Masterpiece Mystery Book and Film Club
Book and Film Club Selections [2002-201?]
In 2002, PBS’ venerable Masterpiece Theatre launched an on-line Book and Film Club to encourage viewers of their adaptations of classic and contemporary literature to revisit the original source material in local book groups. PBS posted discussion questions and other materials for many of their Masterpiece Theatre books from the Winter/Spring of 2002 onward. The following books were all included in that list of selected titles, and you can find the Book Club materials for all of them at: PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre Book and Film Club web site (no longer available). [Note: In 2008, Masterpiece Theatre shortened its name to simply Masterpiece, and merged with the equally long-running Mystery series. Episodes then began airing under Masterpiece Classic, Masterpiece Contemporary and Masterpiece Mystery. Book Club materials have only been produced by PBS for select entries in these three series — episodes which did not have Book Club materials available are not listed below.]
You can also see a list of additional Masterpiece productions on the following booklist on BookGuide: Masterpiece Theatre – The First 35 Years – 1971-2006.
Though Masterpiece has discontinued its Book Club feature, you can still listen to podcasts about more recent Masterpiece productions at this link.
Visit the Masterpiece resource collections page on the PBS website
by Kate Atkinson
A triumphant new novel from award-winner Kate Atkinson: a breathtaking story of families divided, love lost and found, and the mysteries of fate. Case One: Olivia Land, youngest and most beloved of the Land girls, goes missing in the night and is never seen again. Thirty years later, two of her surviving sisters unearth a shocking clue to Olivia’s disappearance among the clutter of their childhood home. . .Case Two: Theo delights in his daughter Laura’s wit, effortless beauty, and selfless love. But her first day as an associate in his law firm is also the day when Theo’s world turns upside down. . .Case Three: Michelle looks around one day and finds herself trapped in a hell of her own making. A very needy baby and a very demanding husband make her every waking moment a reminder that somewhere, somehow, shed made a grave mistake and would spend the rest of her life paying for it — until a fit of rage creates a grisly, bloody escape. As Private Detective Jackson Brodie investigates all three cases, startling connections and discoveries emerge. Inextricably caught up in his clients grief, joy, and desire, Jackson finds their unshakable need for resolution very much like his own. Kate Atkinson’s celebrated talent makes for a novel that positively sparkles with surprise, comedy, tragedy, and constant, page-turning delight.
by John Hawkesworth [ 2011 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
One of the most loved television series of all time is brought back to life with a fresh cast and sumptuous production values. It’s 1936, and six years since parlor maid Rose left 165 Eaton Place, when fate brings her back as housekeeper to its new owners: Sir Hallam, his wife Lady Agnes, and Maud, Lady Holland, his mother. Rose soon finds she has her work cut out as she recruits a new ‘downstairs’ family to help run the elegance and finery of the ‘upstairs’ world.
Any Human Heart
by William Boyd
The author of Armadillo, The Blue Afternoon and Brazzaville Beach — the novelist who has been called a “master storyteller” (Chicago Tribune) and “a gutsy writer who is good company to keep” (Time)—now gives us his most entertaining, sly and compelling novel to date, a novel that evokes the tumult, events and iconic faces of our time, as it tells the story of Logan Mountstuart — writer, lover and man of the world — through his intimate journals. Here is the “riotous and disorganized reality” of Mountstuart’s eighty-five years in all their extraordinary, tragic and humorous aspects. The journals begin with his boyhood in Montevideo, Uruguay; then move to Oxford in the 1920s and the publication of his first book; then on to Paris (where he meets Joyce, Picasso, Hemingway, et al.) and to Spain where he covers the civil war. During World War II, we see him as an agent for Naval Intelligence, becoming embroiled in a murder scandal that involves the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The postwar years bring him to New York as an art dealer in the world of 1950s abstract expressionism, then on to West Africa, to London (where he has a run-in with the Baader-Meinhof Gang) and, finally, to France where, in his old age, he acquires a measure of hard-won serenity. A moving, ambitious and richly conceived novel that summons up the heroics and follies of twentieth-century life.
Series 2 based on the novels of Henning Mankell [ 2010 Masterpiece Theatre adaptations ]
Wallander returns in the next set of thrilling tales set in the beautiful landscape of southern Sweden. These stories follow Kurt Wallander, a sensitive but brilliant detective, a man who takes each murder case he works on personally and will stop at nothing in his search for the truth, even at the expense of his health and his family life. Beautifully filmed, Wallander is a compelling series featuring an extremely likeable and entirely believable character and bold, powerful stories. This set features adaptations of the following Henning Mankell novels — Faceless Killers, The Man Who Smiled and The Fifth Woman [Official PBS discussion resources available at this page!]
