these well crafted characters which are realistic as well as engaging.

Elliott, whom you may remember from Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, is excellent. His gradual metamorphosis from a babbling, bumbling and sometimes irritating mystery enthusiast to a careful, cerebral and even intimidating detective is delicately crafted. Inspector Rigby (Matthew Scurfield) and The Pathologist (John Grillo) are both amusing characters, providing needed comic relief, whilst performing their function in the plot.

The Inspector's humour is understated, his monotone making it seem like he's seen and heard everything before, whilst his quizzical facial expressions show aroused interest when he learns of a woman being bludgeoned to death. The Pathologist delivers wry one-liners, which incite the film's only laughter ("Not many of us stay still when a maniac is walloping us with a chunk of cable - we get fidgety").

The director shows his awareness at trying something new within a suffocatingly structured genre when, in the film's intense climax, George recites the various things murderers do when accused, which is why A Murder Of Quality is so enjoyable. It throws together all the stereotypes and forces them to work side by side and what could have gone horribly, messily wrong, remains solid and interesting throughout.

Le Carré is not a great writer of dialogue, yet fleshes out his characters well. Their development requires a slow pace, which means the plot unfolds methodically, building up suspense as the film drifts casually towards its finale with an intense outburst from schoolmaster Fielding (Joss Ackland).

Other than a routine storyline, the film's only flaw is Millar's desire to cater for everybody. Early on, there is a little gratuitous female nudity, which serves no purpose and seems to be present only to capture male attention, so that the fellas won't loose interest in a slowly developing plot.

However, Millar does well to maintain the complex story, whilst juggling so many characters without dropping them. Watching sweet old George dip into his past and retrieve the persona of the spy he once was is fascinating. And look out for Christian Bale, as a young student.

A solid film throughout, although you may find it tiresome.

Reviewed on: 25 Aug 2004
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John Le Carre murder mystery with George Smiley in Agatha Christie territory.
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Director: Gavin Millar

Writer: John Le Carré, based on the novel by John Le Carre

Starring: Denholm Elliott, Glenda Jackson, Joss Ackland, Billie Whitelaw, David Threlfall, Ronald Pickup, Christian Bale, Matthew Scurfield, John Grillo

Year: 1991

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK

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