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Archive for April, 2012

Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 1 to 4

April 30, 2012 1 comment

Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu is playing a similar game to Hollywood’s Legally Blonde in which a girl who has always traded on her looks to get what she wants finds herself inadvertently becoming a lawyer. In neither case is this her decision, of course. In the Korean drama version, she spends two years discovering that, despite her passion for shoes and handbags, she has no talent as a fashion designer. Her real passion is wearing fashion, preferring the branded goods others have created and subconsciously copying them until her father takes away her credit cards and threatens to throw her out of the house unless she passes the bar exams. Much to everyone’s surprise, it turns out that, despite the usual association between dumbness and fashionistas, she has a brain. It may not be capable of deep thought, but it does at least enable her to win a rather important case. That of convincing her father to return her credit cards.

Kim So Yun with her real passion on display

Now let’s meet Ma Hye Ri (Kim So Yun). She’s a young woman from a family where money has been intermittently showered on her when her father allows it. She flies through the bar exams and is appointed a prosecutor except she has no real interest in the job. Indeed, instead of attending the first major orientation seminar, she takes herself off to a ski resort where she proves accident prone. Someone steals her phone and credit cards, she loses her hotel booking, and her car has a puncture. Not deterred, she attends the charity auction where she fails to buy the celebrity shoes she has been pursuing for years. The one apparently good thing to come out of all this is her meeting with Seo In Woo (Park Shi Hoo following on from Iljimae and Family’s Honor). They share the same suite and he gives her the shoes from the charity auction. Unfortunately, she looses the piece of paper on which he writes his telephone number. Fortunately, he comes into the prosecutor’s offices to discuss a case. Yes, he’s a lawyer and, not surprisingly, he wants his money.

Park Shi Hoo — the "nice" stalker

While at the ski resort she disrupts an investigation by Yoon Se Joon (Han Jung Soo), one of the prosecutors and his young assistant, Lee Min Suk (Yoo Gun). Embarrassingly, she’s to work for him. Jin Jung Sun (Choi Song Hyun) is delegated to show her the ropes, but they could not be more different. She’s obsequious and dresses as if in a convent. The result is our heroine makes a total commitment 9 to 5 but, come the secondhand clicking to quitting time, she’s gone. When challenged, she points out she’s not paid overtime. If the Government wants the work done, it’s for them to pay the staff to work longer hours or recruit more lawyers. Meanwhile she pays back Seo In Woo. He suspects she will offer him low denomination notes so angers her by bringing a machine to count them.

Now we get to see her at work on a case of alleged assault. Two women seem to have fallen out over the same man. The wife suspected the other of seducing her husband so slapped the viper. Since neither is prepared to change her story, our heroine loses interest and disappears into the toilet with a juicy case file involving celebrities to read. Unfortunately she leaves it behind. Yoon Se Joon has to explain the importance of the prosecutor’s role in compensating for lazy police officers and actually doing something objectively for justice. At home, Jin Jung Sun is getting stick for not finding someone to marry, and we catch sight of Yoon Se Joon living a lonely life. At this point, a monster case comes into the Prosecutor’s Office, forcing a reorganisation. They all decide they would rather Ma Hye Ri found another job so send her to Coventry. At first, she doesn’t realise this marginalisation. When she does, she goes out, gets drunk and is arrested. Sadly, photographs and all the gossip from the office are published on the internet. Now her father, Ma Sang Tae (Choi Jung Woo, continuing in father roles from Brilliant Legacy), and mother Park Ae Ja (Yang Hee Kyung) are on the case. Daddy is humiliated because his daughter is publicly branded a complete failure. No-one will want to marry her now. He gives her two weeks to recover her good standing or lose the credit cards again.

Han Jung Soo good looking but oblivious to all romantic overtures

Now we learn a little about the background. Yoon Se Joon has a young daughter, his wife having died. Jin Jung Sun is doing her best to attract his attention, offering some care for his daughter. It seems Seo In Woo knew Ma Hye Ri when they were children and before he went off to America. That’s why he’s predisposed to help her recover her position. He arranges for her to go into a gambling den undercover. Not wanting to reveal this to her fellow prosecutors, she fails to set up proper protocols to ensure she can be rescued should anything go wrong. Except, when it does go wrong, she’s rescued by Yoon Se Joon with covert support from Seo In Woo. Both turn out to be accomplished fighters, but Seo In Woo leaves quietly — it would be inconvenient if it became known a private attorney was helping a prosecutor.

