Arthur & George, episode 2, TV review - A lot to relish, but this drama suffers from a lack of heart

We're not short of suspects as the sleuth faces up to some uncomfortable truths

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The Independent Culture

Where does the creation end and the creator begin? This week Martin Clunes’ softly spoken Arthur Conan Doyle discovered he’s no Basil of Baker Street as the case got knottier and his motives murkier. ‘You must be Sherlock Holmes’ sneered the brutish Sergeant Upton (Conleth Hill). Not least because he lacks the fictional detective’s gift for good fortune. 'When Mr Holmes is investigating it is never too soft for shoe prints’ pointed out young Maud (Pearl Chanda). Doyle isn’t in control of the plot here.

Part two of ITV’s Arthur & George, based on Julian Barnes’ Man Booker Prize nominated novel of the same name, found our amateur sleuth facing up to some uncomfortable truths and saw the suspicion turn on literally everyone he came into contact with. Just who is behind the ‘Great Wyrley Outrages’ – the grisly mutilation of livestock – and the persecution of the Edalji family? We’re not short of suspects at the moment.

Was it the uppity Sgt Upton? We discovered that the Edaljis once dismissed his half-sister Elizabeth for an incident involving the young George (Arsher Ali), during which the maid displayed the same grace as her inelegant sibling. Upton doesn’t think much of George but has he the brains to concoct the ghastly campaign that the family have suffered?

Then there’s Harry Bostock (Ciaran Owens), son of the late schoolmaster who fell to his death some years ago (possibly in mysterious circumstances). Does Bostock bear a grudge from their schooldays? Young Harry was the star pupil until his father diagnosed the reason for George’s struggles in class – his myopia. Once brought to the front of the class, George became the teacher’s pet. Bostock, as he said himself, possesses the animal knowledge to have perpetrated the crimes and (to my eye at least) a limp similar to George’s.

And what of George’s sister Maud? She was awfully keen to pin the blame on Upton and has always been perfectly placed to steal dolls and place various dead birds about the home and garden. Her intimate knowledge of Doyle’s back catalogue could hint at an interest beyond the literary.

However, despite Doyle’s reluctance to admit it (even going as far destroying incriminating evidence), the prime suspect is George himself. The evidence is stacking up (including the unsettling discovery that he isn’t allowed his own razor) and Doyle espied him meeting with none other than the notorious Hayden Price – the inspiration for Sherlock’s nemesis, Professor Moriarty.

There’s a lot to relish about Arthur & George – Edwardian England is nicely evoked, never more so than when Doyle hit a century at Lord’s - however the one main criticism might be its lack of heart. Clunes is convincing as the puppyish detective but less so as the guilty man caught between grieving his late wife and marrying his true love, Jean Leckie. It’s Hattie Morahan’s Jean who provides us with the much-needed emotional punch, knocking back Doyle’s half-hearted proposal and handing back his love letters. ‘Seven years and all I had to sustain me was your snowdrops.’

Now Doyle must decide whose innocence he’s really trying to prove.