'Mystery' revives a 60-year-old murder

May 09, 1991|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Evening Sun Staff

The body has been cold for 60 years now, but the mystery of the murder still smolders enough to make "The Man From the Pru" an intriguing two hours in tonight's one-part presentation of the PBS 'Mystery' series.

As Diana Rigg explains in her introduction (Maryland Public Broadcasting, channels 22 and 67, at 9 o'clock), some witnesses revealed new evidence in the last decade that shed a bit of light on the 1931 murder of Julia Wallace, a mild-mannered woman who would seem the most unlikely candidate for such a crime. But, though they point to a potential solution, they do not definitively answer all the questions that surround this unsolved case.

Most of those questions swirl about the enigmatic, stoical character of William Wallace, the dead woman's husband, who was immediately fingered as the killer by the police, in part because of his peculiar personality. His alibi seemed to have been constructed with the same meticulous attention to detail that he used in the rest of his quiet, sedate life.

Once Wallace had dreamed of world travel, but health drove him back to England where he shared a house with his wife and represented the Prudential Insurance Co., revealing his innermost thoughts only to his attractive sister-in-law. Did he kill the woman whom he saw holding back his true nature to be with the woman he actually loved?

A womanizing co-worker who was stealing from the firm is the monkey wrench thrown into these meticulous works. But, though his personality seems to fit the crime, his motive for murder -- rejected advances? seeking the evidence of his theft? -- is murky.

Jonathan Pryce, nominated for a Tony award this week for his starring role in ''Miss Saigon,'' turns in extraordinary work as Wallace, capturing in every nuance the depth of control and emotional denial this man must have practiced. This is a nicely directed, appropriately murky BBC production with a supporting cast that never misses a beat. Anna Massey is the wife, Susannah York the sister-in-law and Gary Mavers the co-worker.

"The Man From the Pru" *** PBS' "Mystery" series examines a still unsolved 1931 murder of a mild-mannered woman in this moody character study that focuses on her stoical husband, the man the police think did the crime.

CAST: Jonathan Pryce, Susannah York

TIME: Thursday at 9 p.m.

CHANNEL: PBS channels 22 and 67

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