Back at the office, Yoon Se Joon stands up for her and she’s not fired. Instead she’s given a child molestation case. Frankly this is a ludicrous decision. She’s completely inexperienced. More to the point, she’s psychologically damaged and would never be able to relate to a seven-year-old victim. Still she gives it a try and makes such an impression, the victim’s mother demands she be removed from the case. The original assault case then returns and Yoon Se Joon proves the accused had been framed by the alleged victim. To get her revenge, the innocent woman returns with cameras and publicly humiliates Ma Hye Ri whose picture is all over the internet again. She decides to run away, this time to Japan. Fortunately, Seo In Woo intercepts her at the airport and, with the subtlety of a bull rhino, provokes her into staying to face the storm. Once back in the office, Ma Hye Ri admits she failed in the assault case and refuses to file charges against the attacker for assault. She then sets off to prove the case against the alleged molester.

The prosecuting team

I find Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu fascinating in a rather macabre way. The newbie prosecutor as played by Kim So Yun is unnaturally shallow. Her obsession for clothes and almost complete lack of empathy place her on the borderline of a psychological disorder. She has absolutely no conception of what it means to be a prosecutor and completely fails in creating any kind of relationships whether with the other members of the office or the individuals whose cases she’s supposed to investigate and evaluate. More importantly, she lacks any kind of critical self-awareness. She doesn’t understand what she’s doing wrong and doesn’t realise she’s been shut out of the system. When she goes undercover, she checks out some gambling addicts and then assumes the role of a slightly deranged housewife. It’s not a pretty sight. More generally, when she fails to get her own way, she pouts and hides. Her life seems to have been based on the assumption she can wait out her father’s tantrums and then carry on as before. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work in the real world. The contrast with the rest of the prosecutors could not be more stark. They are all highly professional, but none of them want to take any responsibility for either teaching her or firing her. It’s incomprehensible. No-one straight from university would be let loose on cases without positive supervision. I feel particularly sorry for Park Shi Hoo who must follow this accident-waiting-to-happen, picking up the pieces and offering advice. This is supposedly a top-class lawyer, but we never see him earning a living to pay for his swanky office. He seems far more interested in role-playing and stalking his childhood sweetheart. That said, he does manage quite an air of casual cool which is watchable despite the creepy things he’s given to do. The only one allowed to retain any dignity in all this is Han Jung Soo. He’s at least serious-minded, hard working and good at martial arts. The fact he’s completely unaware of Choi Song Hyun’s mousey co-worker is standard in this type of drama. Without such romantic blindness, these Korean drama shows would wither on the vine.

For the reviews of all episodes, see:
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 1 to 4
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 5 to 8
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 9 to 12
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 13 to end

For those of you who are fans of Park Shi Hoo, there’s a fan site at http://parksihoo4u.com/

 

Somewhere Beneath Those Waves by Sarah Monette

The collection, Somewhere Beneath Those Waves by Sarah Monette (Prime Books, 2011), contains some twenty-five stories, some only a few pages long, so this review will be slightly more impressionistic than usual. As a generalisation, we read not only for the quality of the ideas but also for the means of expression. When the language is good, the ideas feel better. This is why it’s worth reading Sarah Monette. She’s one of the few modern writers than actually writes much of her prose using somewhat poetic language, but makes it feel cool. We start off with “Draco Campestris” which is a fascinating piece of writing. The more conventional narrative structure has stories flowing in a linear form. This is deliberately chopped into self-contained elements yet, when you put them together, they represent a remarkably powerful story about love unadmitted and loss. The dragons represent the magnificence of the past that’s now denied. The current reality in the museum finds the key players managing a fleeting acknowledgement of what might have been had circumstances been different. Yet, in the end, all things, including dragons, die. Also playing with form is “Katabasis: Seraphic Trains” which in a rather beautifully poetic way, recasts the story of Eurydice into more modern times and balances an unrequited love against sublime indifference — a kind of antiMuse who sucks in creativity and spits it out, rather than inspiring ever more powerful artistry. If a modern Eurydice found herself in a love triangle, how should she react? Or if a man found his wife had been seduced by the Queen of Elfland and only stayed with him and their child out of duty, how should he react?

So love may only be possible when status permits it. Perhaps all one needs is to believe in the supernatural powers of the other. Or, as between the mundane and supernatural worlds, perhaps ifrits can love. Then there are virgins who, in mythology, must always be sacrificed to save the city from a monster. These women are denied the chance of physical love, supposedly for the greater good. Similarly, if a King takes a Queen, love need not enter into it. The marriage may be an alliance between states or there’s nothing more than a functional desire to produce children. In the titular “Somewhere Beneath Those Waves”, we encounter more relationships without love and study the different forms of imprisonment employed. Men may treasure women because they have been trapped and tamed. They can lock them away, say in a museum, in a display that no-one else bothers to visit. How much better it would be for those women to be able to return to their natural state, roaming free, remembering what it was like before they were trapped into love and then held by fear or recognition that there might not be any better alternative. Or perhaps affection, if not love itself, is what we need as a bulwark against loneliness. What do you lose when your country is invaded? Overnight, men will die and women will be taken into servitude. Family relationships are destroyed. Perhaps one feral child who escaped the carnage can learn what love a mother can give. In a parallel story, we can speculate what is really lost when you discover you’re born into the wrong gender. Those affected may dream that something of a future may still be found even though the way is dark. Yet if you are to find someone to share your life, there’s the perpetual problem that others must see past the gender role and apparent physical appearance. They must want to see the person inside the body.

Sarah Monette prepares to dive into the world of her imagination

Then there’s death. Should we cry for those who have fallen, or is there some other way to deal with the grief? The answer, I suppose, will vary depending on the context and what’s been lost. “The Watcher in the Corners” both recreates the past and reflects on what life must be like when no-one loves you. Marriages can be loveless and innocent children can find themselves marginalised in adult affairs. Perhaps children need someone or something, if not to protect them, then to avenge them. Or perhaps those lost children need to way to reach out to the living so their passing can at last be confirmed. It’s the uncertainty that makes grief so difficult to deal with. Then we need spend a moment thinking about what’s lost when a sister marries and moves out of the family home. For those left behind to care for ageing relatives, the responsibility can be heavy, tinged with bitterness for those who have left.

It’s also strange how little some places change. We can have a mental picture of them as children and, later when we return, we discover that the old flow and pattern of life is the same. Some might find that reassuring, others intimidating. It’s rather the same with the prejudices we acquire as children. A nanny may tell us that goblins will come and take us away unless we co-operate by being well-behaved and sleeping on demand. Just think how disconcerting it would be to suddenly discover the need to enter the goblin realm and talk to them. “The World Without Sleep” finds us confronting four different groups who have lived in a form of social balance, not being aware of how unsatisfactory it all is. It takes an outsider to see the place for what it is and ask the right questions.

In all this, there’s straight fantasy and Lovecraftian high jinx, safe supernatural séances and more edgy mayhem. There’s functional language and florid similes and metaphors. Put it all together and Somewhere Beneath Those Waves takes you to places you might not have dreamed possible and makes them all seem perfectly reasonable. Indeed, as a final thought it even offers the advice that, if you do not like yourself, you cannot expect to like others. All anyone needs to progress in this life is enough determination to rise above hardship and look on the future as a challenge to be overcome. Put baldly on a page in a single sentence, this can seem trite. Incorporate it in a story about a woman maimed by a dragon and it suddenly assumes a power you might not have anticipated. Such is the strength of Sarah Monette’s imagination. This is not a collection to rush through. You should take your time, and consider the prose dreams through which she offers insights into the uncertainties that afflict us all.

A particular mention should be made of the jacket artwork by Elena Dudina. Not only is it beautiful in its own right, but it also rather neatly captures the themes of the collection.

For reviews of other books by Sarah Monette, see:
A Companion to Wolves (with Elizabeth Bear)
The Bone Key Joint review with The Guild of Xenolinguists.
The Bone Key Stand-alone review.
Corambis
The Tempering of Men (with Elizabeth Bear)

Return to Cranford (2009)

One year has passed for Return to Cranford, and Miss Matty Jenkyns (Judi Dench) has given up trade in tea to appease her brother, Peter (Nicholas Le Prevost), but she cannot accept the tiger rug nor the free-flying parrot that leaves little memorials of its journeys around the home. Sadly, Martha (Claudie Blakley) dies attempting to give birth to their second child. Jem Hearne (Andrew Buchan) is heartbroken and under economic pressure because the railroad cannot come into Cranford. Lady Ludlow (Francesca Annis) refuses to sell the land and the rails cannot conveniently go around it. With his work drying up, the one big sale proves to be a casket to bury Lady Ludlow. She might have survived longer but insisted on standing to await the arrival of the long-lost Septimus (Rory Kinnear). He was, at least, in time for the funeral. He then apparently buys off Harry Gregson (Alex Etel) with five thousand out of the twenty thousand owing. The boy seems relieved not to have to return to Shrewsbury School. The romantic stakes are set to run again with two new families. Mr Buxton (Jonathan Pryce) is the local salt baron and, having been living at the seaside for the health of his wife, returns when she dies bringing his son, William (Tom Hiddleston) and his ward Erminia (Michelle Dockery). The Bell family has a grieving widow (Lesley Sharp) and, conveniently, Edward (Matthew McNulty) a ponderous son and Peggy (Jodie Whittaker), a repressed daughter. Needless to say, William and Peggy are eyeing each other with interest.

Peggy Bell (Jodie Whittaker) is feisty when given the chance

Matters now move apace. Septimus sells the estate’s lands to the railway company and runs off back to Italy. Harry reluctantly returns to Shrewsbury with his financial matters unresolved. Mr Buxton sells the final piece of land and now the railway can come to Cranford. Unfortunately, this is not in time to prevent Jem from moving up north to stay with his sister. He has no work and so Miss Matty loses the chance to love the child. To make things worse, Miss Smith also leaves to become a full-time writer. Mrs Jamieson (Barbara Flynn) has a sister, Lady Glenmire (Celia Imrie), who comes to visit and eventually is accepted into Cranford society. Mr Buxton disapproves the proposed marriage between his son and Peggy. In frustration, William joins Captain Brown (Jim Carter) to train as an engineer.

Miss Matty (Judi Dench) getting to play mother to Martha's child

We now have what you might call an action-packed final episode. As we might have anticipated, Harry has been tortured by the prefects at Shrewsbury School. He’s a jumped-up little oik and, as such, fair game. When Miss Galindo (Emma Fielding) learns of this, she’s outraged but understands little of life in an upper class boarding school. She insists he’s to return. Harry therefore runs away. When he borrows a little milk from the cow owned by Mrs Forester (Julia McKenzie), he accidentally breaks the frayed rope holding her in place. She wanders off. Meanwhile, Edward is found to have stolen sixty pounds from Mr Buxton. When the police are called, he and Peggy are on the train to Liverpool to escape arrest. Miss Mattie tells William what has happened and he sets off in pursuit. When Harry jumps on to the train from the bridge, that sets everything up for the train being derailed when it hits the cow. A short while later, the engine explodes and kills Edward. Everyone else survives with varying degrees of injury. Mr Buxton nurses William back to health and agrees to allow the marriage to Peggy. Miss Galindo nurses Harry back to life and they agree he will go to Manchester Grammar to complete his education. Lady Glenmire marries Captain Brown and, in an emotional moment, Jem moves back to Cranford with his daughter, thus restoring love to Miss Mattie’s life. There’s a completely over-the-top cameo by Tim Curry as Signor Brunoni who brings a little magic into Octavia Pole’s (Imelda Staunton) life. In a way, everything ends as it should.

Mr Buxton (Jonathan Pryce) as Victorian patriarch

Frankly, although I’m never surprised by a company like the non-profit BBC giving its customers more of what they want, I think this second three episode reprise is neither fish nor fowl. Although we return, it’s frustrating to have a major new storyline introduced in the Buxtons and Bells but then have such an inadequate time for the various romantic issues to play out. It all feels rushed with Edward suddenly revealed a villain and, of all things, a railway accident caused by the inadvertent release of the cow. How much better it would have been to focus on Miss Matty’s household. Peter settles into the village, but insists the sale of tea shop. Without this additional income, how does the household manage? Then we move on to Martha’s tragic death and Jem’s financial troubles shown against the railroad’s final triumphant entry into Cranford. As it is, we get to see far too little of everyone. There are a few slightly jokey scenes for the ladies, Septimus gets to be suitably dishonest, and Mrs Jamieson is humiliated until the final redemption through a possible relationship with Peter Jenkyns. There’s absolutely no attempt to unravel the complicated financial status of Harry and the Hall. With Septimus gone, are we to assume the Hall would just fall into disrepair with no-one paid to maintain it? Although we learn Mary Smith has published her first story, we never see Erminia again. She’s just abandoned in the Buxton household. However, through all this fog of unresolved issues, the ladies shine. Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, Julia McKenzie and Deborah Findlay make a wonderful quartet as they slowly inch into the steam age of Cranford. Celia Imrie is given just enough to do, but more or less everyone else gets the short end of the stick. Yes, Return to Cranford is enjoyable. With a little more thought, we could have either excluded the new families or allocated four or five episodes to see it all play out at a proper speed. Now those would have been genuinely worth seeing!

For the rest of the series, see Cranford (2007): the first three episodes and Cranford (2007): the final two episodes.

Cranford (2007): the final two episodes

In the remaining two episodes of Cranford, the women tie themselves in knots as we approach May Day. Miss Matty Jenkyns (Judi Dench) is trying to adjust to life without her dominating sister and is supportive of Martha (Claudie Blakley), her servant, who desires romance with Jem Hearne (Andrew Buchan). Later, Jem receives news that he has an inheritance, the letter containing a five pound note drawn on a Manchester bank. Believing himself in funds, he rushes to the local store to buy Martha a shawl. Unfortunately, the milliner refuses the note, asserting that the Manchester bank is in trouble. Overhearing this, Miss Matty gives him cash. Then her world collapses. The milliner was correct and the bank in which she had invested all her money is declared insolvent. Martha and Jem are distressed because they have benefitted from Miss Matty’s desire to help them and begin devising ways in which they can repay her generosity. The kindly manner Dr Frank Harrison (Simon Woods) shows to everyone is misinterpreted as courtship in the wrong quarters. This torpedoes his love for Sophy Hutton (Kimberley Nixon) when Caroline Tomkinson and Mrs Rose publicly claim they are engaged to him. And Lady Ludlow (Francesca Annis) finds herself obliged to mortgage her land to pay for her son’s extravagance in Italy, while blighting Edmund Carter (Philip Glenister), first by sending Harry Gregson (Alex Etel), the poacher’s son, to work in the cow sheds and allocating Miss Galindo (Emma Fielding) to act as his secretary — he may be modern, but not yet modern enough to accept an intelligent woman working with him although, one one occasion, he’s observed smiling at her. Having had an episode focusing on death and the fundamental unfairness of the class-based way of life, we now have a shift to problems of romance when spinsters have nothing better to do with their time than speculate on who should pair off. The only one who comes out of all this with any credit is Miss Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon) who’s a paragon of common sense (although Miss Octavia Poole (Imelda Staunton) does rise to the occasion and buys a silhouette of Mr Holbrook when his effects are auctioned off — this she immediately passes over to Miss Matty, rejecting the offer of reimbursement).