The Diary of Anne Frank
by Anne Frank
The story of a young girl who had to go into hiding during World War II for being different. Anne Frank’s diary manages to create a truthful and timeless picture of domestic life in all its pettiness and normalcy, while never letting us forget the extraordinary threat of death that awaits the characters if they are discovered. This is the first authorized film based on actual entries of the real diary. [ Official PBS discussion resources available at this page! ] [Visit the Diary of Anne Frank Masterpiece resources page on the PBS website]
Series 1 based on the novels of Henning Mankell [ 2009 Masterpiece Theatre adaptations ]
Three crime dramas based on the best selling novels by Henning Mankell — Sidetracked, Firewall, and One Step Behind — follow Inspector Kurt Wallander, a disillusioned everyman, as he struggles against a rising tide of violence in southern Sweden.
by Charles Dickens
One of the most swiftly moving and unified of Charles Dickens’ great novels, Oliver Twist is also famous for its re-creation — through the splendidly realized figures of Fagin, Nancy, the Artful Dodger, and the evil Bill Sikes — of the vast London underworld of pickpockets, thieves, prostitutes, and abandoned children. Victorian critics took Dickens to task for rendering this world in such a compelling, believable way, but readers over the last 150 years have delivered an alternative judgment by making this story of the orphaned Oliver Twist one of its author’s most loved works.
by Charles Dickens [ 2009 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
When Arthur Clennam returns to London after several years abroad, he wants to learn more about his mother’s new seamstress, young Amy Dorrit. His search brings him to the Marshalsea Debtors Prison, where he learns the truth about struggle and hardship in 1820s England.
The Old Curiosity Shop
by Charles Dickens [ 2009 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
Nell Trent lives with her doting grandfather in his London shop. It is a magical place, filled from wall to wall with treasures. Grandfather keeps his nocturnal gambling activities a secret from Nell. He borrows heavily from the evil, profiteering loan shark Daniel Quilp. When Grandfather gambles away what little money they possess, Quilp seizes the opportunity to take possession of their beloved shop. It seems Nell and Grandfather are left only with the option to escape. They fall in with a number of colourful characters, some vilainous and some affectionate. They are on the run from Quilp and his band of misguided money seekers, including Nell’s own brother Freddie and his gullible friend Dick Swiveller.
Series 6 based on Elizabeth George’s mystery series [ 2008 Masterpiece Theatre release ]
Suave, sophisticated Detective Inspector Lynley and his prickly, plebian sidekick Detective Sergeant Havers are back with two new gripping mysteries in this sixth and final series. But with Lynley struggling to cope with his wife’s death — and Havers struggling with her partner’s heavy drinking — will they be able to focus on solving crime? [Note: The two episodes featured in this season of the Inspector Lynley Mysteries are original to the screen, and not based on any existing Elizabeth George stories.]
by Jane Austen
Twenty-one-year-old Emma Woodhouse loves playing matchmaker. When pretty and socially inferior Harries arrives, Emma decides to indulge her passion. Against the advice of family friend and surrogate older brother Mr. Knightly, Emma persuades Harries to reject a marriage proposal from a local farmer in order to hold out for an offer from the dashing Mr. Elton. But Emma soon discovers Mr. Elton’s true motives and her advice to Harriet goes terribly awry.
by Jane Austen [ 2008 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
Fanny Price goes to live with prosperous relatives at Mansfield Park. Fanny navigates a labyrinth of intrigues and affairs among the occupants of the house, while her cousin Edmund Bertram remains her stalwart confidant.
by Jane Austen [ 2008 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
Romance novel addict Catherine Morland is invited to a medieval country house that appeals to her most lurid fantasies. She forms a close friendship with the younger son on the estate, Henry Tilney, but their budding romance is mysteriously cut short”.
by Jane Austen
Anne is persuaded to reject a proposition of marriage from the man she loves due to his lack of fortune. Years later she is made the offer again.
Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen
The story of the lively, precocious and very eligible Bennet girls captures all the nuances of 19th century life among the English gentry, a society obsessed with profitable marriage contracts.
Sense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen [ 2008 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
Two sisters find themselves in poor financial state and unsuitable for a proper marriage. Through hardship and heartbreak they find true love.
by Charlotte Bronte [ 2007 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
Immediately recognized as a masterpiece when it was first published in 1847, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is an extraordinary coming-of-age story featuring one of the most independent and strong-willed female protagonists in all of literature. Poor and plain, Jane Eyre begins life as a lonely orphan in the household of her hateful aunt. Despite the oppression she endures at home, and the later torture of boarding school, Jane manages to emerge with her spirit and integrity unbroken. She becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she finds herself falling in love with her employer-the dark, impassioned Mr. Rochester. But an explosive secret tears apart their relationship, forcing Jane to face poverty and isolation once again. One of the world’s most beloved novels, Jane Eyre is a startlingly modern blend of passion, romance, mystery, and suspense.
by Bram Stoker [ 2007 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
Count Dracula has inspired countless movies, books, and plays. But few, if any, have been fully faithful to Bram Stoker’s original, best-selling novel of mystery and horror, love and death, sin and redemption. Dracula chronicles the vampire’s journey from Transylvania to the nighttime streets of London. There, he searches for the blood of strong men and beautiful women while his enemies plot to rid the world of his frightful power.Today’s critics see Dracula as a virtual textbook on Victorian repression of the erotic and fear of female sexuality. In it, Stoker created a new word for terror, a new myth to feed our nightmares, and a character who will outlive us all.
The Ruby in the Smoke
by Philip Pullman [ 2007 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation (originally 1996) ]
In search of clues to the mystery of her father’s death, 16-year-old Sally Lockhart ventures into the shadowy underworld of Victorian London. Pursued by villains at every turn, the intrepid Sally finally uncovers two dark mysteries — and realizes that she herself is the key to both. ” In Dickensian fashion, Pullman tells the story of 16-year-old Sally Lockhart, who becomes involved in a deadly web of events as she searches for a mysterious ruby. The novel is a page turner, peopled with despicable hags, forthright heroes, and children living on the underbelly of 19th-century London. The story’s events are exciting, with involved plotting. Settings and characterizations are exquisitely drawn. The first entry in a planned trilogy.
by Charles Dickens [ 2006 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
Bleak House, Dickens’s most daring experiment in the narration of a complex plot, challenges the reader to make connections — between the fashionable and the outcast, the beautiful and the ugly, the powerful and the victims. Nowhere in Dickens’ later novels is his attack on an uncaring society more imaginatively embodied, but nowhere either is the mixture of comedy and angry satire more deftly managed.
Under the Greenwood Tree
by Thomas Hardy [ 2005 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
One of Thomas Hardy’s most popular novels, this is a delightful and humorous depiction of life in an early Victorian rural community. Its story delicately balances the concerns of the Mellstock parish choir with a romance between one of its members and a village schoolmistress.
The Murder at the Vicarage
by Agatha Christie [ 2005 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
When Colonel Protheroe is found dead from a single gun shot wound to the head, none of his neighbors in the village of St. Mary Mead is much surprised. So many people wished this local official would say farewell, if not quite so permanently. With suspects abound and the local police symied it is up to Miss Jane Marple to root out the killer.[ Visit the Agatha Christie Book & Film Club page on the PBS website]
In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner
by Elizabeth George [ 2005 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
Calder Moor is a wild and deadly place: many have been trapped in the myriad limestone caves, lost in collapsed copper mines, injured on perilous gritstone ridges. But this time, when two bodies are discovered in the shadow of the ancient circle of stones known as Nine Sisters Henge, it is clearly not a case for Mountain Rescue. The corpses are those of a young man and woman. Each met death in a different fashion. Each died violently. To Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, brought in to investigate by special request, this grisly crime promises to be one of the toughest assignments of his career. For the unfortunate Nicola Maiden was the daughter of a former officer in an elite undercover unit, a man Lynley once regarded as a mentor. Now, as Lynley struggles to find out if Nicola’s killer was an enemy of her father’s or one she earned herself, a disgraced Barbara Havers, determined to redeem herself in the eyes of her longtime partner, crisscrosses London seeking information on the second murder victim. Yet the more dark secrets Lynley and Havers uncover, the more they learn that neither the victims nor the suspects are who they appear to be. And once again they come up against the icy realization that human relationships are often murderous…and that the blood that binds can also kill.
The Murder Room
by P.D. James [ 2005 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
The Dupayne, a small private museum on the edge of London’s Hamstead Heath devoted to the interwar years 1919-39, is in turmoil. The trustees – the three children of the museum founder, old Max Dupayne – are bitterly at odds over whether it should be closed. Then one of them is brutally murdered, and what seemed to be no more than a family dispute erupts into horror. For even as Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team investigate the first killing, a second corpse is discovered. Clearly, someone at the Dupayne is prepared to kill, and kill again. The case is fraught with danger and complexity from the outset, not least because of the range of possible suspects – and victims. And still more sinister, the murders appear to echo the notorious crimes of the past featured in one of the museum’s most popular galleries, the Murder Room. For Dalgliesh, P. D. James’s formidable detective, the search for the murderer poses and unexpected complication. After years of bachelorhood, he has embarked on a promising new relationship with Emma Lavenham – first introduced in Death in Holy Orders – which is at a critical stage. Yet his struggle to solve the Dupayne murders faces him with a frustrating dilemma: each new development distances him further from commitment to the woman he loves.
