Posted: 06/06/2008

 

The Ruth Rendell Mysteries

(1988-1998)

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen




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Ruth Rendell is a celebrated British mystery writer, and her soon-to-be released DVD, The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, earns a nod as a collection well worth the time. So get a big bowl of popcorn and be prepared for hours of suspenseful, delightful entertainment.

The Ruth Rendell Mysteries is a set of three DVDs that cover five stories: The Lake of Darkness, You Can’t Be Too Careful, Harm Done, The Fallen Curtain and Going Wrong. And all promise to deliver characters who aren’t always what they seem, taking the viewer down one path, but conclude in another baffling set of circumstances.

A few observations are worth noting: In The Lake of Darkness, Jerome Flynn plays Martin Urban, who’s a quiet bachelor working as an accountant. He lives a comfortable life with close ties to his parents. He even works at his father’s accounting firm. In a fit of spontaneity, he plays the lottery and wins nearly two million pounds. Although one of his clients helped him with the lucky numbers, he doesn’t acknowledge that person’s assistance in anyway. But, boy, does this person recognize Martin, feeding on his need to be generous with his lucky winnings. Martin compiles a list of people with whom he wants to share his prize money, but for Martin what follows next brings him anything but luck. The cast is rounded out with Sadie Frost playing Francesca, Liz Smith playing Lena Finn and Cal Macaninch playing Finn. Martin woos Francesca, even though he believes that she’s married. She has other secrets, which eventually serve as a fateful wake-up call for Martin. Other eccentric characters are Lena Finn and her son, who just goes by the name Finn. Finn has a quirky, evil side to him, that only a mother could love—or fear.

In You Can’t Be Too Careful, Ruth Rendell’s plot centers on yet another mild-mannered office employee, albeit this time a female. Serena Evans plays Della Galway, who values double-locked doors and a bolted gate. She also values her relationship, through letters, with her long-dead father. Della has many neuroses about safety, but she lets her guard down, when choosing a “flat-mate” with whom to live. The flat-mate named Rosamund, is Della’s co-worker, played by actress Jane Hazelgrove. They soon both discover that the arrangement is less than ideal, with Della harboring secrets and exhibiting obsessions, and Rosamund, the much younger party girl, staying out late with wild abandon. But more importantly she leaves doors and gates unlocked!!

Can you say possessed, obsessive, blinded by love, crazy in love, love ‘till it hurts? All these things could easily describe Guy Curran in Ruth Rendell’s Going Wrong and Harm Done.

Guy (played by James Callis) loves Leonora Chisholm (played by Josephine Butler), and Guy really, really likes Celeste, played by Inday Ba. Even though Leonora and Guy grew up and professed undying love for one another, Leonora grew up and fell out of love with Guy and madly in love with Richard. But Guy just couldn’t take it, and he took his love for Leonora too far, to the brink of it being criminally insane.

Guy and Leonora grew up throughout high school with a couple of other regulars, with all four committing petty crimes and living the teen life of excess, as long as they had a scam going. Eventually Leonora outgrew the juvenile existence, but Guy and the male members of the gang still held on to their old habits. This disgusted Leonora to the point that she and Guy grew apart.

Years later when they run into each other again, Leonora is different, and although Guy is a successful businessman, some of his dealings are still suspect. He desperately wants Leonora back, but she wouldn’t have any of it. Eventually Guy, pained with jealousy and longing for the good old days, manipulated, schemed, bribed and even hired a hit man to eliminate anything that stood in the way of his Leonora. All this while he lived with Celeste, who figured she had nothing to lose by spending Guy’s money, even if she knew he longed for reconciliation with Leonora.

But as with any obsession, Guy takes it too far; Leonora’s family was against him, but that didn’t seem to bother Guy. He just continued to don his mask; keeping up pretenses with Leonora. However, in the end, it was Leonora who turned the tables on Guy, cutting loose from him long enough to stage a secret, remote wedding. This caused him to spiral into a destructive state, hallucinating and out of control, until Celeste jolts him back to his senses. He finally accepted that he would have to abandon any thoughts or dreams of a fairy tale life with Leonora. But it was too late, everything bad that had happened in the past, and all the deceitful acts that Guy had committed, came back to haunt him: the chickens came home to roost. And Guy surprisingly is silenced.

This selection was one of the more enjoyable from The Ruth Rendell Mysteries. The story of love found, lost and searched for again in itself was exhibited so well, that even absent jealousy, contract killings, fencing duels and just good old fashioned fisticuffs, this story line was brilliant.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is a freelance writer and film critic living in Chicago.



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