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The Mystery of Edwin Drood Review

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★★★★★

Not only is Charles Dickens' half-drafted novel of maddened passion and murder far from great literature, but he also wrote only six chapters before his death and left no notes on how he intended it to end. In taking it on, writer-director Timothy Forder has turned it into a melodrama of a cad and a virtuous heroine which is more akin to the works of Barbara Cartland than Dickens.

Initially this is a fair approximation of a BBC production - familiar cast, comfortable settings and uncomfortable costumes - but the lack of satisfactory development and its mediocre treatment go some way in explaining its absence so far from our TV screens. The drift is that respectable cathedra choir master John Jasper (Powell) is secretly a depraved opium smoker whose jealous obsession with his smug, carefree nephew, the eponymous Drood, and Edwin's fiancee Rosa, leads to murder most foul.

The issue is not whodunnit, however, but why and how - the why being the fair Rosa in the bustling little form of Finty Williams; the how hinted at so frequently as to lose any power to shock when it's finally recounted. Robert Powell is the only participant with a grip on melodramatic villainy, his sinister brooding moodies being the most attractive element here, but one poorly exploited in a tediously prosaic tale. The real mystery of this Edwin Drood is how it ever reached the big screen.