Ten of the Best Movies Adapted From Victorian Mysteries…
I was delighted to be asked to list my ten favorite Victorian book/film adaptations—and a little horrified. How could I possibly narrow it down to ten? I could fill half the list with Anne Perry, and A. S. Byatt adaptations alone! To narrow the scope, I decided to limit the choices not necessarily to films set in the 19th century, but to movies with source material originally published during Victoria’s reign. This list includes feature films, TV miniseries and movies, and one ongoing series. Happy viewing!
- Lady Audley’s Secret (2000). Neve McIntosh is perfection as the title character in this version of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s best-known mystery of the same name. Beautiful, pampered, and adored, Lady Audley is guarding a terrible secret and will go to any length to keep it.
2. The Innocents (1961). When you say “Deborah Kerr as a governess,” most people presume you mean The King and I, but this Gothic chiller is far better—albeit with fewer ball gowns and less foot stamping. Kerr fights valiantly against unknown terrors for the lives and sanity of her young charges in this adaptation of the delectably creepy novella, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James.
3. The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1986). I could not omit Poe, and this version is perhaps the most faithful to his original tale, complete with its surprise ending. Featuring George C. Scott, Rebecca De Mornay, and Val Kilmer, this is a very ’80s production, but it gets full marks for its attempts to stay true to the source.
4. Jane Eyre (2006). Perhaps the best-known Gothic ever written, Jane Eyre is not properly a mystery but it is certainly mystery-adjacent. What secret is the enigmatic Mr. Rochester hiding? Who is Grace Poole and what does she know? Creepy laughter, mysterious fires in the night, a shredded wedding gown—what more could you ask? Well, you could get all that and the delicious chemistry of Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson in this pitch-perfect adaptation.
5. The Moonstone (1997). In spite of his importance in the development of the mystery novel, Wilkie Collins adaptations are on thin ground. This one, featuring Greg Wise, is the most faithful I’ve found to the original. Any story that features a stolen diamond, quicksand, and laudanum deserves to be retold.
6. Wuthering Heights (2009). Unlike the Collins novels, Wuthering Heights might have too many adaptations for an easy choice. I’ve selected this one because screenwriter Peter Bowker made a deliberate choice to frame the story as a mystery. (He acknowledges, quite rightly, that it is not—and never has been—a love story.) Bonus: Tom Hardy as Heathcliff. I also have a soft spot for this version because it was filmed at East Riddlesden Hall in Yorkshire, a setting I adopted for one of my own novels.
7. Young Sherlock Holmes (1985). Nicholas Rowe stars as schoolboy Holmes in this adventure. Not strictly based on source material, it nevertheless feels like canon. Besides launching the partnership of Holmes and Watson, it establishes Moriarty as nemesis and Lestrade as reluctant beneficiary of their efforts.
8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939). Holmes’s most frequently adapted adventure, Hound spoils us for choice. This version marks the first pairing of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson, a partnership that would last through fourteen films. It is the definitive Hound with honorable mention going to the 2002 adaptation with Richard Roxburgh for its use of a truly delightful paw puppet.
9. Elementary (2012-present). Currently running on CBS, this series features Jonny Lee Miller as a modern-day Holmes based in New York. Several episodes have been based on Conan Doyle’s stories, delightfully updated with contemporary twists. While Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock has garnered more attention, Miller’s interpretation feels more grounded in the original character. His Sherlock is humane, flawed, and thoroughly watchable.
10. Cranford (2007). Because after all that murder and mayhem, a little village intrigue is just the thing. Based on the novellas of Elizabeth Gaskell, the film focuses on life in a small English town coping with the changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution. Plus, Dame Judi Dench.
BIO: Deanna Raybourn is the author of the award-winning, New York Times bestselling Lady Julia Grey series, which has been optioned for television, and several standalone novels. She lives in Virginia with her husband and daughter.