Year: 1987 

Movie / TV: Dorothy L Sayers Mystery - Gaudy Night 

Director: Christopher Hodson 

Others in the Cast: Sheila Burrell, Carol MacReady, Dilys Hamlett, Caroline John, Merelina Kendall, Charmian May, Auriol Smith, Charlotte West-Oram, Nina Edwards, Desmond McNamara, Eileen Bell, Lavinia Bertram

Plot summary: Harriet Vane attends a reunion at her Oxford College and is asked by the Warden to investigate a series of poison pen notes that several members of staff have received. She takes up residence in the college and receives one of these notes herself. In the cloistered environment of the school, there is any number of possible suspects. In the absence of a motive however, it is difficult to determine if the culprit is a member of staff, a student or even if it is a man or a woman. When Lord Peter Wimsey visits the college - as much to see Harriet as for anything else - he agrees to assist in the investigation. What he finds is that one member of the staff had reason to seek vengeance. - IMDB

Peth’s role:  Lord Peter Wimsey


Edward Petherbridge looks back at the filming of Gaudy Night: 

I soon cast myself in the part of purist policeman, insisting that the TV audience, like the reader, should have all the clues. We managed in rehearsal to insist on the deciphering business in the last minutes of Have His Carcase. Most importantly, as soon as I saw the script of the last episode I declared, in league with Harriet Walter, that it was un-actable and that we wouldn’t act it unless the proposal to Harriet Vane, and her acceptance, was not a perfunctory two line incident half way through it (imagine our horror) but, as in the book, the climactic final sequence. - "Not as Dorothy would have liked it", Vulpes Libris

Harriet and Lord Peter are not your average would-be lovers. They met in ''Strong Poison'' when Harriet was on trial on charges of murdering her lover. The immediately smitten Wimsey found the real culprit, of course, and saved Harriet from the gallows. In ''Have His Carcase,'' the vacationing Harriet found a murdered young man on a deserted beach in Cornwall. Wimsey wasted no time in rushing to her side and helping her solve the case, all the while proposing marriage at every convenient opportunity. But independent Harriet, while amused and charmed by Wimsey, was determined not to confuse gratitude with love. Now, in the three-episode ''Gaudy Night,'' adapted by Philip Broadley, Wimsey's wooing intensifies and Harriet's resistance has become noticeably weaker. - NY Times 

Blog reviews

Skip the Ian Carmichael versions as they portray Wimsey in his foolish aristocratic mask (and he’s dark, when Wimsey should always be blonde!) and see how Edward Petherbridge can make a monocle and a rather ridiculous nose make your heart beat just that little bit faster. - Pink Hearts Society 

In fact I feel the movies actually liberalize and improve on the books -- they lose the wit and love of literature, the allusiveness and some of the moving debates between Wimsey and Harriet; on the other hand, they are (exclusive of the plot endings) more generous in spirit and humane, and Harriet Walters is unbeatable as an admirable good person and woman.  - Miss Sylvia Drake

Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walters, however, were spot on--at first I complained to myself that Ms. Walters didn't have the right look--she's very tall and angular (you can see the family resemblence) when Ms. Vane should be slighter and bigger boned, but those objections melted away, because she had the character so well down that I saw only the character, not the actress, as it should be (the actresses I don't like--Keira Knightley, Selma Blair--are always the actress. They never melt into the character for me). And Petherbridge, of course, is a delight. He's perfect as Wimsey--embodies the complexities and dichotomies of the character perfectly, and all with a light touch. And to top it all off, the script was really excellent--a very fine adaptation of the book. Thumbs way up. Charismitaine

And I take back everything I ever said about Edward Petherbridge. He is so very attractive, and than thin, sensitive mouth—that forehead—those shoulders are all Lord Peter’s. I suppose it’s irrational that in my mind, Lord Peter is very much younger—he is supposed to be in his forties or thereabouts at the time of the Wimsey-Vane arc—and Edward Petherbridge brings to the character a mix of playfulness and self-deprecating dignity, with just a dash of snobbishness and a whole lot of humor, with just the right age, that I find myself reevaluating the picture of Peter I’ve made in my mind. - Wallyflower

I was gripped by the films anyway, and did enjoy, indeed loved the delicate witty interactions between Petherbridge and Walters, moving from the rebarbative and humanly complex to yielding. In the film of Gaudy Night Petherbridge does liken himself and Walters to Fred and Adele (Astaire and Rogers played this famous dancing couple in an early film). - Jim and Ellen

User reviews - IMDB
When I first watched Gaudy Night (one of my favorite Dorothy Sayers' books) I got confused because of the missing story lines and characters. For example, Saint George loomed fairly large in the book. I think I would have traded some of the scenes where Harriet was sitting in her room or walking through an archway for some of the missing story lines.

Sayers is something of a giant in the mystery business. She was the first to take the fairly complicated beast in the direction of an inner dialog. The detective mystery is a struggle among reader, writer and detective to invent the story. Sayers expanded the struggle to one between two damaged but brilliant people: one a mystery writer herself. The book is a wonderful dance for control over the greater environment of truth with lots of dialog about controlling the lesser environment. All this and sex too. Unfortunately, this TeeVee production starches all that out, substituting an ordinary `mystery' that superficially resembles the book, with some dialog that superficially resembles something intelligent.

Peter Wimsey, with his razor sharp instincts, may be the one who ultimately solves the mystery(s), but he could not have done so had he not been inspired to do so by Harriet who is the source of the "Promethean fire" that warms his heart and sparks his mind.

Whenever I read (and reread) Dorothy Sayers, it will always be the portrayal of Peter Wimsey by Edward Peterbridge that I envision. Of all the actors who have taken on this role, *this* version is the finest I've seen.

This adaption cuts a lot of what made the novel so interesting. Wimsey's nephew does not appear. The subplot of the students, including the one with the crush on Harriet and the one who is suicidal, does not appear except for an early 2 minute interview by Vane of a few of the women students, who then disappear, a singularly pointless scene, as though they decided not to have the student bit after all and then left one scene in by accident. There is no chess set, and none of the undercurrents between Vane and the Hilliard woman that that event brought out in the book. Hilliard is just hostile, because she is an unpleasant woman. Uninteresting.

I have been enamoured of this detective since I first read Strong Poison when I was in high school. However, I felt so strongly that Ian Carmichael (I think that was the actor) was NOT Wimsey in any way, shape, or form, that I did not watch the televised versions. I wasn't aware of the "Harriet Vane" series with E. Petheridge until I read the review here. I am totally delighted with his portrayal of Wimsey. He fits my pictures in every way, as does Bunter. The casting of Harriet Vane is good as well. For any Wimsey fans, I recommend this DVD set with multiple stars.

Official website:

IMDB page: 

Related links:

Gaudy Night in pics at Live Journal, with commentary. Pages  take a bit of time to load. A little too much Harriet and too little Peter for my taste, though :-)



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