Houdini - Mini series - Part 2 Review

Here I move on to review part two of the Houdini series starring Adrien Brody. I must warn of spoilers.

In my review of part one of this mini-series I expressed the concern that my knowledge could impair my enjoyment as the programme moved into periods with which I was familiar. I regret to say that it was indeed the case.

The cast continues to perform well and Adrien Brody gives us a consistent Houdini but then things start to go awry.

To begin with Bess Houdini is portrayed as taking to drugs. Now I'd never heard of this before and I concede that it could be true (Houdini experts?) but, regardless, it seemed a little contrived when used.

Kristen Connolly as Bess Houdini
Many people will know that Houdini died following a punch to his stomach that went wrong. Throughout the series we have seen Houdini receive such punches - some physical and some metaphorical (but depicted as physical) and it is clear that they are presented as a build up to the fatal one - this was a clever device in my opinion but there was one place it was badly misused.

The Conan Doyle / Houdini seance
Which takes me onto my biggest gripe. The depiction of Arthur Conan Doyle was not fair and neither was that of his wife. I'm no believer in Spiritualism but the anti-Spiritualist agenda of the screenwriter shines through in his depiction of Doyle. In the first scenes in which he features he is depicted as little more than a clone of Nigel Bruce's Dr Watson and his wife is depicted as the worst stereotype of a deluded medium. The scene where Lady Doyle supposedly gets in touch with Houdini's late mother is well done but when Houdini later confronts the Doyles over this Conan Doyle punches him in the stomach without warning. This is clearly done as the latest of the many punches but grossly misrepresents Conan Doyle who would never have punched someone without warning. Doyle had taken much abuse for his beliefs and had never resorted to violence in either his own defence or that of his wife. Even if he had been moved to violence he was the sort of man who would have set a time and place for such a confrontation.

By the way, was it too difficult to find a Scottish actor or someone who could do the accent? David Calder, who plays Doyle, was a fair physical fit but, for all his years in England, Conan Doyle retained his accent and the accent Calder deploys only adds to the Nigel Bruce-esque appearance.

The Doyle element aside the portrayal of Houdini's closing years appears well done. His ruthless exposure of mediums is well done and the programme makers make clear that Houdini desperately wanted to be proved wrong. They also do a good job of showing Houdini's struggles to remain top of the bill when faced with the competition of other escape artists and the emergence of film.

One of the scenes I liked best was when an exposed female medium attempted to seduce Houdini in an attempt to keep him quiet and, when rebuffed, stated that when he was dead mediums would make him say whatever they wanted him to. The fear Houdini displays at this was very well done.

It's therefore a pity that the close is ruined. In reality the punch that killed Houdini was delivered with his agreement although he was not ready for it when it came. In this programme it is depicted as being delivered without warning or agreement by a pro-Spiritualist who is angered at Houdini's statement that Lady Doyle was a fraud. He is effectively depicted as being assassinated by pro-Spiritualists which further underscores the anti-spiritualist agenda of the screenwriter.

On balance I found this an entertaining programme that was let down by the clear agenda of the screenwriter and the unfair depiction of Conan Doyle and his wife.

Written by Alistair Duncan
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