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P.D. James - Death in Holy Orders
PD James - Death in Holy Orders
Actors: Jesse Spencer, Christopher Fox, Alan Howard, Alex Avery, Martin Shaw
Director: Jonny Campbell
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Television, Mystery & Suspense
NR     2004     3hr 0min

Studio: Warner Home Video Release Date: 10/25/2005 Starring: Martin Shaw Jesse Spencer Run time: 180 minutes Rating: Nr Director: Jonny Campbell


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Movie Details

Actors: Jesse Spencer, Christopher Fox, Alan Howard, Alex Avery, Martin Shaw
Director: Jonny Campbell
Creators: Martin Fuhrer, Margaret Enefer, Mary Hare, Simon Lewis, Susan Hogg, P.D. James, Robert Jones
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Television, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: BBC Warner
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 10/12/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 3hr 0min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Multiple Murders, Endless Secrets, and a New Dalgliesh.
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 10/13/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"In "Death in Holy Orders", Commander Adam Dalgliesh (Martin Shaw) of New Scotland Yard returns to the small theological college of Saint Anselm, which he knows from childhood, on the request of a man whose son mysteriously died while studying for the priesthood there. Ronald Treeves' death has come just as the monastery must defend itself from closure by Archdeacon Matthew Crampton (Clive Wood), who feels that its valuable artwork would be better placed elsewhere and disdains the the elitist, old-fashioned ideology of the small college. It proves difficult to glean the details of the dead man's life from among the dirty little secrets that the community of Saint Anselm has collected over the years. But there is little time to lose, as a cloud of death has descended upon the place. Murders begin to pile up.

Modern British murder mysteries seem never to be about serial killers or murder for profit. They are astute enough to realize that murderers who don't know their victims well make for anorexic, underwritten narratives. So they write sordid mysteries, overloaded with character behavior, where every person involved is nursing some dread and improbable secret involving sex, drugs, death, adultery, illegitimacy, and/or homosexuality. "Death in Holy Orders" throws religion, madness, and ancient history into the mix. Yet British murder mysteries are known for their class -even, ironically, for being highbrow. They pull it off by casting excellent character actors, allocating a huge amount of time to character development in the form of dialogue, and giving the suspects at least as much attention as the detective. Adam Dalgliesh mysteries follow that formula. They owe their success to superb ensemble casts that play every variety of villain and flawed character, in particular, to perfection. Highbrow? Not at all. This is sordid, vulgar stuff. But done the way on the British do it, it's stylish.

Actor Martin Shaw makes his debut as Adam Dalgliesh in "Death in Holy Orders". Roy Marsden owned the role from 1983-1998, through 10 adaptations of P.D. James' books. Which actor one prefers is a matter of personal taste, but I always found Marsden's Dalgliesh to be neurotic and distastefully self-righteous. Martin Shaw's Dalgliesh is probably those things, but his interpretation is notably soulful. He still has a kind of righteous detachment from those around him -for which one character takes him to task, but I find him more appealing. Director Jonny Campbell has given "Death in Holy Orders" a persistently ominous tone, and doesn't hesitate to use the ecclesiastical environment to heighten the sense of doom. There are no fewer than 15 suspects in the investigation. Add the multiple victims, and this is quite a large cast. The performances are all excellent, but spare no melodrama. Many of these characters are overwrought, perhaps even moreso than is normal for a British mystery. But "Death in Holy Orders" always entertains. Fans of Brit murders and detectives will surely enjoy it.

The DVD: You have to wait for the Main Menu to appear, which it does after one ad and a short preview. You have the option of watching the film in 2 parts, as it was shown on television. There is a 30-minute featurette entitled "Writers and Places". It looks as if it was made at least 25 years ago under the title "P.D. James on the Dangerous Edge". In this little documentary, author P.D. James talks about the vital role that location plays in detective writing. Using several of her own novels as examples, she describes how her stories evolve from their settings and how place is used to emphasize the horror of the crime. It's not a bad documentary, but it is a little repetitive. It doesn't take a half an hour to get the point. "Cast/Author Biographies" are text bios and include essential filmographies."
An American fan of Martin Shaw
wisdomstar | Michigan | 11/01/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"For the reviewer who believes that no one in America has heard of Martin Shaw, guess again. For me, his best role is Chauvelin in the newest recreation of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1995). As a villian he was complicated, 'soulful' but murderous. Too bad the lead character in that production was a disappointment or it might have done better here. "Rhodes" was well acted but a one-time watch and much of Shaw's other work is not available here. So as a fan of both Shaw and Marsden's Dalgliesh, I was interested to see Shaw in this role. He was excellent. As another reviewer said he is a brand new character, but a bit more tragic (and complicated, as always). Marsden, I'm sure, is tired of twenty years in the role and new interpretations of Poirot or Holmes have only led to better and better characters. Shaw lends another layer to what has been a rather wooden character up to now.

