Year:  1987

Movie / TV:   A Dorothy L. Sayers Mystery - Strong Poison

Director:  Christopher Hodson

Others in the Cast:  Harriet Walter, Richard Morant, Paul Hastings, Derek Royle, Geoffrey Beevers, Preston Lockwood, Ronald Leigh-Hunt, Derek Ensor, Christopher Scoular, David Quilter, Clive Francis, Timothy Bateson, Shirley Cain, Norma Streader, Margaretta Scott

Plot summary:  Lord Peter Wimsey is struck all of a heap by Harriet Vane, a murder-mystery novelist who's on trial for poisoning her lover with arsenic. And when she's given a temporary reprieve, Lord Peter, together with his manservant Bunter and the incomparable Miss Climpson, must work against the calendar to prove her innocence. - IMDB

Peth’s role:  Lord Peter Wimsey

Reviews:  More than a decade later some casting agent made an inspired choice in Edward Petherbridge, who so perfectly merged with Peter's persona that I shed tears when he proposed to Harriet Vane on his first meeting with her in prison.  - NY Time

Mr. Petherbridge's performance, topped off with a smashing wardrobe of tweed suits, colorful vests and exquisite formal wear, provides a consistently fascinating turn. And Ms. Sayers, as always, is just too good to miss. - NY Times

Lord Peter Wimsey's intellectual agility and physical assurance and his manifold skills, both intuitive and trained, are almost too good to be true.... Petherbridge at times cleverly undermined the ideal without ever destroying it. We see his Wimsey dancing gracefully, driving a golf ball onto the green, punting on the Cherwell, leaping from an open-top Lagonda, and spontaneously leapfrogging a bollard and launching into a game of hopscotch. But we also see him slipping momentarily on some soap suds as he walks along a prison corridor; distractedly and repeatedly evading a proffered plate of teacakes in Miss Climpson’s office; and being bumped unceremoniously through a revolving door in a hotel lobby. These moments, entirely of the actor’s own invention, are subtle but humanizing touches, highlighting the character’s essential vulnerability.  Summarized from Kathleen Riley's article

User reviews

From Amazon

Edward Petherbridge nails Lord Peter's tone and exalted mannerisms, as well as his hidden vulnerabilities, to a tee - fans of Ian Carmichael's more physical, over-the-top interpretation be reminded that Sayers herself, in "Strong Poison," describes Wimsey as of "slight" build, while giving a rather unexpected impression of "controlled power."

Edward Petherbridge & Harriet Walter fit beautifully into the skins of Lord Peter & Harriet Vane. Edward Petherbridge captures all that makes Lord Peter so wonderful - the carefree "Wooster-ish" exterior that conceals of brillant mind, who even in adversity still takes pleasure in talking "piffle". The story has been changed slightly from the book but it is really just matter of simplification - the humour, plot & honesty that make Dorothy L Sayers' books such a delight all remain. 

Edward Petherbridge delivers a pitch-perfect portrayal of Dorothy L. Sayers' upper crust 1930's detective, Lord Peter Wimsey. Do yourself a favor and check out this Lord Peter in the pivotal story in the oevre; the point at which he meets the love of his life, mystery writer, Harriet Vane (played admirably, if a little sourly by Harriet Walter). This is the first of 3 stories produced in conjunction with the BBC and Boston WGBH public television in the states, and the only one of the three to be available on video at present. The production values are top notch and Mr. Petherbridge does true justice to one of the most interesting and evocotive detectives of the 20th century.

There can hardly be a better example of perfect casting in the history of tv/book adaptations, than that of Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter as Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane in this excellent BBC production. Leaving aside the uncanny physical resemblance to the characters as described by Sayers, both these fine actors give their roles the depth and complexity which is on the page but might be left behind in a lesser screen adaptation. So we have Harriet, not just a damsel in distress, but a smart independent woman who is also damaged, frightened and embittered. Her scenes with Wimsey all take place in prison, but despite this a sense of their developing relationship comes through and there is a real chemistry between them. Petherbridge’s interpretation of Wimsey is note-perfect. Watch out for a beautifully played scene where he goes to see Miss Climpson to discuss ‘why people murder people’ over tea and cake. Visiting Harriet in prison he is by turns nervous, serious, business-like, frivolous, but always besotted. Incidentally, he has the most wonderful voice too!

User reviews from IMDB

Edward Petherbridge is the only Wimsey. His performance showed not only His Lordship's sharp intellect and cutting wit; but the more subtle angst woven into the character.  The tentative and complex relationship with Miss Harriet Vane (accused murderess - and you thought your love life was a challenge!) is played to perfection.

The characterization of Edward Petherbridge as Wimsey is also more true, I believe, to the majority of the Wimsey novels: He is a man supremely confident in his capabilities, but surprisingly vulnerable in many ways relating to WHO he is, especially in his relations to the lady. She is charmingly and assertively played by Harriet Walter, and I find no discrepancies in the way she plays the character when compared to the books. 

Edward Petherbridge made a convincing and lovable Wimsey, and Harriet Walter was cool and independent as Harriet Vane. 

To those who have criticized the "low-keyed" or "understated" portrayal of Peter by Petherbridge, I would say that there always was a contrast in the books between the confident and secure Peter of professional situations and the Peter who is unsure of himself in personal situations, especially in his love for Harriet. The more unsure he is of her returning his affections, the more unsure he becomes and the more he "treats his own sincerest feelings like something out of a comic opera". In those parts of the stories when he is dealing with Bunter or the other supporting characters, you see a stronger, more confident Peter.

Blog review:

Let's just say that every day has been a frabjous day this week, because there were two episodes of Lord Peter to look forward to each night. Wonderful, gorgeous performances from Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter (who you might recognize as Sense and Sensibility's Fanny). Gaudy Night wasn't quite up to the first two titles, but there's balm in Gilead--I can always go back to the novel itself, my very favorite of Sayers' work. In fact, after watching the series, I'll most likely be going back to reread all of that lovely trilogy. Callooh callay. - Never Jam Today

Official website:

IMDB page: 

Related links

See Strong Poison in pics at Live Journal, with commentary. Pages take a while to open - lots of pics! 

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3




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