DVD Review: DARK ANGEL (PBS Masterpiece)

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by Dale Reynolds on June 5, 2017



ITV’s damning look at the submissive role women had to live in the nineteenth century and how it negatively affected one woman, Mary Ann Cotton, (née Robson, 1832-1873), turning her into a serial killer of men and children, has been chillingly effected in Dark Angel, as shown on PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre here in the USA.

The central performance by Joanne Froggatt is strong, as is the balance of the cast, but the unrelenting darkness of the story (how could it be otherwise, you may wisely ask?) is a downer. Told in two segments, Gwyneth Hughes’ script, directed by Brian Percival, was shot in beautiful SW England (cinematography by Larry Smith), quite attractively.

Cotton most likely killed three of her four husbands and eleven of her own thirteen children, a step-son, as well as others – possibly totaling 21 people – chiefly using arsenic poisoning. A not, shall we say, pleasant, or at any rate a tale of someone who was not in her right mind.

The film, now available on DVD, takes place over two decades, from early adulthood to her execution by hanging at the age of 40. Some of the highlighted characters are her loving step-father, Mr. Stott (played well as always by the talented Alun Armstrong); Thomas Howes as husband #2; Jonas Armstrong as her macho, sexy lover, Joe; Sam Hoare as husband #3; and Laura Morgan as her close friend, Maggie, who also succumbs to her psychosis.

This 150-minute film is well made, although it could have used more of her up side, and the reason four men married her, and how she kept a long-term lover in Joe. We get to know much about female subjugation, which feeds Cotton’s fury, but not enough on her lighter side, if any.

Dark Angel
PBS Masterpiece
DVD | 1 disc | 180 minutes
released May 23, 2017
available at Amazon and PBS

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