That said, you have to be a fan of PD James to like this one. There are too many characters, each of whom has secrets, crimes and mayhem in their past. I have never been in a 'closed society' (as James might call it) where there have been so many demented people outside of an asylum. The plot is like Shakespeare - you need a copy of the book next to you in order to follow it. And the next day I find myself saying 'Wait a minute, why did he do that? What was her motivation for that?' PD James does not bother about all the strings. Much as she denigrates the old 'butler in the library' settings, Agatha Christie is still the queen of murder mysteries. When you get to the end of one of Christie's stories you say, 'How did I miss that clue?', not 'Wait a minute'."
Excellent acting and a great murder mystery
E. Holmes | Seattle, WA USA | 10/25/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Attention Roy Marsden fans, it's a simple fact that you're going to find that the change of actors (to Martin Shaw) jarring -- obviously it just won't be the same Dalgliesh you've gotten used to over the years.

In Death in Holy Orders, we find Commander Adam Dalgliesh returning to an isolated, windswept, religious college to informally look into the death of a young ordinand -- and to visit a place where he spent many happy summers as a youth. As in all PD James novels, the story is full of interesting, richly developed characters. Bodies start piling up in short order, and everybody seems to have a motive to murder.

The leading actor is Martin Shaw in the role of Adam Dalgliesh. Shaw is not well-known to US TV audiences (US "Professionals" fans notwithstanding). Previous appearances in the US have been on PBS: a historical mini-series on Cecil Rhodes and another on Scott (the polar explorer). But in the UK, Shaw is a well known TV leading man. His most recent show is 'Judge John Deed', a legal drama. If you don't live in the UK and are curious to see some of Shaw's other work check out 'The Scarlet Pimpernel' and 'The Professionals' DVDs available on PD James' Dalgliesh is an intensely private, contemplative and creative person who's experienced deep personal loss and responded by burying himself in work and shielding himself from emotion. Indeed his response (in the book) to discovering an attraction for Emma Lavenham is "Oh God, not this complication. Not now. Not ever." Shaw does an excellent job of expressing this aspect of his character and Dalgliesh, the poet, in general. Shaw's performance is less compelling when he is playing Dalgliesh, the detective, and is supposed to convey a sense of quiet cerebral intensity. Shaw just doesn't quite pull this off, in my opinion, although he largely rectifies this in "The Murder Room" (also available on

The supporting cast is superb. Janie Dee plays Emma Lavenham. Dee nicely captures the character as developed in PD James' book. The age-difference between Dee and Shaw is some 20+ years (similar to the book). Dee's job is to portray a woman who is drawn on an emotional level to a much older man -- without much encouragement. Dee does this well and her character's attraction to his character are believable. Another excellent performance is by Jesse Spencer in the role of Raphael -- abandoned as a baby at the college and one of the prime suspects. Spencer nicely captures the conflicting emotions of someone abandoned by his mother and raised in a small isolated religious college. His slow unraveling is fun to watch. Among the other fine supporting performances, Julie McKenzie's was especially notable. The interview scene with her and Shaw was one of my favorite supporting performances from the films I saw in 2004.

If you get the movie, I strongly suggest that you also read (or re-read) the book. The book is a page-turner even if you know what's going to happen. In particular, I suggest reading the book in order to enjoy PD James final aquatic culmination. PD James' scene in the book is definitely more gripping. Of course, they couldn't have filmed it her way; one of the actors would have drowned for sure.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable dramatization of PD James' "Death in Holy Orders" and must see for PD James fans."
A Change for the Better
RedMtl | Montréal, Canada | 08/07/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"As a Martin Shaw fan, I was pleased to see this new vehicle for his expression. Mr. Shaw takes the role of Adam Dalgliesh to a new, and deeper, level -- adding to the character with a more cerebral approach.

While he does not get the pensiveness exactly correct in this first outing as the Commander, this is almost entirely rectified during the second adaptation (The Murder Room) which will be released on DVD this coming Autumn.

The major drawback to Death In Holy Orders is the failure to capture the background needed to establish the scene as it takes place. As in many P. D. James works, there are many characters, and filming successfully under such circumstances is difficult at best. One wonders if this particular adaptation might not have been better had it been twice the length.

As a result of this, it will appeal most to James fans who are familiar with her works -- and in this case, having read it will definitely improve comprehension of the filmed adaptation.

The side-bar of the romantic relationship between Dalgliesh and Emma Lavenham is not distracting, but it is also not entirely part of the story (this too, is evident in the novel), and one wonders if it is necessary. However, as the character of Dalgliesh continues to develop (and for this, one must also take Murder Room into account) the need for these interludes will become more obvious. The clumsiness as it stands stems more from the lack of written material to adapt, than from any poor portrayals of the situation. Given what there is to work with, Mr. Shaw has managed admirably.

As for the recasting of Shaw in the role previously played by Roy Marsden -- it is an excellent choice, and fails in only one point. Mr. Shaw is not nearly as tall as the character is suppose to be. This, however, is quickly forgotten once the depth of his portrayal starts to sink in. With luck, Mr. Shaw will play this role several more times, before another actor is cast in his place. The fact that P. D. James has stated her approval of this casting, indeed goes a long way toward indicating that the portrayal is accurate."