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Exxon Mobil Masterpiece Theater: The Blackheath Poisonings
Exxon Mobil Masterpiece Theater The Blackheath Poisonings
Actor: Christine Kavanagh; Ian McNeice; Zoë Wanamaker; Judy Parfitt; Patrick Malahide; James Faulkner; Christien Anholt; Julia St. John; Nicholas Woodeson; Ronald Fraser; Donald Sumpter; Dafydd Hywel; Ralph Nossek; Ian Bartholomew; Gabrielle Cowburn; George Ant
Director: Stuart Orme
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Television, Mystery & Suspense
UR     2003     3hr 0min

Behind the shutters of a Victorian family?s home lies a lethal potion of lust, corruption and greed. At first glance, the two toymaking families who share a spacious villa in the leafy London suburb of Blackheath appear t...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Christine Kavanagh; Ian McNeice; Zoë Wanamaker; Judy Parfitt; Patrick Malahide; James Faulkner; Christien Anholt; Julia St. John; Nicholas Woodeson; Ronald Fraser; Donald Sumpter; Dafydd Hywel; Ralph Nossek; Ian Bartholomew; Gabrielle Cowburn; George Ant
Director: Stuart Orme
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Television, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Period Piece, Crime & Criminals, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: WGBH Boston
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 09/02/2003
Original Release Date: 02/19/1993
Theatrical Release Date: 02/19/1993
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 3hr 0min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 8
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Victorian murder mystery....
Dianne Foster | USA | 12/20/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)

"The BLACKHEATH POISONINGS is a great film. Originally, a BBC/Masterpiece presentation on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting network, the film features a cast of familiar British faces such as Judy Parfitt (JEWEL IN THE CROWN, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE), Patrick Malahide (MIDDLEMARCH, THE SINGING DECTECTIVE); Zoe Wanamaker (MORSE) and dozens of other actors you've seen in various Mystery Theater presentations. The transfer of the film is reasonably good. The plot is very complex. The cast of characters excepting the doctors who treat the poisoned and the police who investigate what turns out to be murder, are all members of the same family). The family business is toy manufacturing, and a number of curious 19th century toys are featured in various scenes. The action takes place in a fabulous Victorian house (red and green and filled with nicknacks), a 19th century factory, a brothel, a train station, a cemetery, and a park. Think Sherlock Holmes crossed with Gilbert and Sullivan.

Parfitt plays the domineering, stingy, and uptight matriarch "she who must be obeyed" to a family comprised of resentful adult children - sons, sons-in-law, daughters, nephews, stepchildren. The seven deadly sins are represented by the various family members - anger, lust, greed, avarice, lust - did I say lust? Sex and money are at the root of their problems - often the case in repressed Victorian society. This mystery is SO good my 74-year old husband who usually falls asleep at 8:00 p.m. in front of the tv stayed awake until 11:20 p.m. When I asked him 2/3 of the way through the three hour showing if he wanted to continue, he said, "Bring her on.""
A nicely murderous tale of Victorian resentments
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 06/18/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

""I loved Roger Vandervent. My only crime has been my nature," says Isabel Collard, and it turns out to be true, even though her lover has died of arsenic poisoning. That a person's nature is the driving force can also be said of the true murderer, as well as of the person who takes the final step to justice.

The Blackheath Poisonings is one of those masterful Masterpiece Theater showcases, full of sumptuous Victorian detail, skillful acting and the sort of exquisite manners one loves to observe and is repulsed by. The Collard family owns Collard and Vandervent, toymakers to the empire. It is a company that nothing will change. There is Isabel (Christine Kavanaugh), married to George Collard (Ian McNeice), a fat, epicene man who loves chocolates. Isabel is an adulteress with Roger Vandervent (James Faulkner), who is married to Beatrice (Julia St. John), a Collard daughter and sister to George. She is a woman of treasured resentments and heavy brows. They have a son, young Paul (Christien Anholt), who worships Isabel and wants to be free of the family. Another daughter, Charlotte (Zoe Wanamaker), makes a match with an adventurer, Robert Dangerfield (Patrick Malahyde), but she just might prove to be better at the game than he. Ruling over them all with an imperious will that can shrivel all before it is the matriarch of the family, Harriet Collard (Judy Parfitt). She dresses in black, pulls her hair so tightly back it must hurt and has a glare which can freeze thumbs.

