TV review: Arthur & George, ITV1
Julian Barnes’ acclaimed novel makes for a jolly decent telly adaptation
While recent reports suggest that Neil Morrissey yearns for a Men Behaving Badly reunion, this perhaps says more about the current shape of his own career than that of his buddy, Martin Clunes. While the latter appears to have settled into appearing in a string of feelgood ITV affairs such as Doc Martin and William and Mary, Clunes isn’t afraid to dip toes into the dark side now and again: his role in A is for Acid as the 1940s serial killer John George Haigh for one.
And in a three-part adaptation of Julian Barnes’ 2005 novella, Arthur & George, he takes on a scenario which exists somewhere between cuddly and callous while donning an actually not-bad Scottish accent to become Arthur Conan Doyle. Barnes’ book was based on the real-life story of George Edalji, an Anglo-Indian solicitor and vicar’s son who was sentenced in 1903 to three years’ hard labour after being convicted of sending some dodgy letters as well as maiming a local pony.
Having just become a widower and not in the mood to unleash another Sherlock Holmes tale on the world, Doyle became obsessed with the case (dubbed ‘the Great Wyrley Outrages’) and of his belief that a serious miscarriage of justice had occurred. By then, Edalji was a free man but so determined to clear his name that having the renowned author on his side was a welcome spot of celebrity endorsement. But as Doyle poked further into the case, it seemed that racial hatred may have been the motivation behind the framing of Edalji.
While it’s unlikely that this will attract younger viewers pining for Cumberbatch ‘n’ Freeman, this drama serial has the touches of class that ITV occasionally throws out there. If you haven’t read the novel and can avoid the plethora of online analyses of its scandal, this disturbing case’s unravelling and the impact it had on the 20th century’s criminal justice system will have a few shocking surprises in store.
Arthur & George starts on ITV1, Monday 2 Mar, 9pm