REVIEW Dalgliesh (S1 E1/6)

Channel 5’s version of Shroud for a Nightingale isn’t the first time we’ve seen Inspector Dalgliesh on TV, but the TV versions haven’t always been faithful to the original books. What will Bertie Carvel (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Doctor Foster) bring to the role?

Adam Dalgliesh is the hero of fourteen mystery novels by P. D. James, the first the 1962 story Cover Her Face. He also appears in two novels featuring James’s other detective, Cordelia Gray. 

Dalgliesh is a classic ‘flawed detective’ character – intensely private and introspective, Dalgliesh is a widower who has published several books of poetry. In the books, he starts off as a Detective Chief Inspector and lives in a flat above the Thames at Queenhithe in the City of London, later in a converted windmill on the Norfolk coast. He drives a Cooper Bristol, later a Jaguar, and is described as “tall, dark and handsome”.

All of the original James novels featuring Adam Dalgliesh including 2003’s The Murder Room have been adapted for television, beginning with Death of an Expert Witness in 1983. The first ten were adapted by Anglia Television and starred Roy Marsden as Dalgliesh. The BBC took over the series in 2003, with Martin Shaw playing the role in Death in Holy Orders and The Murder Room. The television adaptations have not always been faithful to the novels, partly because they are out of chronological order. 
So Shroud scores immediate points for being roughly in period (though it loses a couple of points for featuring a newspaper called The Daily Paper), starting with Chief Inspector Dalgliesh in 1975, newly widowed, head of a Met major incident team, driving his gorgeous 1972 registration green E-Type Jaguar to Nightingale House, a nursing training school. An unpopular student nurse, Heather Pearce, has been poisoned during a training exercise; the school seems to be a seething hotbed of jealousies, secrets and deceptions.

Dalgliesh’s first job is to put in his place the chippy Sergeant Masterson (Jeremy Irvine) who drives a Capri and so is obviously a wide boy. Rohan Chopra (Avin Shah) plays the usual role of the seen-it-all pathologist. 

Suspects include Stephen Courtney-Briggs (Richard Dillane), ex-Royal Medical Corps chief surgeon; Sister Gearing (Fenella Woolgar), senior nurse tutor; steely matron Mary Taylor (Natasha Little), who has a telescope in her room for no apparent reason, and simple-minded housekeeper Morag Smith (Lily Newmark).

So who fed the nurse disinfectant through a feeding-tube, and why? Was she a malicious blackmailer and the intended victim, or should it have been Nurse Fallon (Siobhan Cullen), a fan of Dalgleish’s poetry, who reads Simone de Beauvoir, was meant to be ill on the day of the death, but was seen leaving the house? Was it a prank gone wrong, as Masterson thinks; connected to the forthcoming visit of a minister of state; or something to do with a charity for ex-criminals that Nurse Pearce supported?

Dalgliesh’s sympathetic questioning teases out a complex of motivations, but he makes one big mistake when he assumes that no-one else is in danger, so when another of the nurses is found dead, he’s as baffled as we are. 

Made in Northern Ireland by a mainly female crew for Acorn TV, it has to be said that this is a solid and satisfying mystery, with Bertie Carvel well cast as the saturnine and immaculately dressed Dalgliesh, plenty of pleasing period detail, moody photography, and a tingling air of suspense and threat. We look forward to the rest of the series (three two-parters, shown on Thursday and Friday nights), with all the relish of a pathologist anticipating a juicy post-mortem. 

Chris Jenkins 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. marblex says:

    How did it measure up, in your opinion, to the original production with Marsden?


  2. In it something is. Now all became clear, many thanks for an explanation.


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