The Complete Talking Heads
by Alan Bennett
Alan Bennett’s award-winning series of solo pieces is a classic of contemporary drama, universally hailed for its combination of razor-sharp wit and deeply felt humanity. In Bed Among the Lentils, a vicar’s wife discovers a semblance of happiness with an Indian shop owner. In A Chip in the Sugar, a man’s life begins to unravel when he discovers his aging mother has rekindled an old flame. In A Lady of Letters, a busybody pays a price for interfering in her neighbor’s life. First produced for BBC television in 1988 to great critical acclaim, the Talking Heads monologues also appeared on the West End Stage in London in 1992 and 1998. In 2002, seven of the pieces were performed at the Tiffany Theater in Los Angeles for a highly praised brief engagement, and in 2003 a selection of the monologues premiered in New York at the Minetta Lane Theatre. These extraordinary portraits of ordinary people confirm Alan Bennett’s place as one of the most gifted, versatile, and important writers in the English Language.
by Eleanor H. Porter [ 2004 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
When orphaned Pollyanna Whittier comes to live with her stern maiden aunt, she not only manages to spread her perpetual cheerfulness and optimism among the miserable people of the town, she also transforms the life of her lonely relative.
He Knew He Was Right
by Anthony Trollope
The story of a wealthy, emotionally unstable husband and his unwarranted jealousy of his wife. Louis Trevelyan marries Emily Rowley, daughter of the governor of the Mandarin Islands. Upon the young couple’s return to England, Trevelyan becomes increasingly jealous of attentions paid to Emily by an aging roue. Trevelyan abducts their son and takes him to Italy, where Trevelyan suffers a complete emotional breakdown. Although a partial reconciliation takes place, Trevelyan dies shortly after his return to England.
by William Shakespeare
In this tragedy — Othello, a Moorish general in the service of Venice, appoints Cassio as his chief lieutenant, unwittingly arousing the enmity of Iago, his ensign, who thinks that he has better claim to the post. Partly to avenge himself for the slight, and partly out of sheer malice, Iago devises a scheme to undo both Cassio and the unsuspecting Othello, who regards Iago as a loyal, trustworthy friend. A classic tale of jealousy, hatred, revenge and regret.
The Ponder Heart
by Eudora Welty
Uncle Daniel Ponder, whose fortune is exceeded only by his desire to give it away, is a source of vexation for his niece, Edna Earle. Uncle Daniel’s trial for the alleged murder of his seventeen-year-old bride is a comic masterpiece.
by Thornton Wilder
First produced and published in 1938, this Pulitzer Prize-winning drama of life in the small village of Grover’s Corners has become an American classic and is Thornton Wilder’s most renowned and most frequently performed play.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
by James Hilton [ 2003 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
Arthur Chipping is the new Latin master at an English boy’s boarding school. The eccentric schoolmaster lives a full, rich life within the cloistered school, defined by his role as the intellectual shepherd of generations of young students. Then while traveling through the countryside on summer holiday, he unexpected falls in love. His new wife ignites his passion and brings him out of his shell. Spans over 50 years in the life of Mr. Chipping.
by Boris Pasternak [ 2003 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
First published in Italy in 1957 amidst international controversy, Doctor Zhivago is the story of the life and loves of a poet/physician during the turmoil of the Russian Revolution. Here is a masterful chronicle of its outbreak and the consequences: army revolts, irrational killings, starvation, epidemics, Communist Party inquisitions. Taking his family from Moscow to what he hopes will be shelter in the Ural Mountains, Zhivago finds himself instead embroiled in the battle between the Whites and the Reds. Set against this backdrop of cruelty and strife is Zhivago’s love for the tender and beautiful Lara: pursued, found, and lost again, Lara is the very embodiment of the pain and chaos of those cataclysmic times.
