Most of us have had a terrible week, with the weather being so cold and snowy and icy. There’s really nothing better to do than stay inside and watch TV or read a good mystery novel. Or you can do both if you watch the documentary A Very British Murder, presented by British historian Lucy Worsley, whose documentaries I always love.
Worsley explores the cultural obsession with the criminal act of murder, both real and fictional. She covers several infamous cases in British history, including the Ratcliffe Highway murders, the Bermondsey Horror, Jack the Ripper, and Dr. Crippen. She also explores the cultural significance of the cases and how they served as inspiration for writers such as Charles Dickens, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Agatha Christie. Worsley goes on to trace the evolution of the mystery novel and is able to show connections between trends in literature of the time and public attitudes toward criminals and police officers.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the documentary is Worsley’s interview with Agatha Christie’s son. She was able to gain access to some of Christie’s writing notes, and you can see what Christie’s process was like. Worsley also features several different perspectives, including local historians, an acting coach, and several mystery writers, even P. D. James. With this, she is able to help the viewer tie the information everyone has to offer together, creating a better understanding of how the public’s obsession with murder affected the literature of the time and how all of it brought about the evolution of the crime novel.
One of my favorite things about Worsley is that she is very hands-on when it comes to her subject matter, from visiting the cities where the crimes occurred to reenacting the Manning trial. She’s like a history teacher who loves what she does and loves sharing that knowledge with her students. Knowing that she has fun makes the documentary easy to watch, and you just might come away learning something in the process.