Three Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries involving amateur sleuth extraordinaire Lord Peter Wimsey and the lovely Harriet Vane are realized to perfection in these 1987 BBC adaptations. In Strong Poison, Harriet (Harriet Walter) is on trial for murder. Lord Peter (Edward Petherbridge) becomes enchanted by her and decides she cannot possibly be guilty. What follows are the twin stories of Lord Peter's search to find the real killer and his romantic pursuit of Harriet. Both are charming. As always, Sayers has plotted her story brilliantly, with a satisfying mystery and a sly comic touch (a gentle poke at the spiritualist movement is particularly fun). The period atmosphere is pulled off naturally and with close attention to detail, and the adaptation has a careful reverence for Sayers's novel. The performances are all remarkably strong. Petherbridge is perfect as Wimsey, revealing his brilliance and allowing him to be hopelessly in love without ever damaging his dignity. Walter plays Harriet with rich nuance, saying as much with her silences as she does with her lines, and Richard Morant is quietly fantastic as the remarkable Bunting.
Harriet, fresh from the trial, tries to get away from it all and ends up stumbling over a recently killed body in Have His Carcass. Unable to resist a crime (or, for that matter, Harriet), Lord Peter is soon on the case. In Gaudy Night, Lord Peter is still proposing at frequent intervals, and Harriet, though unable to say yes, is also unable to send Lord Peter entirely away. But enough with the romance. As Wimsey heads off for some foreign service work, Harriet visits her Oxford alma mater and lands smack in the middle of a poison-pen scandal. Harriet's status as a mystery writer, naturally, means she's the one who should investigate. Sayers clearly had fun writing this one, using Harriet to gently tweak her own profession, at the same time both parodying and defending the cloistered life at a women's college. --Ali Davis