Director: George Bloomfield
Starring: Wendy Crewson
Love and Murder, the first in a series of films based on the novels of Gail Bowen, has all the makings of a good detective drama: a hero with a tortured past, a relentless need to uncover the truth and a willingness to sidestep the rules in order to do it; a grisly crime with a host of potential and plausible suspects; and a whole lot of secrets threatening to bubble up to the surface. It doesn't entirely live up to the promise of its premise, but it still makes for a fairly satisfying whodunit.
Wendy Crewson stars as Joanne Kilbourn, an ex-cop turned professor raising her three kids on her own following the still unsolved murder of her husband. She's dragged back into crime solving by the return of her old friend Sally Love (Caroline Goodall), a famous artist who has been living in New York. She's returned for a show that has been organized by her ex-husband Stuart (Rudiger Vogler) and things immediately become tense when she clashes with Stuart's latest protege Clea (Tammy Isbell) and makes it clear that she intends to pursue custody and her and Stuart's daughter. This puts her already fraught relationship with her mother, Nina (Claire Bloom), into further turmoil, as Nina has essentially been playing the role of mother to her granddaughter in Sally's absence.
When Sally finds Stuart dead from a wound to the head, she naturally becomes the prime suspect as far as the police are concerned. Joanne, of course, thinks that her friend is innocent and that Clea, who appears to have some anger issues and plenty of access to blunt objects, is the real culprit. As she investigates and Sally's behavior becomes increasingly problematic, Joanne begins to doubt the innocence of her friend and begins to recall the mysterious circumstances surrounding Sally's father's death many years earlier. As the bodies begin to pile up and the two mysteries begin to converge, Joanne discovers that the truth is much darker than she ever would have suspected.
Anyone with an interest in Canadian film will sooner or later become familiar with Crewson as an actress because she works a lot - in the last decade alone she has amassed 44 film and television credits. She's a very natural performer who seems to disappear into her roles and expresses a lot about her characters through body language and smaller gestures. These tendencies are definitely on display here in her portrayal of Joanne and her understated but very real performance is one of the things that really works in the film. There's a lot going on with this character who, in addition to still mourning the death of her husband, is also resentful of the fact that his murder has never been solved and is, in turn, met with resentment on the part of her former colleagues for having walked away from the force. She's torn between her childhood friendship with Sally and her loyalty to Nina, who has always been like a mother to her, her own mother having been an alcoholic mess. In terms of her own children, she's navigating that tricky line between protecting them and allowing them enough independence so that they can grow into self-sufficient adults. Crewson never allows the character to become overshaddowed by all the issues she has to deal with and instead gives us a very clear portrait of a smart, focused woman with a lot on her plate, juggling it all as best she can. She isn't perfect, but her imperfections are relatable.
The story itself is well constructed, playing on shifts in certain characters that keep you guessing without making you feel as if they've done a complete reversal for the sake of the plot. The flashback scenes, filmed in a glowing, dreamy way, are handled well and folded into the current day storyline in a way that feels natural. What doesn't really work are the scenes of Joanne teaching, which are interspersed throughout and used as a way to break up the story and comment on the various stages of the investigative process. It just feels too didactic and forced to be really effective. Other than that I found Love and Murder to be a pretty engaging and compelling mystery, the kind of film that's a Godsend on a rainy Sunday afternoon.