Hallmark’s new TV movie Gilded Newport Mysteries: Murder At The Breakers is set in 1895 in Newport, Rhode Island, the playground for the wealthiest industrialists of the time. Ali Skovbye plays Emma Vanderbilt-Cross, a writer who gets involved in a murder investigation in which her half-brother is the number one suspect. In an effort to clear his name, she searches for clues, flirts with the local detective and a mysterious outsider, and learns the unsettling truth about who the actual murderer really is.
Opening Shot: Newport, Rhode Island, 1895. An aerial shot of that town’s famous cliffside mansions depicts the vast estates, perfectly manicured lawns, and sprawling homes of society’s most elite class.
The Gist: Author Alyssa Maxwell has written a series of murder mystery novels all set at some of Newport’s most famous mansions. This is the first of her books to be adapted into a film (her book is simply titled Murder At The Breakers, Hallmark has added the “Gilded Newport Mysteries” to it, seemingly as a way to kick off a franchise), and here we meet Emma Vanderbilt-Cross (Ali Skovbye, who you’ll recognize as young Tully from Firefly Lane), the women’s and society reporter for the Newport Observer. Though she wants to write about things like politics (her coverage of a recent visit from Susan B. Anthony gets reduced to a style piece about what Anthony was wearing), she finds herself reporting about social engagements and parties, mostly. Emma does have the Vanderbilt name, but she’s only distantly related to the wealthy railroad scion Cornelius Vanderbilt II, who she refers to as “Uncle” and who is hosting a lavish debutante ball in honor of his daughter Gertrude at his mansion, The Breakers, that she plans to cover for the society page.
Joining Emma at the party is her half-brother Brady Cross (James Drew Dean), who has never been accepted by the Vanderbilts or by high society because he wasn’t born into their family line. The Vanderbilts aren’t pleased to see Brady at their party, so when Alvin Goddard (Cesare Scarpone), a slimy business advisor to the family, is bludgeoned and pushed out of a window, and Brady is found holding a heavy, gilded candlestick nearby, he becomes suspect number one.
While Emma wants to clear her half-brother’s name, she works alongside the dashing inspector Jesse Whyte (Danny Griffin) to find clues. (And to also spend time with him, because she thinks he’s cuuute.) As she investigates, it becomes clearer and clearer that Brady had nothing to do with the crime and that plenty of others who had closer ties to Goddard are more likely suspects. Adding intrigue to the situation is the arrival of Derrik Anderson (Nathan Witte) and man whose agenda – and real name – is unclear for most of the movie. Then there’s the fact that Emma is being menacingly followed and harassed (by Anderson? Or someone else?) the deeper she goes into the investigation. By the end, all is revealed, Usual Suspects-style, with a montage of clues and hints that had been dropped throughout the movie, revealing the true killer.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Given the fact that it has “Gilded” right there in the name, there is a whiff of The Gilded Age in the film, if only for the fact that like that show, the movie weaves actual figures from the era in with fictional ones, incorporating real situations into this fictional murder. But the vibe is also similar in tone to Murder, She Wrote or Midsomer Murders, where everything remains relatively calm and jovial despite the fact that there’s a dead body right there, and pretty much everyone you meet is a possible suspect.
Our Take: Aside from the costuming, there’s no real effort to make this film a period piece, so if you’re looking for Julian Fellowes-levels of gilded era accuracy and purity, you’ll want to look elsewhere. Beyond that, Murder At The Breakers is still a fun romp full of references to a glamorous time in our history. From the way that it leaves off, with feisty and independent Emma dedicated to her own independence despite being courted by two eligible bachelors (and with loads of other Newport mansions to host a murder), it also leaves things wide open for more murder mysteries for Emma to solve. The film already has a franchiseable name and there are a dozen or so other books in Maxwell’s Newport murder series, so I have to assume that’s where this is headed.
As for the actual plot of it all, almost everyone in a supporting role is a suspect in the murder, but if you look closely enough for clues, it’s not the kind of mystery that’s very hard to solve. But sometimes that’s the thrill of watching a show like this, isn’t it? Feeling proud that, by the end you had an idea of who who did it? The film leans much more into the murder investigation than it does into Emma’s potential romances with her fellow detective, Jesse, or mystery man Derrik, who turns into flirty man Derrik by the end. And it’s all the better for that – leaving that open and exploring it down the road in potential future chapters feels like a much more satisfying way to handle Emma’s love life. Perhaps that’s just my Hallmark holiday movie fatigue talking, since everyone always finds true love in those movies, and every one of them is always sealed with a kiss by the end. Here, the point is that Emma finds her happily ever after by solving the case, not landing a husband, and that’s just as satisfying to see.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: Emma sits at her journal, and she writes, “Since Susan B. Anthony’s visit, the idea that independence brings happiness has weighed on my mind. I’ve realized that I’m lucky to have an independence which many women don’t, but it seems to me that it’s not simply independence that makes one happy, it’s what one chooses to do with their independence. And perhaps, that is where the adventure really begins.”
Performance Worth Watching: Veteran character actress Gillian Barber plays Emma’s housekeeper Nanny O’Neal, a woman whose love of detective fiction adds some meta humor to the movie as she schools Emma on subjects like red herrings – of which there are many in this film – and identifying suspects.
Memorable Dialogue: “What’s going on, has something happened?” Brady asks Emma, who has come to take him home after days of languishing in a jail cell accused of murder. “Oh, Brady. So much has happened,” she smiles, and proceeds to tell him she caught the real killer.
Our Call: STREAM IT! Murder At The Breakers is essentially Murder, She Wrote set 100 years earlier. Like that show, it’s a fun whodunnit that leans hard into our collective enjoyment of watching women writers solve non-threatening murders in New England.