Inside No 9 | Curse Of The Ninth review

Inside No 9 Curse Of The Ninth
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Symphonies and sonatas are the subject of Curse Of The Ninth, the latest episode of Inside No 9. Here’s our review.

High culture has been a recurring feature of Inside No 9 throughout its run, from the fiendishly clever puzzles of Riddle Of The Sphinx to the entire script of Zanzibar being written in iambic pentameter. Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton are just as likely to throw in a reference to Shakespeare as they are to write in a knob gag and, to be fair, they are masters of both.

Fellow League Of Gentlemen member Mark Gatiss has been adapting M.R. James’ ghost stories for a few years now, and this episode would not have felt out of place on a Christmas Eve. It is very on brand for Shearsmith and Pemberton to base latest episode Curse Of The Ninth right before they finish the ninth series of Inside No 9.

The plot this week focused on the titular problem, a real phenomenon that – as is explained in the episode – is said to have originated with Gustav Mahler. Furthermore, 12 further composers are said to have fallen victim to it over the years, perhaps most famously Ludwig Van Beethoven. But before that, we get Eddie Marsan as composer Nathaniel Burnham, who in the opening scene glimpses a pallid figure before promptly shooting himself.

We then meet timid piano tuner Jonah (Reece Shearsmith) as he arrives at the house to work on Nathanial’s old piano. He is greeted by the maid Miss Devonshire (Hayley Squires) and Nathanial’s widow Lillian (Natalie Dormer) who, as her lawyer Dickey (Steve Pemberton) explains, has a major cash flow problem.

With all this talk of curses, the script was packed with pithy punchlines – a lovely running gag had Jonah substituting Miss Devonshire’s surname with different counties, and who could begrudge them including the glorious line “They went from composing to decomposing”.

You don’t have to be a Beethoven buff to understand the episode, but the musical theory comes thick and fast with few layman’s terms to unjumble the jargon for the audience. It evoked Peter Shaffer’s masterpiece Amadeus in its lurid, luscious language, taking pleasure in the decadence of the descriptions – a clip of the great Paul Scofield’s astonishing performance as Salieri in the original production of Amadeus at the National Theatre is available on YouTube and is well worth a watch.

The real story hidden beneath the plot was one of greed and betrayal, well, actually a couple of betrayals, and of a trap avoided, as ever, at the last minute.

Devonshire tried to con Jonah out of the rediscovered symphony and failed, paying with her life. A mid-episode murder that actually set up the final kill, as Jonah outwits them both in different ways. Shearsmith and Pemberton go to great lengths to set up a finale that mirrors the opening scene, and just for a second you actually think Jonah has killed himself. That is, to quote Dickey, poppycock – they would never do something so painfully obvious.

Jonah hands Lillian the page he discovered in the piano earlier and she slots it into the symphony, thus completing it and absolving Jonah of the consequences. Her walk up to the top floor of the mansion is beautifully shot by director Guillem Morales, and even though her death is inevitable, he ratchets up the tension and keeps the audience on tenterhooks right until the release of the final frame. Lovely stuff.

Inside No 9 returns next week with Plodding On, the final ever episode. See you then…

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