Lady Ludlow (Francesca Annis) and Edmund Carter (Philip Glenister) in sympathy despite class differences

Miss Matty and Jessie Brown (Julia Sawalha) compare notes. They both hope for news from India but agree it’s more painful to keep the hope alive. Meanwhile, Mary Smith is conspiring with the ladies of Cranford to save Miss Matty who may be forced to sell her home and move away. They club together to give her fifty pounds a year on top of her remaining thirteen. Captain Brown (Jim Carter) is introduced to sell this increase in income as an accounting error by the administrators handling the bank’s insolvency. At his urging, she agrees to turn her front room into a shop selling tea. All this, together with a small sum of rent from Martha and Jem as her tenants, should give her enough to live on.

Mary Smith is also busy on the doctor’s case. She has identified his friend as the one who sent the valentine to Caroline Tomkinson. He returns to Cranford to clear up the mess and is just in time to help deal with two crises. Having argued with Lady Ludlow over her decision to mortgage the Hall, Edmund Carter is talking with Captain Brown where the railway line is being driven through the hills when they are both injured in an explosion. Captain Brown may lose the sight in one eye but, despite the best efforts of both doctors, Edmund Carter dies. However, he does have time to dictate a will to Miss Galindo and roughly sign his name. This leaves all his estate to Harry Gregson subject to two conditions. First, he’s to go to Shrewsbury School. Second, he’s to lend the bulk of the money to Lady Ludlow for her to pay off the mortgage. The full amount of capital and interest will be repayable on her death by her son. This produces a moving reconciliation between Lady Ludlow and Harry who’s released from the cow sheds to study with the Reverend Hutton. This will bring his knowledge to a better level and reduce bullying at school. The second crisis comes when Sophy contracts typhoid. Fortunately, the Reverend Hutton relents and Dr Frank Harrison saves her life.

Octavia Poole (Imelda Staunton) and Mrs Forester (Julia McKenzie) bring news of the railway

Mary Smith continues her work as the Fairy Godmother of Cranford by bringing Major Gordon (Alistair Petrie) back from India. He surprises Jessie and they confirm a marriage. Major Gordon also brings Peter Jenkyns (Nicholas Le Prevost) Miss Matty’s long-long brother back for a tearful reunion. Peter finally delivers the muslim promised for Miss Matty’s proposed wedding with Mr Holbrook. Miss Matty gives it to Sophy — as one old rectory girl to another. Caroline Tomkinson marries the butcher (at least she will eat well) and Mrs Rose takes up with Dr Morgan (John Bowe). The marriages represent the end of the original series and produce the requisite quality of “happiness” given the essentially romantic nature of the story.

Dr Harrison (Simon Woods) ties the knot with Sophie Hutton (Kimberley Nixon)

This captures the major problem with the series. I confess my ignorance of the source novels so I don’t know how much could have been added to resolve all the other problems, but leaving this as essentially a romantic drama seems such a waste. This is supposed to be about Cranford, a fledgling town struggling to emerge from its early Victorian straitjacket and embrace the new age. That means dealing with the railway issue as deciding the economic future of the town, and looking more widely at the class issues at they affect the servants and workers on the land. It may be wonderfully “middle class” to neatly tie up all the romantic loose ends in such a pretty way, but this is not the reality for most who lived in the town. The story element featuring Harry Gregson has been a perfect opportunity wasted for we only ever see the rest of the family for a few seconds at a time. Similarly, Martha’s position could have been matched against one or one people working for Lady Ludlow. So despite finding the performances of all the ladies completely entrancing, I’m left feeling a little underwhelmed by the lack of social content.

For the rest of the series, see Cranford (2007): the first three episodes and Return to Cranford (2009).

