With lots of ominous violin and a tremendous turn from Eileen Atkins as the villainous Vanity Fair, She Fell Among Thieves is a riveting and fun little mystery.
A BBC classic, this thriller aired as the first episode of PBS’s brilliant Mystery! series in 1980. Along with Atkins, She Fell Among Thieves features Malcolm McDowell and Michael Jayston. The show is based on the novel by Dornford Yates and was adapted by Tom Sharpe. Filmed in the Pyrenees in the late '70s, the quality of the production is top-notch and the set pieces are gorgeous.
Atkins, overcooked with inches of makeup, is Vanity Fair. As the mistress of Chateau Jazreel, a mysterious castle in the forest in the Pyrenees, she runs a gaggle of ne’er-do-wells and crooks. Her quick-witted tongue and menacing presence keeps her crew of subservient men in line. Vanity Fair is the type of woman who relies on various plots and schemes to get by and her latest is a doozy.
The plan in this classic Victorian-style melodrama is to use her step-daughter Jenny (Karen Dotrice) to get at her inheritance. The catch is that Jenny must be married off by the time she comes of age, so Vanity Fair is in a bit of a pickle to ship the girl off to her marital doom. Jenny has no intentions of becoming a married woman, so Vanity needs to push the right buttons to get her hands on the coin.
Luckily, Vanity Fair has a host of crooks and boneheads at her disposal and it isn’t long before she’s kidnapped Jenny and is set on forcing her to marry one particular buffoon.
Foiling Vanity’s plot is the intrepid Richard Chandos (McDowell), a vacationing English gentleman. Richard discovers a floating body while fishing and is worried about being held by French police on suspicion of the crime. Instead, he heads to the British consulate and before we know it Chandos is a full-fledged amateur sleuth.
Watching McDowell parry with Atkins is a treat, as the barb-trading and cat-and-mouse game excites and enthrals. The dialogue teems with sarcasm, suspicion, and catty clichés, but it’s all in good fun. Plot twist after plot twist keep the viewer interested, while the delectable Pyrenees scenery provides an extra boost.
All in all, She Fell Among Thieves is a good old-fashioned thriller perfect for Saturday afternoon viewing. It’s a refreshingly charming battle of wits guided by a classic clarinet-and-violin soundtrack. After 30 years of waiting for the title to be released, She Fell Among Thieves will satisfy fans of PBS and BBC mysteries.
There are no special features on the DVD, save for cast filmographies.