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An Inspector Calls – David Thewlis Shines in JB Priestley’s Morality Tale

David Thewlis as Inspector Goole. Photo: BBC.
David Thewlis as Inspector Goole. Photo: BBC.

An Inspector Calls Review

Can I just say, I love David Thewlis! Have done ever since the 80s comedy series A Bit of a Do.  From Harry Potter to Black Beauty to Kingdom of Heaven, whatever he appears in is made better by his presence. And nowhere is his presence more tangible than in his role as the mysterious Inspector in the BBC’s recent adaptation of JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls.

The family are troubled by Inspector's visit. Photo: BBC.
The family are troubled by Inspector’s visit.

For those of you who didn’t study it in English class (I didn’t either, but my best friend’s class did), An Inspector Calls centres around a family party held by the wealthy Birling family to celebrate their daughter’s engagement to the wealthy, titled Gerald Croft. The celebrations are interrupted by the arrival of the enigmatic Inspector Goole, who wishes to question the family following a young woman’s suicide. At first, the family protest at the intrusion. What can the death of a destitute woman have to do with them? But as the Inspector questions each one in turn, they are forced to examine their own actions and the part they may have played in this tragedy.

It’s a very intense, human drama. The original play all took place in the house, but the BBC have chosen to show outside scenes (factory, shop, seaside etc.) as the Inspector recounts the sad tale of the unfortunate Eva Smith. Even so, it is the different characters within the family, and their attempts to justify themselves and blame each other, that provide the real drama. Mr and Mrs Birling (Ken Stott, The Hobbit, and Miranda Richardson, Young Victoria, Phantom of the Opera) are more concerned with reputation and saving face; their children, Sheila and Eric, however, feel guilt and shame over the Inspector’s revelations. Cracks begin to appear in each character’s relationships with the others, as the tale of Eva Smith takes unexpected twists and turns.

And at the centre of it all is Inspector Goole. I really think David Thewlis is perfect for this role. Soft-spoken but persistent, he conveys the Inspector’s compassion, moral outrage, and sense of mystery. One of the great moments is when Mr Birling tells him to leave, and he simply takes off his coat and hangs it on the back of the chair. Understated but powerful. And the Inspector’s speech about all the Eva Smiths and John Smiths in the world, and our responsibility towards them is one of the highlights of the drama.

As I hinted, this version of An Inspector Calls does vary a little from the text of the original stage play, which purists may not be happy with.  But, as a first-time viewer, I loved it. I’m aware that not every viewer will feel the thrill of pride I do that JB Priestley was from my hometown, or that streets and buildings from my local area feature as locations in the film. However, I think everyone can enjoy – and learn from – this twentieth-century morality tale.

Content Note: Contains (mild, brief) scenes of a sexual nature and (mild, brief) scenes that some viewers may find distressing.

Overall Rating

“You had me at hello.”

An Inspector Calls is now available to buy on DVD in the UK.

Photos: BBC

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By on October 16th, 2015

About Elizabeth Hopkinson

Elizabeth Hopkinson is a fantasy writer from Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK - home of the Brontë sisters and the Cottingley Fairies. She loves fairy tale and history, especially the 18th century, and is currently writing a trilogy set in a fantasy version of baroque Italy. Her short fiction has appeared in many publications, and her historical fantasy novel, Silver Hands, is available from all good book outlets. You can check out Elizabeth's website at hiddengrove.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk.

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