The Mystery of Edwin Drood on PBS Masterpiece Theater
by Phil Boatwright

The PBS series Masterpiece presents a new adaptation of the Charles Dickens celebrated unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The made-for-TV film airs Sunday, April 15 at 9:00pm ET on PBS.

SYNOPSIS & PRODUCTION NOTES: On June 8, 1870, Charles Dickens concluded a full-day’s work on his novel and set down his pen. He died the next day, leaving The Mystery of Edwin Drood a mystery indeed. Masterpiece Classic uses clues left by the author himself, together with inspired guesswork, to solve this famous literary puzzle. Adapted and completed by Gwyneth Hughes (Miss Austen Regrets), The Mystery of Edwin Drood stars Matthew Rhys (Brothers & Sisters), Tamzin Merchant (The Tudors), and Julia MacKenzie (Miss Marple).

The story opens in an opium haze, as John Jasper (Rhys) smokes his way into oblivion to take his mind off his detested duties as a village choirmaster – and to fantasize about murdering his guileless nephew, Edwin Drood (Freddie Fox). Drood is engaged to marry the beautiful Rosa Bud (Merchant), with whom Jasper is perversely in love. He is not alone. A mysterious visitor has arrived in town with his twin sister and has taken an intense interest in Rosa.

From there the tangled plot becomes more dreamlike, erotic and sinister. Sadly, Dickens died without finishing the dark tale. But according to critics who recently viewed the UK broadcast of the production, writer Gwyneth Hughes has come up with a perfect, perhaps even ingenious conclusion.

PREVIEW REVIEW: Though the recent TV adaptation of Great Expectations was a pale imitation of the classic David Lean film done in 1948, the new version of The Mystery of Edwin Drood is completely involving. The cast is formidable, the pacing and direction smooth and distinctive and, of course, there’s the storytelling by the master, Charles Dickens, as well as creative additions by screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes. At first leisurely paced, the story then builds in intensity, keeping us glued to the screen.

Despite the shot of a man being strangled, which is seen several times in nightmare scenes, the production is captivating, making for a most compelling night at the movies for older children on up. Still, I would like to see the 1935 film version with Claude Rains, which somehow got past me. With Claude Rains (The Invisible Man, Casablanca, Mr. Skeffington, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Notorious), it’s gotta be good.