Our rating: 2 out of 5
reviewed by Charity Bishop
In every family there is a skeleton in the closet. At Blackheath all of the ancestral bones are about to be spilled for everyone to see. Successful businessman and notorious womanizer Roger Vandervent (James Faulkner) has been carrying on an affair with his sister in law Isabel (Christine Kavanagh). Their adulterous relationship is kept from the rest of the family, who are engaged in little worries of their own. The Collard-Vandervent household owns one of the largest toy manufacturing companies in Europe, but only Roger knows how to run the business successfully.
When he is taken suddenly ill with a mysterious fever, only his son Paul (Christien Anholt) suspects foul play, at the insistence of a young practicing physician who believes Roger was poisoned. Steadily getting back his health and believed able to return to work promptly, one morning Roger simply dies. The older doctor claims it was food poisoning. Paul is not so sure. He cannot rule out anyone in the household... Isabel, his beloved aunt, who is a romantic at heart but also has a violent temper. His stepmother, who might have numerous reasons for wanting her husband dead. Both of his uncles, who would love to run the business and gain the approval of his grandmother. There are also outsiders -- his aunt Charlotte's black sheep fiance Robert Dangerfield (Patrick Malahide) for one. The authorities become reluctantly involved in the investigation, another person in the household dies, and Isabel is tried for murder. Desperate to protect her from hanging, Paul is lead down a road of turbulent, disastrous family discoveries of every debauchery known to man.
I knew when a graphic sex scene appeared at the very beginning that The Blackheath Poisonings was not family fair, but I never anticipated it would delve into homosexuality, the reading of X-rated love letters, and constant innuendo. The movie is not very well done, with plot holes the size of the Tower of London and without a suitable conclusion. The costuming is very well done, and it has an interesting score. Acting is fair, ranging from momentarily good to downright bad. Characters are inconsistent and you wonder why Masterpiece Theatre bothered. There's absolutely nothing redeeming throughout. You're supposed to root for Isabel but cannot given her adulterous nature and complete lack of corresponding guilt. Conversations about lovers, adultery, and lovemaking are frequent. Married men constantly flirt with women other than their wives. The police investigation leads them into a homosexual gathering, where cross-dressing men are present. They like to lure intoxicated boys into their midst (Paul also stumbles across them, then finally it dawns on him why these "women" are so hideous and he flees).
The murderer turns out to be a transvestite whose indiscretions are covered up by the family. When Paul cannot find sufficient evidence to have him incarcerated, he takes matters into his own hands. There are several graphic poisonings, where the victims vomit up blood. Language is mild but present. Isabel and Roger exchange love letters of a graphic nature; one of these is read in court, much to the family's humiliation. They roll around on the bed several times, and in the opening credits are shown graphically making love. The story is one of vile cover-ups, family indiscretions, and murderous pride. I struggled through it but wish I hadn't. If you run across it on the library shelves, put it back and hunt down a Sherlock Holmes episode instead. I guarantee you'll be far less offended by the ending credits.