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Ordeal by Innocence is a 1984 mystery film by Cannon Films. Directed by Desmond Davis with screenplay by Alexander Stuart, the film stars Donald Sutherland, Christopher Plummer and Faye Dunaway. The film was first released at the Cannes Festival in May 1984 and then to cinemas in February 1985. Filmed on location at Dartmouth, it is an adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel of the same name which Christie also set in that region.


Paleontologist Dr. Arthur Calgary visits the Argyle family to give them an address book that belongs to Jack Argyle. But he is told that Jack has been executed for the murder of his wife many years ago. But the address book can prove that Jack was innocent, so Dr. Calgary starts the investigation all over.

Comparison with original book

(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)

  • Jacko Argyle did not die of illness in prison. In this adaptation he is hanged.
  • In this adaptation, Jacko does not get a posthumous pardon. For some reason, the procedure to get one must be initiated by the family and they decline to do so. In the original, the solicitors do so without consoling the family once they hear Calgary's account.
  • Inspector Huish is depicted as a hard-boiled policemen who is not interested in reopening the Rachel Argyle case and is generally unhelpful to Calgary.
  • A unique plot device in this adaptation is Jacko Argyle's address book which he left in Calgary's car. Calgary uses it to track down various members of the family to interview.
  • The main Sunny Point characters all have slightly different backstories but the pattern of relationship remain essentially the same.
  • Leo and Gwenda insist there is nothing going on between them romantically, although Rachel, seen in flashback, suspects it.
  • Hester is significantly younger, about fourteen. There is no Donald Craig.
  • Mary Durrant is not loyal to her husband and already having an affair, besides being an alcoholic.
  • Mickey and Tina already have a relationship going on. They operate a boat repair shop together on the Dartmouth waterfront.
  • Maureen Cleeg did not remarry here and remains a widow.
  • Unique to this adaptation, an attempt is made on Calgary's life. A car tries to run him down on the narrow streets of Dartmouth. However this plot point is not pursued. We never who it was.
  • Phillip and Tina are killed. But for different reasons. Phillip, not because he was pursuing his own investigations and getting close but because he witnessed Jacko getting money from some woman. He told Calgary about it and Hester overheard. Possibly word got back to Kirsten. Tina went to the house the night of Rachel's murder and overheard the whispered conversation just as happened in the novel. She told Calgary about it, and again, word got around. Tina is not stabbed in the house but bludgeoned in her boat repair shop.
  • Kirsten commits suicide at the end. Although the truth is revealed, the family members are not grateful. Part of Inspector Huish's reluctance to reopen the case isthat he is mindful of the backlash on the family. At the end, Calgary tells him he is right.



Agatha Christie's daughter Rosalind, who had approval of the script, was initially concerned that Michael Elphick's police inspector, modeled to some extent after a harder-nosed American-style police officer, would prove unpopular among the local constabulary in Devon, where she lived.

The original score was not by Dave Brubeck but by Pino Donaggio, who wrote his typical, lush and beautiful music. When the film didn't test well, they decided to jettison the Donaggio score and replace it with Dave Brubeck music. Brubeck was told he'd have two weeks to write an original score - he said no. They then agreed that they'd use already existing Brubeck tunes and newly record them.

The film received a Royal Premiere in the presence of HM Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.

Tropes and Themes

Filming Locations

  • "Platform 1" Town Jetty - opening sequence. Later Calgary finds Hester stepping off a ferry and ascending the pier when she runs away from home as the ferry heads for Sunny Point (actually Argyle Point in the film).
  • Royal Dart Yacht Club - opening sequence ferry ride
  • Dartmouth Castle - opening sequence ferry ride. Actually this is downstream of the pier ... the ferry is heading the wrong way.
  • Greenway Quay - opening sequence ferry ride ends here. Seen several times as the quay for Sunny Point.
  • Gurrow Point House - possible location of Sunny Point.[1] Originally built in the 1920s, the house was substantially rebuilt in 1987 and now does not look like what was in the film.[2] The gate posts look similar though.
  • Royal Castle Hotel - Calgary's hotel in Drymouth.[3] Interiors only. Facade is never shown. A life buoy on the staircase says "S.S. Royal Castle, Dartmouth". The end credits lists the Royal Castle as providing production accommodation.
  • Clarence Hill, junction with Brown's Hill steps - where Calgary is almost run over by a car.
  • Torbay Picture House - first meeting between Calgary and Maureen
  • Kingswear Slipway, Lower Ferry - Calgary watches and thinks a car is about to run him down but it turns down the slip way and boards a ferry.

Vehicles and other props


Promotional Videos

See Also


  1. David Gerrard, Exploring Agatha Christie Country, 44. "...a house in Lower Gurrow Point (about half a mile north of the ferry) standing in for the fictional house, Sunny Point". Gurrow Point House is on Lower Gurrow Point and is half a mile north.
  2. Penny Churchill, "Exquisitely private waterfront property in South Devon with a guest cottage, tennis court and private jetty", Country Life, 15 Nov 2018. (URL or Archive URL)
  3. David Gerrard, Exploring Agatha Christie Country, 43.