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On AMC, ‘The Beast Must Die’: Something’s not right on the Isle of Wight

Cush Jumbo and Jared Harris in AMC's "The Beast Must Die."Gareth Gatrell/AMC

Many of us are lying in wait for the next great British TV mystery, having been spoiled by the tense likes of “Broadchurch,” “Luther,” “The Fall,” and the seminal “Prime Suspect.” Give us a few adults keeping epic secrets, parents mad with grief, bleak seascapes to stare out at and, perhaps, chuck a body into, and at least one detective on the brink, and we’re ready to pounce — to pop the corn and the cork and stay riveted for six or seven hours.

“The Beast Must Die” will do the trick, I think, while it’s not at the level of the best of the genre. On the positive side, it features a trio of dynamic leading turns, by Cush Jumbo, Billy Howle, and Jared Harris, who, as an odious patriarch with too much money, adds another winner to his impressive collection of performances, from “Mad Men” to “The Crown” and “Chernobyl.” Watching his shifty demeanor in “The Beast Must Die,” as he bullies his family and keeps us guessing about his guilt, is a thriller in its own right.


The show also nicely maintains pacing, clarity, and suspense for four of the six episodes. A modernized adaptation of a 1938 novel by Nicholas Blake (the pseudonym of Cecil Day-Lewis, a.k.a. Daniel’s dad), “The Beast Must Die” has a hypnotic, “Mr. Ripley”-like vibe as the con artistry and chesslike moves keep us guessing. At the start of the miniseries, Jumbo’s Frances Cairns announces, “I am going to kill a man,” and she proceeds to go undercover to find and get revenge on whoever killed her 6-year-old son in a hit and run on the Isle of Wight. The local police have been useless. Posing as different people, she picks up enough clues — sometimes, alas, through unlikely coincidences, as is typical of the genre — to finally enter the home of her suspect in the guise of a novelist doing research.

William Llande and Cush Jumbo in "The Beast Must Die."Gareth Gatrell/AMC

The suspect is Harris’s George Rattery, who welcomes Frances for an extended visit as a new friend of his sister-in-law, Lena (Mia Tomlinson). Frances is convinced George is her target, but Frances is irrational with grief and other members of George’s family, including his arch sister, the ironically named Joy (Geraldine James), also seem suspicious. Part of the fun of “The Beast Must Die” is scanning George and his family for signs of guilt, as little clues keep pointing us in different directions.


Meanwhile, the Isle of Wight officer investigating Frances’s case has died, and London detective Nigel Strangeways has come to take over his cases, noting that his predecessor did a particularly lousy job looking into the hit and run. Nigel is suffering from PTSD after violent incident and the loss of a colleague on the job, and certain triggers leave him in a panic state — something Howle evokes powerfully. To him, Frances represents the way to survive trauma — he is unaware of her undercover work and the guilt that tugs relentlessly at her — and he becomes increasingly driven to solve the case for her.

The beast in “The Beast Must Die” is, of course, the killer of a 6-year-old, but it’s also the remorse that lives within both Frances and Nigel.

Everything works well until writer Gaby Chiappe enters into the final act. The story line, and the character motivations, get a bit mired, though certainly not terminally so. The last chapters don’t completely satisfy the show’s early ambitions, but that doesn’t ruin the experience as a whole. Jumbo is superb throughout, holding contrary emotions at once. As the undercover Frances becomes a mentor to George’s teen son, Phil (Barney Sayburn), we can see that bond is healing to Frances, and also enraging, since her boy is gone while George’s is still alive. She’s in a state of frenzied self-loathing and stone-cold hatred, free-falling and yet seemingly in complete control.



Starring: Cush Jumbo, Jared Harris, Billy Howle, Maeve Dermody, Mia Tomlinson, Geraldine James, Barney Sayburn, Nathaniel Parker


Premieres on AMC+ on July 5, then begins running on AMC starting July 12 at 10 p.m.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.