The Raven (2012)

So you have to imagine the pitch meeting where these top-notch movie moguls sit around the table in their favoured LA watering hole and sell the next blockbuster. “It’s about this deranged psycho killer. . . he’s doing his thing, recreating the murders invented by that Poe guy. You know the kinda thing. “Pit and the Pendulum” will cut one guy down to size, we can shove bodies up chimneys and brick people up behind cellar walls. It’ll be a bloodfest, assuming you don’t mind an R-rating. Why’s he doing it? Well, the deranged psycho killer wants to teach Poe a lesson he’ll never forget. No, he’s not going to kill Poe. At least not until the end and, perhaps, not even then. We’re paying this John Cusack guy a sackful of dough and want our money’s worth. The killer’s just gonna torture our Poe knowing his work is the inspiration for all this death.” At this point, there’s a deferential whispering from a minion.” Yes I know Poe was an alcoholic who spent most of his time spaced out on hard drugs, but this Cusack guy can do sympathetic, can’t he, even if we have to slaughter everyone in Baltimore in front of him. He’s gonna be the tortured artist, lotsa angst dripping off the screen like blood.” And, of course, the project was green-lighted.

John Cusack being the tortured artist

 

So what’s good about The Raven (2012)? There’s a quite remarkable amount of detail about Poe’s life that’s accurately reproduced here. Shakespeare (it’s Hannah so I suppose it has to be the great man’s daughter) and Ben Livingston have done a lot of research and weren’t going to let any of it go to waste. Unfortunately, that’s it for the good stuff. The fundamental problem with this film is that it’s trying to do two very different things at the same time. The first is deliver all the blood and gore those “horror” people enjoy and so justify the R-rating. The second is to give the geeks a period mystery in which Poe and a local detective track down the fiendish psycho killer before he strikes again (and again). Unfortunately, all this detective work requires talk and in a level of language that the average horror fan is going to find off-putting. Poe, in this version of reality, doesn’t tolerate fools gladly and, when he’s not obviously insulting them, he’s patronising them in a less obvious way. Although some of the invective is quite witty, he’s a really unlikeable “hero”, prone to outbursts of senseless physical violence when he’s not getting his own way, i.e. people are not giving him alcohol or money with which to buy his next drink. Indeed, I cannot recall anyone else quite so unsympathetic as the hero in a film for at least twelve months.

Alice Eve as Emily standing out from the crowd

 

So what about the violence? The pendulum sequence is quite an eye-opener. The camera never flinches as the mean lean slicing machine gently separates the victim into two relatively equal parts. Even Poe is moved to comment on the size of the counterweight installed to keep the blade moving until it gouged too deeply into the table. But it’s at this point we get into the real problem with the film. This is a major piece of engineering kit with massive gearing to slowly lower the blade as it swings. Only one or two machine shops in Baltimore at that time could have made such a machine. Even installing it would have required many workers with pulleys to lift everything into place and build the gearing. Designing, building and installing this machine could not have been done without many people being aware of it. Yet neither Poe nor the ace detective make any effort to track down designers and engineers who might have helped. Indeed, if anyone did assist in the installation, they must have been curious. “I get how it works. Nice design, by the way. Are these restraints for a big goat?” At more or less every turn, there are comparable difficulties making the entire plot wholly incredible. For example, we’re supposed to believe our deranged killer could track down a man with exactly the right tattoo on his back who would come into Baltimore harbour on the right day on a ship with the right name. This is 1849 and, unless you can find the ship and physically examine all the crew until you find exactly what you’re looking for or pay for someone to have the tattoo added, this whole element of the plot dies.

Luke Evans running around being a detective

 

I’m quite happy to sit through blood and gore if the film is made in a classic way to build up tension and engage our interest in the characters at risk of being chopped or sliced into little pieces. Equally, I enjoy a good puzzle with competent detectives on the case, seeing clues for what they are and tracking down the killer(s). But this has nothing to make it even halfway likeable. None of the characters are presented in a way that engages our interest and it’s obvious within fifteen minutes that one of two people must be the killer. You pick between these two depending on the motive you think is driving the entire plot. However, once we get past the Red Masque sequence, it’s obvious one of the two would not be responsible. The psychology, even for a deranged psycho killer, is all wrong. We therefore have to drag through the rest of the film with the killer appearing in darkly lit passages and riding through misty woods as if he’s in one of Tim Burton’s gothic films, until he can finally be unmasked.

 

So there you have it, James McTeigue does his best with appallingly thin material, but there’s nothing to be done. The entire concept of the film, written down on the back of an envelope in the pitching session all those months ago, cannot be saved. Emily (Alice Eve) breaks with social convention to love our loopy poet, while her clichéd father (Brendan Gleeson) is the local lord of the manor who threatens to horsewhip anyone coming in range. Detective Fields (Luke Evans) tries to be the action man to counterbalance Poe’s erratic behaviour as an artist, but he’s not given anything to do which even remotely suggests he’s a competent detective. It’s a great shame. If only the pitch has been to buy the rights to Nevermore by William Hjortsberg, we could have had Poe’s crimes dealt with in a more intelligent context. As an indication of how riveting this film is, a man several rows behind me snored loudly after about half an hour. You should only go and see The Raven if it’s a slow afternoon and you want to catch up on your sleep in a dark place — note to producers: more explosions are required if you want to keep people awake.

 

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (1993)

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (1993) (Season 5, episode 8) first appeared as a short story under the title, “The Curious Disappearance of the Opalsen Pearls” in 1923 and, by any standards, it’s a fairly slight case. Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) and Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) are staying at the Grand Metropolitan in Brighton where they meet the Opalsens. He made his money in oil and she spends his money collecting jewellery. When she tries to show off her latest acquisition, a necklace, they discover it has been stolen. It seems one of the maids is responsible but, quick as a flash, the great Hercule Poirot unmasks the real villains.

Hermione Norris looking guilty as the companion

Now we come to the adaptation by Anthony Horowitz which takes this thin gruel and spins it into a delightful period piece. This time, the location and props departments have outdone themselves in transporting “Brighton” back in time — it’s actually Eastbourne standing in for its more celebrated cousin, but we can gloss over this inconvenient fact. It’s quite wonderful to see the streets so full of period vehicles, the costumes are magnificent and the use of locations superb. So now to the new story. According to the doctor called to examine our great detective, he’s been working too hard and therefore must be despatched to Brighton to take the sea air. This will dispel the sore throat and sniffles, and generally restore the little grey cells to their usual vigour. With relief, Miss Lemon (Paula Moran) waves him off. We’re then introduced to a nice running joke for, as Hercule Poirot leaves what’s supposed to be Brighton railway station, he’s immediately accused of being Lucky Len and the reward claimed. For those of you not of an advanced age, newspapers used to promote themselves by sending out reasonably distinctive people and, if a person holding the newspaper correctly challenged them using specified words, they could claim a reward. Needless to say, wherever Poirot goes, he’s immediately challenged. We get a sight of the actual Lucky Len at the end of the show.

David Suchet and Hugh Fraser examine the drawer

Life at any seaside resort would not be complete without a “theatrical” experience or two and Brighton was, and is, no exception to this rule. The Theatre Royal and Pavilion Theatre have been beautifully preserved. This adaptation has Mr Opalsen (Trevor Cooper) as a theatrical impresario with his wife, Margaret (Sorcha Cusack) the leading lady. To maximise the publicity for his latest play, Mr Opalsen has purchased a famous set of pearls. We meet the playwright, Andrew Hall (Simon Shepherd) who’s having problems in clearing his gambling debts, the companion Celestine (Hermione Norris) and Saunders (Karl Johnson), the driver. The padding is spectacularly brave with Hercule Poirot seeing Mr Worthing book into the hotel, then realising the solution to the robbery lies in The Importance of Being Ernest, and finally framing Mr Opalsen for fraud, in part as payback for exploiting his name to get additional publicity for the play. Miss Lemon also gets back into the action, this time talking to London fences about jewellery.

Paula Moran collects evidence in London

Quite frankly, the audacity of it all is remarkable and the results are wonderful. This is completely in character and, although I disapprove of the romantic ending (which would be doomed to failure given Andrew Hall’s gambling addiction), this is yet another successful adaptation cum dramatic expansion of a short story to add to the others in this series. The only fly in all this ointment is the likely legal consequences. Mr Opalsen has been wrongly accused and arrested for fraud. This would give him actions in tort for false arrest and false imprisonment against the police. More excitingly, he could sue Hercule Poirot and bankrupt him in libel for, no matter that impresarios live and die by publicity, an accusation of fraud just before his theatre company is about to take off for a tour of America is hardly likely to bring in the audiences. Counterbalancing this defamation is the return of the pearls so audiences might come to see them, worn six nights per week and one matinée by the leading lady. The only other comment I would make is as to the box in which the pearls were stored. It actually looked no more substantial than something you could buy at Woolworths and the key itself was so small with one simple lever that anyone with a hair grip could open it in five seconds. It was not a secure box and, worse, kept in an unlocked drawer. That said, since it was under “guard” most of the time, the screams of Celestine would alert all those around her to the presence of a robber with a gun in the hotel bedroom. Well, I did say the adaptation of The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan was audacious. Perhaps entertainingly foolhardy would have been a better choice of words.

