This BBC Miniseries Is Based on the First Victorian Detective Novel
Tune in, mystery fans.
Love an old-fashioned detective story? Then The Moonstone, an adaptation of the 1868 epistolary novel of the same name by English writer Wilkie Collins, is sure to spark your curiosity.
The five-episode miniseries is the latest adaptation of what is widely considered the first great English detective novel; previously, Collins' story was adapted into a 1996 film starring Keely Hawes and Greg Wise. The plot focuses on a mystery—that of the theft of a priceless diamond that is also rumored to be cursed. The central character, Franklin Blake, attempts to solve the mystery of the gem's disappearance and, in the process, win the love of Rachel Verinder, the person from whom the diamond is stolen. Verinder inherited it from her uncle, Colonel Herncastle, who acquired it by theft.
As cited in The Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel, in the 1920s T.S. Eliot called Collins’ novel “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels in a genre invented by Collins and not by Poe.” While Edgar Allan Poe’s mysteries were compact short stories, Collins laid the literary groundwork for long-form, novel-length stories of suspense. According to the British Library, The Moonstone is understood to be the ancestor of the modern mystery novel, as many of its key elements—including setting, suspects, motive, means, investigative analysis, and the element of surprise—were re-created, re-imagined, and re-worked in detective novels published throughout the twentieth century.
Watch The Moonstone trailer:
The miniseries premiered on BBC 1 in the U.K. in 2016 and subsequently premiered on PBS in the U.S. The Moonstone stars Joshua Silver as Franklin Blake, Terenia Edwards as Rachel Verinder, Leo Wringer as Gabriel Betteredge, Nisa Cole as Penelope Betteredge, Stewart Clarke as Godfrey Ablewhite, John Thomson as Sergeant Cuff, David Calder as Mr. Bruff, Jeremy Swift as Dr. Candy, and Sophie Ward as Lady Verinder. It’s directed by Lisa Mulcahy and adapted by Rachel Flowerday and Sasha Hails from the novel by Wilkie Collins.
The miniseries is available to stream via Amazon Prime. For more BBC dramas, tune into the recent television adaptations of Wolf Hall, King Lear, and War & Peace, all three of which are must-watch picks, though the last—the Tolstoy miniseries—is actually a drop-everything-right-now-and-watch pick. (It’s that good.)
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What’s next on your to-watch list? After The Moonstone, check out the platform’s many Agatha Christie offerings for more bingeable mysteries and classic detective stories.
Thomas, Ronald R, “Detection in the Victorian Novel”, in The Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel, ed. by Deidre David (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 169–191 (p. 179).