Despite leaving The Mystery of Edwin Drood incomplete when he died in 1870 (of all the nerve!), the book has hit the screen about half a dozen times since, most recently this two-hour version from the BBC, now on Blu-ray fresh from airing on PBS’ esteemed, enduring Masterpiece Classic showcase.
Edwin Drood (Freddie Fox, The Three Musketeers remake), an orphan now aged 20, comes to visit his choirmaster uncle, John Jasper (Matthew Rhys, TV’s Brothers & Sisters), as well as to visit his fiancé, Rosa Bud (Tamzin Merchant, Red Faction: Origins). While blonde and beautiful, she is also spoiled and petulant, “all thorns and no petals.”
In the film’s stiff-upper-lip era, all matters should present themselves as black and white, but John’s church robe covers shades of gray. Tired of his monotonous life, the choirmaster has turned to plying his boredom with time in an opium den. He also has the hots for one of his pupils: Rosa.
In love triangles — or whatever geometric shape Dickens constructed here, as the plot grows more complex with the introduction of more characters — at least one side invariably must collapse, and so happens here in a grand scheme hinted at by the title. Having not read the original novel — or what was exists of it — I cannot speak to whether the ending posited here by director Diarmuid Lawrence (2008’s Little Dorrit) might be what Dickens had in mind, but it fits this outlet.
One has to be in the right mood for two hours of costume drama, especially one stuffed with as many terms like “mollycoddled” as bosoms in corsets, but Drood will appeal to more than just hardcore Masterpiece fanatics. Its themes are too comfortable, its plot too dark, its actors too appealing for it not to resonate among the wider range of mystery mavens. Consider it a nice, filling appetizer while awaiting season three of Downton Abbey. —Rod Lott