“The Suspicions of Mr Whicher” is a one-off period drama that follows Inspector Jonathan “Jack” Whicher who attempts to solver a grotesque murder case in the year of 1860.
Called from Scotland Yard to Wiltshire, Inspector Whicher is given an impossible task to impress the media, public and Parliament with an investigation that does not command the full support of the local police or people.
“The Suspicions of Mr Whicher” creates a sense of desperation in the viewer as the heroic policeman races to find evidence as the tide of public opinion forces him to an early magistrate’s hearing. The deliberate twist towards the end gives a deadening sense of disappointment and false horizons, though this is an accurate reflection of the true case upon which the program is based.
The 2 hour story is based upon “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House” by Kate Summerscale, which won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. The book itself is based upon a true story which inspired the works of Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle.
Francis Savill Kent was the three year old son of Samuel Savill Kent by his second marriage. On the night of 29th June 1860 the toddler was taken gently from his bed and killed with a knife. The ensuing investigation revealed a dysfunctional and unloving family scraping a living behind the grand walls of Road Hill House.
Over the next decade there was a great weight of speculation over which member of the household had committed the crime. This was fuelled by a spectacular confession in 1865. The full secrets of the case died in Australia with Constance Kent and her brother William Savill Kent – a prominent biologist.
According to Mark Redhead, the case was the first country house murder to reach the British public’s consciousness:
“It was the Victorians who invented murder – in 1810 in all of England and Wales just 15 people were convicted of murder out of a population of 10 million people, but with the growth of cities and increasing industrialisation, the number of capital offences grew exponentially over the following century.
“Though not the first murder to seize the popular imagination, most of the murders that grabbed the attention of the newly mass market newspapers and their readers had been murders in the slums of the burgeoning cities and usually involving working class, low life or criminal protagonists. The Road Hill House murder gives birth to the country house murder and involves for almost the first time an apparently respectable middle-class family.”
A former labourer from Camberwell, the real Jonathan Whicher was one of the first policemen to work in plain clothes. The Detective Branch of the Metropolitan Police had only just been formed in 1842 and, until then, the idea that a police officer would not be instantly recognisable was horrifying to the British public.
In real life, Constance Kent served 20 years for the murder of her half-brother. Whilst in prison she completed a series of mosaics, said to point to her guilt, though the historical Mr Whicher suspected that she had not murdered alone. Once out of prison, Constance moved to Australia to be with her brother William, changed her name to Ruth Emilie Kaye, worked as a nurse and took the full story of the murder of Francis Savill Kent to her grave in 1944.
“The Suspicions of Mr Whicher” airs at 9pm on Monday 25th April 2011 on ITV for UK viewers only.
- Paddy Considine as Inspector Whicher
- Alexandra Roach as Constance Kent
- Charlie Hiett as William Kent
- Emma Fielding as Mary Kent
- Kate O’ Flynn as Elizabeth Gough
- William Beck as Dolly
- Tom Georgeson as Superintendent Foley
- Ben Miles as Dr Stapleton
- Tim Pigott-Smith as Commissioner Mayne
- Ben Crompton as William Nutt
- Richard Lintern as Sir Henry Ludlow
- Executive Producer: Mark Redhead
- Producer: Nigel Marchant
- Director: James Hawes
- Writer: Neil McKay
- Director of Photography: Matt Gray
- Production Designer: David Roger
- Hair & Make Up Designer: Lisa Cavalli Green
- Costume Designer: Lucinda Wright
- Editor: Richard Cox
- Location Manager: Camilla Stephenson
- Casting Director: Kate Rhodes James
- Production Coordinator: Katie Bevell