Posts Tagged ‘Charity Wakefield’

Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Caribbean Mystery (2013)

January 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Marple Julia McKenzie

Agatha Christie’s Marple: Season 6, episode 1. A Caribbean Mystery (2013) demonstrates an old truism about amateur sleuths who infest villages. At some point in their careers of solving crimes in these self-contained communities, the authors run out of people who have motives to kill people. Or, to put it another way, there’s no-one left alive. The desperate authors must therefore send their sleuths away on holiday. At this point, estate agents (or realtors for my American readers) become relevant because the substitute for a gripping plot is location, location, location. In this case, as the title suggests, Agatha Christie sends Miss Marple (Julia McKenzie) off to the West Indies where, somewhat improbably, she meets up with Ian Fleming looking for inspiration for his first spy novel. If ever there was a clear signal Charlie Higson, the scriptwriter, thought he was in trouble, this is it. Trying to distract us with jokes about eccentric twitters who announce themselves to the world as Bond, James Bond is the ultimate act of desperation.

Anyway, throughout this ninety minute extravaganza, we’re treated to shots of palm trees in daylight, palm trees as the sun goes down in a dramatic sunset, and palm trees in contrived jungle conditions. And then there’s the beach, and two dramatic and big rocks overlooking a dangerous cliff top, and the shanty town replicating the West Indies of the 1950s. And all those marvellous old cars. . . As always with these productions, everything looks right. Even the clothing is almost entirely unsuitable for a hot climate and very much in fashion for middle class holiday getaways. So where are we? Tim (Robert Webb) and Molly Kendall (Charity Wakefield) run a quaint little hotel called the Golden Palms on the fictitious island of St. Honoré — and just to prove how fictitious the entire exercise, the locations for whole episode were apparently in and around Cape Town, South Africa. Not that there’s ever any obligation to use the real setting for “foreign” locations but it seems a long way to fly to get the result.

Nice looking beach

Nice looking beach

As is required for these Golden Age murder mysteries, a group of eccentric white guests huddle in their hotel oasis surrounded by all these foreigners. For the most part, they are afraid to leave and this creates the necessary ring fence more usually engineered by snow fall, bridges being washed away in sudden storms, and so on. Culture can trap people just as effectively as geography and extreme weather events. Leading the pack is a slightly over-the-top Antony Sher as Jason Rafiel who later triggers the events described in Nemesis. He’s accompanied by Warren Brown taking a rest from Luther, and avoiding Oliver Ford Davies as the delightfully boring Major Palgrave who has pictures of all his favorite murderers with which to regale the other guests. Then there’s the usual cast of “characters” from the slightly loopy clergyman to the loud American couple.

I suppose the virtue of plots like this is that, the more nonsensical they are, the more clever we’re supposed to think them. If only we were brighter, we could have picked up that “clue” earlier. Yes, well, pigs will fly one day. So for inspection by Miss Marple and Jason Rafiel, we have a group of people who, for one reason or another, all know each other. Imagine how this works. Here’s this hotel on an island and, having travelled the world, here comes Major Palgrave with his photographs. This is not his first visit, you understand. So it never occurred to him that he might have met one or more of these people “somewhere else”. He’s old. He only has one eye. And he’s old, so he has never noticed until sitting beside Miss Marple, that one of the people in his line of sight is that well-known murderer. . . Well, he’s old and so he gives a great start of surprise and alerts said murderer that the Major’s one eye and two little grey cells have finally identified the fiend. Naturally, said murderer cannot permit the Major to live another day. He might tell the same story again to someone who might actually believe him and that would never do. Now let’s switch the point of view. All the guests have had the chance to see the Major over their visits so, to avoid any embarrassment of the old guy suddenly pulling out his photographs and remembering, the killer simply needs to stay away, or leave early if it’s the first visit. Or if the fiend is one of the hotel owners or staff, it’s a simple matter to reject the Major’s request to stay — sadly the hotel is fully booked this year. The entire premise of this story makes even less sense than usual for a Christie.

