What’s new in latest TV version of British sleuth Adam Dalgliesh

Michael Starr

Adam Dalgliesh, the murder-solving investigator/poet at the center of PD James’ bestselling series of crime books, comes to life in the “Dalgliesh.”

The six-episode Acorn TV series, premiering Monday (Nov. 1), stars Bertie Carvel as the titular Dalgliesh; each close-ended episode airs in two parts, with different supporting characters.

It’s not the first time that James’ protagonist, who was featured in 14 books from 1962-2008, has been brought to the small screen (Roy Marsden and Martin Shaw played in him the ITV and BBC adaptations and there were several British radio iterations), but it’s the first time that Carvel, an Olivier Award-winning actor, has taken the role. He proves to be a fine, workmanlike addition to the oeuvre — nothing fancy or too clever, but he gets the job done. Sometimes less is more, without distracting character tics early on.

The first two episodes, “Shroud for a Nightingale,” are set in the mid-1970s and find Dalgliesh investigating the bizarre deaths of two young female students at Nightingale House, a nurse training school situated in the English countryside. Dalgliesh isn’t working the case alone, but he might as well be, since his sidekick is the somewhat clueless newbie DS Masterson (Jeremy Irvine), who finds his investigating sea legs after a fashion.

Photo of Bertie Carvel as Adam Dagliesh, looking at the camera and holding a pen to his mouth in a thoughtful manner.
Bertie Carvel as Adam Dagliesh in the six-part Acorn TV series “Dalgliesh.”
© 2021 Dalg Productions Ltd

As Dalgliesh digs deeper into the two cases — both victims were poisoned at the school — he slowly unravels a web of lies and deceit that date back several decades, with some of the Nightingale House students and staffers hiding secrets (but of course they are). It’s a dark place with muted sunlight (or is that cloud light?) coming through its stained-glass windows and there’s an air of distrust among just about everyone there, which underscores the tension (that’s a plus). Dalgliesh’s second life as a published poet is alluded to briefly a few times, and I’m guessing we’ll see more of this personal side of him as the series progresses, since he’s more of a “Just the facts” investigator here. (The other two-parters are entitled “A Taste for Death” and “The Black Tower.” The series premieres Nov. 5 on Channel 5 in the UK.)

Photo showing Siobhan Cullen and Amanda Root as two of the characters featured in the "Dalgliesh" episode "Shroud for a Nightingale."
Siobhan Cullen (sitting) and Amanda Root in a scene from the “Dalgliesh” episode “Shroud for a Nightingale.”
© 2021 Dalg Productions Ltd

There’s nothing earth-shaking or trailblazing about “Dalgliesh,” but it does offer solid, by-the-book (no pun intended) drama and several twisty surprises that you likely won’t see coming. Carvel’s Dalgliesh is very understated yet quietly forceful, never losing his temper but letting everyone, including DS Masterson, know that he’s running the show and will be asking the questions, thank you very much.