Tuesday, May 3, 2022

The Impossible Murder

I just wrapped up watching season one of Slow Horses, which I enjoyed quite a bit.  I look forward to season two.  I hadn't realized going in that Jonathan Pryce is in it, in a small but not unimportant part, and as always, he's excellent.  In every role he's in, no matter how long he's onscreen, and whether he's nasty or benign, he conveys a strong cerebral quality.  Seeing him in Slow Horses reminded me for some reason of a TV film I saw years ago about a real-life murder case in which he played a very internal and hard to read character, the Man from the Pru.  That's the name of the film, from 1990, and it's based on a 1931 British murder case. 

Pryce plays William Herbert Wallace, an English insurance man (Prudential Assurance Company) who was convicted, in 1931, of killing his wife Julia.  Wallace, who was 52, had left his house on the evening of Monday January 19 to play a scheduled chess game.  While there he was given a message which had been received by telephone before he arrived at the chess club.  It asked him to come to an address the next evening to sell insurance to a man named R.M. Qualtrough.  When Wallace went to make his call the next night, he found neither the address from the message nor any person called Qualtrough.  After the futile search, Wallace returned home, but when he got there, he had trouble getting inside his house.  Neighbors of his came across him in the alley behind the house, and now Wallace, who had told them he couldn't get inside his home, tried his back entrance again and it opened.  He went inside to find his wife beaten to death in their sitting room.

From here, the case, entirely circumstantial, only got stranger.  Among other things, after he was arrested, Wallace's home company, Prudential, conducted a secret mock-trial and found Wallace unanimously not guilty.  The company then sponsored his defense. Regardless, in the real trial, after an hour of deliberation by the jury, Wallace was found guilty and sentenced to death.  And yet, even this was not the end of the story, and Wallace appealed. Throughout, his personality did not work in his favor; he was a remote and circumspect human being, or, as some saw him, cold, and even when he was able to return to his job as an insurance man, the public on balance felt that he had got away with murder.

But had he?

Officially, the case remains unsolved, and the comments over the years testify to its mysteriousness.

Dorothy L. Sayers said, "The Wallace murder had no key-move and ended, in fact, in a stalemate."

Author John Rowland in a book about the case said, "Almost every fact in the evidence was accepted by both prosecution and defense, but every fact could be interpreted in two ways."

And my favorite, from Raymond Chandler, who said of the case: "The Wallace case is the nonpareil of all murder mysteries...I call it the impossible murder because Wallace couldn't have done it, and neither could anyone else...The Wallace case is unbeatable; it will always be unbeatable."

Jonathan Pryce, with that internal, cerebral and aloof quality, enigmatic to the core, plays Wallace in The Man from the Pru, and it's a film worth seeking out to see how the entire odd case unfolded.

I'm not sure whether it's streaming anywhere or on home video, but I have seen that it’s available for viewing on You Tube.

No comments: