Wednesday, April 22, 2009

DVD review: Fallen Angel (2007)

Fallen Angel - a British miniseries, based on the Roth trilogy crime novels by Andrew Taylor - originally aired in Britain in 2007 and makes its U.S. DVD debut on April 28, 2009. The story unfolds over three episodes and explores the making of a murderer: you learn who almost immediately; it’s the why that makes the mystery.

In the first episode, “The Four Last Things,” icy-blonde beauty Rosemary Byfield (Emilia Fox), a/k/a Angel Wharton, kidnaps little Lucy for a dimwitted pedophile. Deeply disturbed – Lucy is not the first child she has abducted - Rosie has a history with Lucy’s father, Michael, and his mother, Wendy Appleton (Clare Holman), from years ago; Wendy was Rosie’s mother’s best friend, and Michael lived with Rosie, her father and stepmother for a summer. When Lucy is found and returned to her family, Rosemary is apprehended and Wendy makes it her mission to understand what could have happened to create such a monster.

“The Judgement [sic] of Strangers” is the second episode, taking place in the pastoral village of Roth in 1991, when Rosie was seventeen. When Rosie comes home for school break, she is surprised to learn that her father (Charles Dance), David Byfield, the local vicar, intends to remarry. Rosie does not like her new stepmother, Vanessa, a biographer. Things get tenser when Rosie starts reading the writings of Vanessa’s latest subject, a local heretic priest who was rumored to have committed human sacrifices in the 1920s. Meanwhile, Vanessa is so obsessed with her new book that she neglects her wifely duties and her frustrated husband turns his attention to the dubious charms of the young heroin addict next door. At the episode’s climax, several people are dead, several are arrested and the village is reeling.

The third episode is “The Office of the Dead” and takes place in 1979 when Wendy Appleton comes to live with the Byfields during a rough patch in her marriage. Rosie’s mother, Janet, is grateful for Wendy’s company since David is caught up in Church politics and has no time for his family. Janet is a weak-willed woman, browbeaten by her husband, struggling with Rosie, a precocious five-year-old, and burdened by her elderly father who is at the early stages of dementia. Soon Wendy is running the household, particularly when Janet becomes pregnant and becomes completely overwhelmed. Wendy is slightly troubled by little Rosie’s mood swings, more so when numerous dead and wingless birds are found on the cathedral grounds. But she is distracted by the troubles in her own marriage and when a horrific truth is revealed to her, chooses not to act on it, something that will have disastrous consequences in the decades to come.

The narrative structure is unusual, different but not incomprehensible. The first episode shows Rosie Byfield, the end product; the second is told from Rosie’s father’s point-of-view, looking back at his daughter’s teen years and convinced that it was he who made her into a monster; the third is Wendy’s remembrance of even further back, showing where things first went wrong with Rosie, and how present-day Wendy believes that she is to blame for Rosie’s psychopathy. It’s not a truly original way to tell a story (e.g. 2000’s Memento), but it is uncommon enough to be interesting.

I enjoyed this miniseries although I found it to be a little slow, particularly dragging in the second episode. The first was exciting because we had just been introduced to serial killer and master manipulator Rosie, and the third was good because evil children are creepy and fun to watch. The second episode, however, got bogged down in the satanic priest subplot – which I thought could have been done away with entirely. Enough was going on in Rosie’s life to screw her up without bringing black magic into it. This subplot must have been much more developed in the three books Fallen Angel is based upon; I think its excision would have made for a tauter and less bloated thriller.

Fallen Angel is approximately 207 minutes long, plus a 45 minute behind-the-scenes featurette. I confess that I did not watch the featurette but it contains numerous interviews with nearly the entire cast, the source material’s author, the screenwriter, other crewmembers and a professor of psychology.

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