The Hound of the Baskervilles
by Arthur Conan Doyle [ 2003 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
In this, one of the most famous of Doyle’s mysteries, the tale of an ancient curse and a savage ghostly hound comes frighteningly to life. The gray towers of Baskerville Hall and the wild open country of Dartmoor will haunt the reader as Holmes and Watson seek to unravel the many secrets of the misty English bogs.
by George Eliot [ 2003 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
Daniel Deronda is a sensitive, intelligent, young man haunted by secrets that shroud his birth. Gwendolen Harleth is a beautiful gambler short on cash. When the two meet, sparks fly.
by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith’s dazzling debut caught critics grasping for comparisons and deciding on everyone from Charles Dickens to Salman Rushdie to John Irving and Martin Amis. But the truth is that Zadie Smith’s voice is remarkably, fluently, and altogether wonderfully her own. At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England’s irrevocable transformation. A second marriage to Clara Bowden, a beautiful, albeit tooth-challenged, Jamaican half his age, quite literally gives Archie a second lease on life, and produces Irie, a knowing child whose personality doesn’t quite match her name (Jamaican for “no problem”). Samad’s late-in-life arranged marriage (he had to wait for his bride to be born), produces twin sons whose separate paths confound Iqbal’s every effort to direct them, and a renewed, if selective, submission to his Islamic faith. Set against London’s racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire and into the past as it barrels toward the future, White Teeth revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life, flirting with disaster, confounding expectations, and embracing the comedy of daily existence.
Almost a Woman
by Esmerelda Santiago
At age thirteen, Esmeralda, is the oldest child of six. She shoulders the responsibility of learning English as her mother’s interpreter and guide through the challenges of their new life in America. Mami is the passionate and beautiful mother who moves the family to the U.S. seeking medical care for her son’s chronically infected foot. Tata, Esmeralda’s stoical grandmother, is the matriarch of the American branch of the family.
The Forsyte Saga: The Man of Property
by John Galsworthy [ 2002 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
This monumental trilogy by the Nobel Prize-winning author chronicles the lives of three generations of an upper-middle-class London family obsessed with money and respectability. The Forsyte Saga enormously influenced views held by Americans and Europeans of Victorian and Edwardian life and it remains an excellent contribution to social history and literary art.
Wives and Daughters
by Elizabeth Gaskell [ 2002 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
Set in English society before the 1832 Reform Bill, Wives and Daughters centers on the story of youthful Molly Gibson, brought up from childhood by her father. When he remarries, a new stepsister enters Molly’s quiet life-loveable, but worldly and troubling Cynthia. The narrative traces the development of the two girls into womanhood within the gossiping and watchful society of Hollingford. Wives and Daughters is far more than a nostalgic evocation of village life; it offers an ironic critique of mid-Victorian society.
The Pursuit of Love / Love in a Cold Climate
by Nancy Mitford [ 2002 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
Few aristocratic English families of the twentieth century enjoyed the glamorous notoriety of the infamous Mitford sisters. Nancy Mitford’s most famous novels, The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, satirize British aristocracy in the twenties and thirties through the amorous adventures of the Radletts, an exuberantly unconventional family closely modelled on Mitford’s own. The Radletts of Alconleigh occupy the heights of genteel eccentricity, from terrifying Lord Alconleigh (who, like Mitford’s father, used to hunt his children with bloodhounds when foxes were not available), to his gentle wife, Sadie, their wayward daughter Linda, and the other six lively Radlett children. Mitford’s wickedly funny prose follows these characters through misguided marriages and dramatic love affairs, as the shadow of World War II begins to close in on their rapidly vanishing world.
by Kingsley Amis
Kingsley Amis has written a marvelously funny novel describing the attempts of England’s postwar generation to break from that country’s traditional class structure. When it appeared in England, Lucky Jim provoked a heated controversy in which everyone took sides. Even W. Somerset Maugham reviewed the book, happily with great favor: “Mr. Kingsley Amis is so talented, his observations so keen, that you cannot fail to be convinced that the young men he so brilliantly describes truly represent the classes with which his novel is concerned.”
A Death in the Family
by James Agee [ 2002 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation ]
Forty years after its original publication, James Agee’s last novel seems, more than ever, an American classic. For in his lyrical, sorrowful account of a man’s death and its impact on his family, Agee painstakingly created a small world of domestic happiness and then showed how quickly and casually it could be destroyed. On a sultry summer night in 1915, Jay Follet leaves his house in Knoxville, Tennessee, to tend to his father, whom he believes is dying. The summons turns out to be a false alarm, but on his way back to his family, Jay has a car accident and is killed instantly. Dancing back and forth in time and braiding the viewpoints of Jay’s wife, brother, and young son, Rufus, Agee creates an overwhelmingly powerful novel of innocence, tenderness, and loss that should be read aloud for the sheer music of its prose.
last updated March 2021 sdc