Shroud for a Nightingale

Shroud for a Nightingale

1984 - United Kingdom

Miss Muriel Beale, the inspector from the General Nursing Council, arrives at Nightingale House, a formidable red-brick Victorian building. Her purpose is to observe the third-year nursing students during a teaching session. However, instead of witnessing a routine class, she stumbles upon a murder. Initially dismissed as a suicide or a misguided prank, the incident involves a deadly switch where a milky-looking disinfectant, replacing warm milk in an intragastric tube, is given during a patient-feeding demonstration. Tragically, Nurse Heather Pearce, the student involved, suffers a painful demise.

Two weeks later, Josephine Fallon, the intended target of the lethal teaching session (who had been absent due to influenza), is poisoned in her room. The close-knit community prefers to believe her death was a suicide rather than a murder. However, Dr. Courtney-Briggs, the school’s surgeon-consultant, persistently raises concerns with the local police about these deaths. Consequently, they enlist the help of Inspector Adam Dalgliesh and his Scotland Yard team.

Shroud for a Nightingale
Andree Evans and Roy Marsden

Dalgliesh’s investigative approach involves establishing an on-site workspace, interviewing witnesses, detecting falsehoods, uncovering relationships, identifying discrepancies, examining motives and opportunities, and meticulously tracking time. During his search, he discovers the disinfectant bottle that caused Nurse Pearce’s demise, hidden in the bushes near the nurses’ apartments.

Shroud for a Nightingale
Andree Evans, Liz Fraser and Joss Ackland

Following the previous year’s successful 7-episode series Death of an Expert Witness, Roy Marsden returns as P. D. James' Scotland Yard detective Adam Dalgliesh, an intensely cerebral and private individual, in another carefully woven tapestry of suspense, mystery, and intricate plotlines that keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Reduced to 5 episodes this time round, in the first episode, the mystery unfolds seamlessly as it delves into the lives of the student nurses and the staff residing there. Alongside these elements, we also witness Sister Mavis Gearing’s (Liz Fraser) entanglement with a married man and surgeon Stephen Courtney-Briggs’ past affair with student Jo Fallon. Roy Marsden delivers an exceptional performance, skilfully transitioning from gentle and probing moments to direct and unyielding ones—such as when he interrogates Courtney-Briggs (played by Joss Ackland) about his relationship with Jo Fallon (portrayed by Eleanor David). Both Ackland and David captivate with their wonderfully charismatic and intelligent portrayals, contributing to a compelling watch.

Shroud for a Nightingale
Rosalyn Elvin and Eleanor David

There’s a big Only Fools and Horses connection in this series. Marsden himself would later appear in the sitcom in the memorable episode Little Problems in which he played local crime boss Danny Driscoll, while Buster Merryfield, as pathologist Miles Honeyman, and Lennard Pearce, as gatekeeper Mr Coles, also appear. It was Pearce's last role before he died.

Roy Marsden (born Roy Anthony Mould) was a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. During the early 1960s, he collaborated with the Royal Shakespeare Company, amassing an impressive array of theatrical credits. His repertoire spanned from classic playwrights like Anton Chekhov and Henrik Ibsen to the contemporary Soviet dramatist Alexander Vampilov. Marsden’s inclination leaned toward the alternative experimental theatres in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Cambridge, and Birmingham, favouring them over the more commercial London venues. Noteworthy among his roles are Crispen in The Friends (1970), Casca and Lucilius in Julius Caesar (1972), Paul Schippel in Schippel (1974), and Heinrich Krey in The Plumber’s Progress (1975). His prominent television roles include George Osborne in a 1967 adaptation of Vanity Fair, Yorkshire Television's Cold War espionage series The Sandbaggers, and as Jack Ruskin, a Second World War pilot trying to start his own post-war airline against establishment opposition in Airline. He also appeared in guest roles in episodes of Dickens of London, The New Avengers and Crown Court.

Marsden would go on to appear in eight more adaptations of the Dalgliesh novels spanning a period of fifteen years, effortlessly bringing Dalgliesh to life, his portrayal capturing the essence of the detective’s multifaceted nature, leaving viewers captivated by his sharp instincts and stoic demeanour.

Published on April 17th, 2024. Written by Marc Saul for Television Heaven.

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