Malice Aforethought, broadcast in April 2005 on ITV, is a two part mystery drama based on the 1931 novel written by Francis Iles. It is a tale of suspicion, deception and murder and stars Ben Miller as Dr Edmund Bickleigh.
Richard's role as William (Bill) Chatford is unfortunately all too brief, but it has become notable in the fan community for his sporting an interesting moustache, affectionately described by some as 'The Moustache of Evil'. The character spends much of the time glaring suspiciously, sneering a-la-Gisborne and courting Miss Latimer from North and South, or in fact Ivy as she is known in this drama, played by Lucy Brown. Ironic perhaps, since Miss Latimer spent all of her time attempting to court Thornton.
I found this to be an enjoyable drama, funny at times and amusingly ironic at the end. Not nearly enough Richard in it, but an entertaining few hours with an excellent cast.
Bickleigh, a general practitioner, is married to an older, domineering and rich wife who constantly undermines and belittles him in public and in the privacy of their own home. Yet Julia Bickleigh is not unaware that her younger husband has persisted in a number of affairs with women in the local area and is enjoying an affair with Ivy Ridgeway when the story begins.
Richard Armitage plays William Chatford who clearly has an interest in Ivy and is suspicious of Bickleigh's attentions to her. At a tennis party, Chatford is amused to see Bickleigh's apparent interest in a newcomer, Madeline Cranmere, who has just arrived in the village of Wyvern's Cross. However Julia Bickleigh immediately prejudges Madeleine, dismissing her as an 'artistic type' and disliking her intensely.
Julia is suspicious of Bickleigh's motives for visiting Madeleine and so she forbids Bickleigh to visit her, despite Bickleigh's insistence that the relationship is purely professional. However Julia is aware that this is of course a lie. Madeleine encourages Bickleigh's attentions, flattering his artistic tendencies and throwing herself at him.
Ivy becomes suspicious of Bickleigh's attentions to Madeleine and after a heated row, Bickleigh finishes his relationship with her. Ivy decides to marry Chatford and is disappointed that Bickleigh is not upset in the slightest when she tells him that she is engaged.
Madeleine frustrates Bickleigh by repeatedly halting his advances and soon she admits to him that she could not be with a married man. The choice seems clear to Bickleigh. After recalling that a few patients suffered headaches after using a drug called Farralite, he spikes Julia's water with the drug and she soon declines. When her headache becomes unbearable, Julia allows Bickleigh to give her morphine and before long Julia has become an addict.
Eventually Bickleigh contrives Julia's death, administering an overdose and ensuring that Julia's signature is found on an order for additional morphine supplies. Three months after her death, the coroner finds that Julia died accidentally due to an overdose.
Having become a widower, Bickleigh is dismayed to discover that Madeleine has married Denny, who has become an alcoholic and the marriage is bitterly unhappy.
While having tea with their neighbours, the newly married Chatfords listen to the gossip about Julia Bickleigh's suspicious death and Chatford is surprised to hear that Bickleigh had an affair before Madeleine. He suspects Ivy and when confronting her back at their home, she admits that she had an affair with Bickleigh before she married Chatford. He is angry and threatening, and is determined to dig deeper in Bickleigh's past and discover if the rumours are true about what he did to his wife. Ivy warns Bickleigh and immediately their affair is renewed.
Bickleigh discovers that his gardener witnessed him entering his house the day Julia died, when he was supposed to be away. Bickleigh takes advantage of the elderly gardener's weak heart and orders him to take on strenuous work. When the gardener suffers a heartattack, Bickleigh does nothing to help him.
When Chatford meets with Madeleine he is surprised to hear that Bickleigh's interest in her was infatuation on his part and that it was not reciprocated. Chatford tells her that he's aware his wife had an affair with Bickleigh before they were married. This revelation shocks Madeleine as Bickleigh previously denied a previous affair.
Ivy tells Bickleigh that Madeleine is accusing him of being a fraud, and that his father was not a proper doctor.
Then a police inspector arrives in the village, and he starts to make awkward enquiries into Bickleigh's affairs.
Bickleigh invites Madeline, Denny and Chatford round to his house to clear the air, but his real intention is to poison them with a culture of Botulism that he has tried to cultivate. Although they are all very ill as a result of their visit, they do not die.
Ivy visits Bickleigh and ends their affair because she realises that Bickleigh doesn't really love her the way she loves him, and she must make the best of her marriage to Chatford.
The Inspector visits Bickleigh after Chatford has accused Bickleigh of poisoning him, and he also informs him that Julia's body will be exhumed for a postmortem. Soon after he visits again to arrest Bickleigh for the murder of his wife Julia.
At the hearing, all the witnesses including Madeleine give damning evidence including the fact that Bickleigh admitted to her that his wife was dead before she had actually died. But Ivy comes to his rescue. Her enduring love for the doctor has her defending his character and fabricating evidence in the witness stand at the risk of ruining her own reputation. Bickleigh is cleared of the murder.
The drama ends with Bickleigh's immediate arrest outside the court where he has just been acquitted. Ironically, he is arrested over the murder of Denny Bourne, who died of typhoid which was found in the cultures Bickleigh had been growing. We learn that Bickleigh married Ivy in prison four months into his sentence and was hanged two days later.