Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Last night's telly: The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

I've been looking forward to the ITV dramatisation of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale for a while. If you're unfamiliar with it, it's a superb book on a notorious murder case that happened in a village not far from the town where I live. The town museum has some artefacts relating to the case.

The case was really quite a horrible one: a family awoke one morning to find the youngest son missing, and after a search he was found with his throat cut, stuffed down an outside privy. However, what's really significant about the case is the impact it had. This was a time when policemen were supposed to take into account the sensibilities of middle-class families, while the awfulness of the crime meant the press were all over the case. Detective Jack Whicher was closely scrutinised at the same time as he was being hamstrung by the class system. The result? He never caught a killer. A couple of years after the case collapsed, someone confessed (Summerscale is doubtful about the complete veracity of the confession), but by then it was too late for Jack Whicher, who'd left the Met. Whicher inspired Sergeant Cuff, policeman in Wilkie Collins' Victorian detective novel (and the first English-language detective novel) The Moonstone.

A lot of things had to be left out of the dramatisation. Two older sisters were barely mentioned, and you'd be forgiven for thinking the whole thing took place in the countryside whereas the larger town (Trowbridge) was actually a mill town. The possibility that Mr Kent, the father, had given the mother of his older children syphillis goes unmentioned, and he's shown in a way that makes him seem much less obstructive than the evidence in the book suggests. The confined, repressed atmosphere of the family home, and the tensions between children of the first wife, and the governess-turned-second-wife is missing. Whicher also speaks much more freely than someone of his station would have been permitted to, and voices opinions that are actually Summerscale's. Ultimately the dramatisation felt lacking in substance, but it would have been hard to cram a packed and scholarly book into a two hour television programme. If you saw it and enjoyed it, you must read the book!

2 comments :

  1. I haven't read the book, but have it as an audiobook instead and was fascinated by it and all the intrigue behind what was a tragic waste of a young life. I agree with you though, that the tv adaptation was heavily sanitised and left out the macabre elements even though it was shown during the watershed. I think it would have been better if ITV had serialised it and included the details from the later years; I'm trying not to give too many details away here for those who haven't read the book, but those who have will know what I mean.

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  2. The book is on my read it swap it list. O admit l tried to watch this but lost interest.

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