After reading Death in Holy Orders by P.D. James I came across the movie at work. I was interested to see how a filmmaker would adapt such a complex novel, and I was not disappointed.
Obviously certain things were left out of the film, which still runs at nearly 2 ½ hours. And, unlike some film adaptations, the plot points weren’t clearly spelled out. We start out with Ronald Treeves running toward the beach, sobbing; we see his anguish, then see the sand fall upon him. Unlike the book, there is no implication of deliberate suicide. We get a scene where the Archdeacon finds a gift of wine left for him, and he sees Yarborough standing nearby. This is not explained right away, which lends an extra air of mystery to the Archdeacon. The plot itself was a bit more roundabout, as they had to jump from person to person, but the mystery itself was a bit more straightforward.
What really makes this movie is the actors. We don’t need long exposition. The actors can give a few short lines and convey all they need through their gestures and emotions. Dalgliesh was, of course, cool and collected, but also, as in the book, shown to be capable of great humanity. Fr. Sebastian and the Archdeacon both gave outstanding performances as two opposite forces clashing. Indeed, Clive Wood certainly made me sympathize, albeit unwillingly, with the Archdeacon.
Most notable is Jesse Spencer’s performance as Raphael. He fully conveys the character’s brashness and vulnerability; a particularly touching moment was his grief over Miss Betterton’s death.
The film as a whole is an excellent adaption, and with a beautiful, melancholy soundtrack befitting the story. It’s a cerebral mystery, and one I would go back to again and again.