The Ice House (1997) DVD Review: A Twisty Mystery Sporting a Young James Bond

In the U.S., it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that people only know Daniel Craig as James Bond and possibly “that guy from Dragon Tattoo.”  But, lo and behold, he started working his way up the ranks in 1992 in bit parts in American films and British TV series, and five years into his budding acting career, landed the part of Andy McLoughlin in BBC’s television adaptation of Minette Walters’ novel The Ice House.  It also features other stars of stage and screen (Penny Downie, Frances Barber, Kitty Aldridge, and Corin Redgrave), but while the old cover sports all five cast members, this time around they hope to garner more attention riding Mr. Craig’s coattails by putting only him on the cover, and billing zero other actors on the front of the box.

It’s tough to talk about the story without giving too much away, and for a proper and well done mystery/thriller (though a little light on the thrills as a made-for-TV production), giving away surprises would be an injustice. You ought to see it.  Yes, it’s three hours long and there are no big-budget effects going off left and right.  It’s a film heavy on smart dialogue that requires a cerebral audience and actors who can really get inside their characters, and so they do.

Phoebe, Diana (Barber), and Anne (Aldridge) all live at the Maybury home, some would say for security against the prejudices of their neighbors in town, while others would say it’s to keep their secrets to themselves, and still others accuse them of being lesbians, almost as if it’s a crime.  Everyone has something to hide, and by the time all is said and done, several twists have unfolded and you’ll question what you thought about each of the characters.

What were the real circumstances surrounding David Maybury’s disappearance?  Did he walk out of his own free will as his wife suggests, was he pushed out for being a bad husband and father, or did he never leave the property alive?  With the corpse in question having been worked over by the local wildlife, will identification even be possible?  Will Walsh twist the truth to suit his own bias against the Maybury widow and build a case that controverts the facts?  All great questions, and all are revealed within.

The picture quality has a somewhat fuzzy, at times grainy look to it.  Not sure if that was intentional, but it makes the film transfer look closer to VHS quality than the DVD it’s printed on.  Still, it’s not about special effects here so it really doesn’t detract from the experience.  Audio is standard stereo with English subtitles.  Aspect ratio clocks in at 14:9 anamorphic widescreen.  While there is no chapter index evident from the root menu, it does offer to let you start at part one or part two, breaking the proceedings up into 90-minute halves, and you can chapter search within.  Also included is a 48-minute “Writing a Novel” feature by/about Minette Walters.  It follows her along the process of working on developing another story, finding appropriate settings and the right amount of wine to get the juices flowing, and committing it to print.

It’s a long watch with far fewer fancy-pants thrills than Titanic or Braveheart, but for the patient, there are some excellent roles portrayed with skill here.  It’s tall praise that some have said this adaptation stands above the original novel.  It just dropped at retail; fans of brooding mystery movies should keep an eye out for it, and the hours of British accents don’t hurt, either.

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Mark Buckingham

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