The Judas Tree was both written and directed by David Renwick, and for me, it was ninety minutes of TV heaven. A marvellously entertaining Jonathan Creek story, with that combination of wit and ingenious plotting which has become Renwick’s hallmark. John Dickson Carr would surely have loved it, and I think that any fan of classic ‘impossible crime’ mysteries would love it.
The opening is gripping – in 1988, two young women are driving in the windswept countryside, when one of them, Emily, sees a strange house in the fields. The house suddently disappears, and when she goes to investigate, she is almost seized by a mysterious old man who emerges from the undergrowth. But she fights him off and escapes.
Fast forward to the present day, and Emily takes a job in the household of a detective story writer with a glamorous wife and an enigmatic housekeeper. The wife tells her a story about a seemingly impossible crime, committed in the grounds of their house, Green Lanterns, in the nineteenth century. The timing of the victim’s death was foretold, to the very minute. And soon the wife receives a message, apparently in Emily’s hand, warning of her forthcoming death….
Jonathan investigates with his customary mixture of bewilderment and brilliance, aided by Sheridan Smith, from whom Emily has sought help. The initial mystery of the vanishing house is easily explained, but the crimes at Green Lantern, both ancient and modern, prove rather more complex. Quite a bit of information is concealed from the viewer until a late stage, which might have some purists shaking their heads. I was left with one or two unanswered questions (a second viewing might resolve them) but, most of all, with renewed admiration for Renwick’s gifts.
Alan Davies is excellent, as ever, as Jonathan Creek, while Sheridan Smith, Paul McGann and Ian McNiece (who has appeared in countless TV mysteries over the years) are also well cast. Natalie Walter, who plays Emily, is so very attractive that she can’t possibly be guilty – can she? And a special word for Doreen Mantle, who plays a key part in the story-line as the housekeeper at Green Lanterns. She appeared regularly as Mrs Worboys in Renwick’s One Foot in the Grave, and her interaction with McNiece is one of the many joys of this terrific mystery.
How does it compare to last year's enjoyable special, The Grinning Man? My instant reaction is - even better.