Written By: JB Priestley, Helen Edmundson
Starring: David Thewlis, Miranda Richardson, Ken Stott, Sophie Rundle, Kyle Soller, Finn Cole, Chloe Pirrie, Lucy Chappell
Synopsis: A mysterious Inspector investigates the wealthy Birling family and their dinner guests following the suicide of a young woman.
DVD Special Features: An Inspector Calls – An Introduction / The Enduring Power of An Inspector Calls
Although always aware of JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, I’d never seen it either as a play or on screen but this BBC adaptation of the masterpiece mesmerised me from start to finish and sent shivers of realisation down the back of my neck as all the pieces of the puzzle fitted slowly into one another.
Created by Drama Republic, the smart production company behind the enthralling The Honourable Woman starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, this revision features David Thewlis as Inspector Goole alongside Ken Stott and Miranda Richardson as Mr and Mrs Birling, respectively. The drama also co-stars Sophie Rundle as Eva Smith, Kyle Soller as Gerald Croft, Finn Cole taking on Eric Birling with his sister, Sheila, being portrayed by Chloe Pirrie.
Taking place in 1912, the mystery unfolds over a single night and you can easily understand how affecting this would be on stage as well as a television drama. When Inspector Goole (Thewlis) arrives at the Birling household to solve the mystery of why a girl committed suicide, it’s soon clear that everyone there may have had an unfortunate part in the eventual outcome. However, what’s disturbing isn’t so much the death itself but how each individual contributes to her heartbreaking demise.
Directed by Aisling Walsh, and written for the screen by Helen Edmundson, our story is a scathing social commentary on the class-society of the day and something that still haunts parts of British culture now. As we learn of the connection of each member of the family, what begins as an engagement celebration soon becomes a dark, captivating study of the human condition when people who think they’re superior to others begin to understand that their actions have a genuine consequence on people they’ve previously disregarded.
David Thewlis is exceptional as Inspector Goole, both calm and in control of the situation, he lets the guilt of the guilty play out its own part by simply suggesting scenarios and letting the rest happen. It’s all pulled together by wonderful casting with each actor effortlessly setting the standard for believability and even maid Edna (Lucy Chappell) plays a vital role for the plot, as she’s the person who lets him in and represents the underlying everyday human commentary.
The twists and turns, although impending, are still unknown for this first-time viewer and so everything comes as a surprise and is proficiently done. Sold as a stylish, new version of the classic play, I’d like to believe there is something for fans both old and new as the script rips apart the conventions of that era and truly brings to light that our obsession with social status was – and still is – a falsification of our own egos and in reality we should all be looking out for one another, at all times. Rather hauntingly, this version of An Inspector Calls raises some of the very same questions many have been asking themselves in light of the refugee crisis in Europe and goes to show why JB Priestley’s work is still a masterpiece and wholly relatable with today’s society.
An Inspector Calls was broadcast on BBC One on 13 September and is released on DVD on 21 September.