Mystery! offers a change of pace: A dramatization of a real-life unsolved mystery. Jonathan Pryce, currently starring on Broadway in Miss Saigon, plays William Herbert Wallace, a Liverpool insurance agent who was charged with the murder of his wife in 1931. Pryce’s Wallace is “the man from the Pru” — the Prudential Assurance Society — and he is depicted as a fussy little poker-faced fellow who purses his thin lips beneath a thick brush mustache and asks, “Why should I display what I feel?” One thing he does display is primly intense affection for his sister-in-law (played by The Silent Partner’s Susannah York); clearly, here’s a possible motive for killing his wife.
The screenplay by Robert Smith suggests that Wallace may not have been the one who bludgeoned his wife, Julia (Anna Massey, who has costarred in such BBC literary adaptations as The Pallisers and Mansfield Park). In its second half, The Man from the Pru becomes merely a well-done courtroom drama, but not before Pryce makes the accused Wallace transcend his mousy-clerk stereotype. This production is like a P.D. James or Ruth Rendell thriller — a meticulously rendered character study in which, ultimately, you don’t really care about solving the mystery. It’s the details of these people’s lives — how they lived and thought and spoke — that provide the real illumination and entertainment. B+