It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to assume that the recent BBC-Warner Home Video DVD release of the 1997 two-part TV movie adaptation of The Ice House has something to do with the fact that it features the young Daniel Craig. And, since it just happens that the older Daniel Craig is returning to the big screen as Bond, James Bond, the resulting attention certainly couldn’t hurt. Still, cynicism aside, whatever the reason for the current release, it is certainly welcome.
Best selling crime novelist, Minette Walters’ first novel, The Ice House is a taut, well-paced crime drama in the best tradition of the British “whodunit,” filled with the kinds of revelations that are surprising, yet develop organically from the narrative. An unidentifiable body is found in an ice house on the estate of woman whose husband had disappeared some ten years earlier. She had been suspected of murdering him, but his body had never been found. The detective in charge, convinced of her guilt, had reluctantly left the case unsolved. Now he is sure the newly discovered body is the husband and is out to prove it. Add some sensationalistic plot elements like lesbianism and spousal abuse and you have the makings of a smart piece of work with just enough spice to titillate viewers.
Corin Redgrave, the older Jolyon from The Forsyte Saga, plays the detective in charge with the measured competence one expects from the archetypical British police officer. Craig plays McLoughlin, his younger associate, and it is made very clear early on that he is the center of attention. He has something of a back story. His wife has left him. He has been drinking. And, his first spoken line introduces him with perhaps the most memorable line in the film. Craig doesn’t disappoint, his performance is as good an indication that he would be going far as one could hope for.
The rest of the cast, although not particularly well known, at least on this side of the Atlantic, is excellent. Penny Downie plays the wife with appropriate emotional distress. Kitty Aldridge and Frances Barber play the friends who have moved onto the estate to live with her. Aldridge is a sarcastic tough talking radical; Barber is a softer character. The three form a protective support group in a hostile community where the locals assume that not only is the one a murderer, but that three women living together must be lesbians.
The two parts of the film run nearly three hours. There is also a bonus feature on author Minette Walters which follows her has she plans, researches, writes and revises what was to be her seventh crime novel The Shape of Snakes. She comes across as a vibrant lively woman with a real commitment to getting things right in her fiction. She visits a prison to see how visitors are treated. She talks to a pathologist to get information about what can be learned from a body. She scouts locations for the novel much the way filmmakers would. Perhaps the most interesting revelation in the film is her acknowledgement that three quarters of the way through the book, she still hasn’t decided on the killer. Although the nearly 45 minute film has little to say about The Ice House, it offers a fascinating insight into at least one novelist’s modus operandi.