The affection these people seem to have for each other could fit in a thimble. Before long Roger Vandervent is dead and Isabel is charged with murder. No one seems to care deeply one way or the other except Paul. Then Harriet dies, gasping and discretely vomiting. All the while Robert Dangerfield is maneuvering for control of the firm. The Collard siblings seem to have no greater pleasure than to ignore each others' feelings and condescend to everyone else. In addition to all this, there are servants playing pinch the bottom in the butler's pantry, purloined letters of indiscrete passion and nasty blackmail. Paul is left to sort out the truth. He has little time because Isabel, now on trial for the poisoning of her lover, faces hanging. In a nice bit of Victorian realism, the truth takes Paul to a place which dare not speak its name, but which requires the funds of a gentlemen and an affection for corsets, makeup and veils.

It's vicious, tawdry, mannered and a great deal of fun. Unfortunately, things slow a bit toward the end. The revelation behind the murders isn't quite as gaspingly shocking as it might have been in Queen Victoria's time. Still, the story is told with poisonous skill, the production values are very high and the acting is a pleasure to watch. Particularly fine jobs are turned in by Parfitt, McNeice and Wanamaker.

The DVD picture looks just fine. The only significant extras are a cast filmography and cast list."
Greta G. | Los Angeles, CA | 08/29/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I loved the period details and I thought the acting was generally very good. I would recommend "The Blackheath Poisonings" to anyone interested in Victorian drama/mysteries."
E. A Solinas | MD USA | 06/02/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)

"Arsenic, creepy toys, and a big gothic mansion full of people with nasty little secrets. Can't fail, right?

Wrong. Sadly the Masterpiece Theatre production "The Blackheath Poisonings" proves that, with a murky murder mystery that is half soap opera and half serial killings, it can still be boring and hideously riddled with holes. It's a leaky vessel at the best of times, but the third episode spins out of control in random and hilariously awful directions. The actors are excellent, but they've got little to work with.

The Collard and Vandervent families (two branches of the same family) all live in the same house and work in the same toy firm. What's more, Roger Vandervent (James Faulkner) is having an affair with his sensual sister-in-law Isabel (Christine Kavanaugh).

When Roger suddenly becomes ill and eventually dies -- supposedly of gastric problems -- his son Paul (Christien Anholt) starts to suspect foul play. Unfortunately Isabel's explicit love letters to Roger have been intercepted by a treacherous servant, who is using them to blackmail the young woman, who is unhappily married to the gross, dissolute George (Ian McNeice). And the spinster daughter Charlotte (Zoe Wanamaker) has reunited with a ne'er-do-well suitor from long ago.

And as Paul begins investigating his father's possible poisoning, the family's iron-willed matriarch (Judy Parfitt) dies with exactly the same horrible symptoms as Roger. And as the police learn of the nasty little secrets of the Collard family, Isabel suddenly becomes their prime suspect -- something Paul never wanted, since he's obviously madly in love with his step-aunt.

As a piece of gothic suspense, "Blackheath Poisonings" is a pretty good piece of work-- a big spooky house, lots of creepy old toys with buggy eyes, and plenty of nasty little resentments just simmering under the surface. And the writers explore some facets of Victorian society that you wouldn't normally have seen, including a drag queen bordello, illegal underground fights, and servants who take the chance to blackmail their employers. It's all deliciously soapy.

Unfortunately as a mystery, it has more holes than a croquet game. Isabel is arrested and convicted based on the flimsiest of evidence, and a crucial witness insists that she was the person he sold poison to -- which means the idiot must be blind. The longer it goes on the leakier the entire mystery becomes, until the entire plot has basically become a conspiracy and a flimsy frame-up, neither of which is even remotely plausible. It has a clever twist ending, but that's about the only good part of it.

And the third act is pure absurdity -- Paul stumbles over the murderer by drunken chance rather than by intelligence or deduction, a loathsome slimy reptile spontaneously turns into Mr. Unselfish Charity, and Isabel starts spewing vitriolic anti-God verbal abuse at a vicar when he tries to help her. Oh yes, and the climactic confrontation between Paul and the murderer is a grotesquely over-the-top affair, and it becomes funny rather than horrific.

I'll give it this -- the actors are quite excellent, especially the boyish Anholt as a young man mature beyond his years. Unfortunately all the characters except Paul are so loathsome that it's hard not to wish they wouldn't all be poisoned -- Isabel in particular is treated as a tragic heroine, but she comes across as a whiny brat who excuses cheating with a married man by whimpering sexily, "My only crime has been my nature." I wonder what her sister-in-law thought of that.

"The Blackheath Poisonings" is interesting as a nasty little gothic melodrama, but the entire plot implodes in the third act. The actors are excellent, but they can't save this mess."