DVD Review: Arthur and George
Arthur and George is based on Julian Barnes’s novel of the same name, which was, in turn, inspired by a real-life cause célèbre. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, investigated numerous crimes in real life, but the most famous case he attempted to solve was that of George Edalji, a half-Indian solicitor who was convicted of several grisly animal mutilations. Edalji protested his innocence, and after his release from prison, he turned to Doyle in order to clear his name so he could resume his career.
The story has been told numerous times before. There is a vocal group that firmly believes that Edalji was indeed guilty and that Doyle was duped, but most commentators believe that Edalji was the victim of a bigoted criminal justice system, which refused to admit its error even in the wake of the massive amounts of exculpatory evidence produced by Doyle.
In this recent miniseries, Martin Clunes plays Doyle, and he’s a delight as the dogged author-turned-investigator. Clunes’s interpretation of Doyle is less abrasive and more endearing than the characterization in the source material by Barnes. Arsher Ali’s portrayal of Edalji is more enigmatic than in the book because the miniseries wants the viewer to consider Edalji a viable suspect until the climax. The result of this is that the characterization of Edalji is all over the place. At times, he comes across as a thoroughly nice guy, but he seems shifty in other scenes, so the viewer doesn’t root for him so much as regard him suspiciously. The viewer’s sympathies are always with Doyle, and the lack of development for Edalji leads to the impression that the miniseries should just have been called Arthur.
The miniseries takes major liberties with the historical truth, adding murders and getting a conclusive end to the case. In real life, Doyle found a suspect for the case, but commentators disagree as to whether Doyle found the right man, and the suspect’s guilt was never proven. This fictionalization is meant to provide a nice, satisfying ending to the story. The case of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji has been told several times before and will probably be told again in the future, so the 2015 miniseries is just one of many takes on a fascinating case. The first two episodes drag a bit, though the third and last is paced far more skillfully. Viewers should watch the story knowing it’s been heavily fictionalized, though Clunes’s dynamic performance makes the show worthwhile.