For reviews of other Agatha Christie stories and novels, see:

Agatha Christie’s Marple (2004) — the first three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2005) — the second set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2006) — the third set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2007) — the final set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Blue Geranium (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Caribbean Mystery (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Endless Night (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Greenshaw’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Murder is Easy (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Pale Horse (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye (2008)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Secret of Chimneys (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: They Do It with Mirrors (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Big Four (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Case of the Missing Will (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Chocolate Box (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Clocks (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain. Poirot’s Last Case (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Mirror (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Elephants Can Remember (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Hallowe’en Party (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Labours of Hercules (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Three Act Tragedy (2011)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Underdog (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Yellow Iris (1993)

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Mirror (1993)

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Mirror (1993) (Season 5, episode 7) is an adaptation of a short story that first appeared in 1932. It was then expanded for inclusion in Murder in the Mews, a collection published in 1937. Such is always the way with an author. You write something one day and then see a way in which it can be improved the next. Except, of course, the expansion does little to help a modern television company looking for a one-hour show. The challenge for Anthony Horowitz as scriptwriter, therefore, is to remain faithful to the spirit of the original while adding to it. In many ways, the strategy adopted here for filling out the content is rather clever. The textual story begins with Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) peremptorily summoned by Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore (Iain Cuthbertson) and, when he arrives, he finds his client dead. Since the key to the case is the eponymous mirror, the television version has Sir Gervase outbid Hercule Poirot for the mirror at an auction and then use the mirror to lure the detective to his home and accept a commission to investigate an initially unspecified fraud. In other words, Hercule Poirot would not usually have forgiven the man for his rudeness, but would swallow his pride if he thought he would get the mirror in part-payment for his services.

Vanda (Zena Walker) asks her spirit for guidance

So, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) set off into the countryside by train. We have backstory showing Ruth (Emma Fielding) has already married Lake (Richard Lintern) with Ms Lingard (Fiona Walker) secretly observing, and our dynamic duo meet Susan (Tushka Bergen) on the train. Hugo (Jeremy Northam) meets them at the station and we see his workshop where he’s trying to develop stainless-steel framed furniture for the market. Sir Gervaise is threatening to cut him off without a penny which would leave him unable to pursue his commercial dreams. When we arrive at the house, Sir Gervaise wants Poirot to investigate Lake for an apparent fraud. More interestingly, we then come to another Agatha Christie supernatural element. The wife of Sir Gervaise is called Vanda (Zena Walker). She believes she has a spirit guide from Ancient Egypt who has warned her that a death is coming. Hercule Poirot is fascinated and gets details.

We then follow the plot of the original story except now Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings are house guests. Captain Hastings hears the gong for dinner, but Hercule Poirot does not. They both hear what they assume to be a shot and, when they break into the study, find Sir Gervaise has apparently shot himself in the head holding a gun in his left hand. This looks to be a suicide with the mirror broken by the bullet. When Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) arrives on the scene, he’s all for it being self-inflicted, but Hercule Poirot points out that the man was right-handed and he’s curious as to where the bullet is.

Hugo (Jeremy Northam) and Susan (Tushka Bergen) talk about furniture

We then have some nice padding involving Lake’s fraud and get into the ending where Anthony Horowitz has outdone himself to flesh out the supernatural element into a full-blown manifestation of the Egyptian spirit. It’s all magnificently silly but it does nicely bring us to the hour mark (allowing for ads) without it looking too forced. The pleasing thing about this particular episode is that, for once, the adaptation is meticulously fair in showing us all the minor hints and clues in plain sight. Too often, the answer turns on something only the great detective would have known. This time, we get every detail and have the same chance to work out who must have done it. Equally of interest is the supernatural element. As I have commented elsewhere, Agatha Christie was writing at a time when table-turning and other spiritualist events were common. She could therefore hint at current social trends and be more immediately understood. Today, we’ve moved away from accepting spiritualism as real and now indulge our interests in more extreme forms of the supernatural. What would have been considered really spooky ninety years ago would be far too tame for today’s audience. That means the modern scriptwriter is working on a knife edge to keep the sense of the original while making it less naive for our sensibilities. Finally, a word must be said about Iain Cuthbertson who contrives to be rather magnificently unpleasant in such a short space of time before being bumped off. The rest of the cast do enough to be distinctive without distracting our attention from David Suchet and Hugh Fraser. Overall Dead Man’s Mirror proves to be one of the better episodes with Hercule Poirot seen to be relying on key people to be gullible when he pushes their buttons.

For reviews of other Agatha Christie stories and novels, see:

Agatha Christie’s Marple (2004) — the first three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2005) — the second set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2006) — the third set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2007) — the final set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Blue Geranium (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Caribbean Mystery (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Endless Night (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Greenshaw’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Murder is Easy (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Pale Horse (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye (2008)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Secret of Chimneys (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: They Do It with Mirrors (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Big Four (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Case of the Missing Will (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Chocolate Box (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Clocks (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain. Poirot’s Last Case (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Elephants Can Remember (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Hallowe’en Party (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Labours of Hercules (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Three Act Tragedy (2011)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Underdog (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Yellow Iris (1993)

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