Having killed off the second most interesting actor on display, we then get a story about people holidaying on an island and, every now and then, Miss Marple walks into shot. There’s an incredible amount of action and dialogue shown as filler to create atmosphere and suspicion until our sleuth can do her thing and overhear something or gossip to glean facts. I suppose the second murder is quite ingenious but, as is often the way with screen adaptations, the melodrama of the shooting at the end is laughable. And the screen romance which may be coming to fruition. . . Well let’s just say it’s one of these remarkably unlikely outcomes that Christie might have enjoyed. If there’s anything to like about this episode at all, it’s the performance of Antony Sher. It’s nicely judged and, for once, there’s real chemistry with Julia McKenzie. Put all this together and A Caribbean Mystery is nothing to mention in a postcard from a holiday destination that, at times, actually looks worth visiting — such great palm trees.

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: 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 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)

Sense and Sensibility (2008)

January 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Sense and Sensibility (2008) is a three-part BBC adaptation of the classic novel by Jane Austen starring Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood, Charity Wakefield as Marianne Dashwood, Dominic Cooper as Willoughby, and Dan Stevens as Edward Ferrars. One of the points of the novel is the difference between Elinor and Marianne. My own preference, for what it’s worth, is a Marianne who’s a victim of her choice in reading material. Such is her passion for romantic fiction and poetry that she develops an unrealistic view of the world. This colours her actions and attitudes at every point. Elinor, on the other hand, is the epitome of practicality. If she does allow herself dreams of what might be, they are firmly recognised for what they are and subservient to more immediate needs. Yet although Hattie Morahan’s Elinor seems to be striking the right notes, Charity Wakefield’s Marianne seems cut from a similar cloth. Indeed, until we get to her overreaction in meeting Willoughby, she’s been rather more constructive and accepting of their fate in being banished to the wilderness than I would have believed possible. That said, once at the cottage, Marianne is allowed to behave in a completely uncivilised manner without sanction. She wilfully snubs poor Colonel Brandon (David Morrissey) who’s kept waiting for an unconscionable length of time, and her reward is to be carried back into the house by Willoughby — neither Elinor nor her mother (Janet McTeer) attempt to correct her barbaric lack of manners.

The Dashwoods — Janet McTeer, Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield and Lucy Boynton

Willoughby is generally shown to be at the very least culturally insensitive over the offer of the horse and then in whisking Marianne off when Colonel Brandon’s picnic is abruptly cancelled. The slightly scary obviousness of his intentions lead the neighbourhood to believe they are engaged. The possibility of the scandal is therefore established for the visit to London with Mrs Jennings (Linda Bassett). Yet, the whole production feels rushed. We only have an hour and must get Brandon out of the way, Willoughby off to London, Edward Ferrars on a whistle-stop visit, and the Steele sisters into play. That means a lot of ground to cover with a few broad brushes of the scriptwriter’s pen. The last of the three episodes continues at a headlong gallop, often with a rather more modern use of language than Jane Austen could ever have dreamed up. Elinor and Marianne are crushed by Willoughby in public and Mrs Jennings is shocked to discover the libertine is engaged to another. Edward’s engagement is revealed to his unsympathetic mother by the dim Miss Steele and he’s sent off without a penny. In Cleveland, Marianne falls ill (obviously disaster befalls her whenever she wonders around in the rain and has to be carried back in the arms of a strong man), Willoughby appears and Brandon does all the right things. Minutes later, we are back in the cottage by the sea (another interesting decision to include all the dramatic scenes of waves rushing in upon the romantically rocky shore). Marianne plays the piano in Brandon’s library, sees how good he is with a falcon and agrees to marry him. Edward comes and declares his love, and before you can say whatever you feel is appropriate in these situations, it’s all over.

Willoughby (Dominic Cooper) looking predatory

Frankly, I’m in a state of mild despair. The decision to try cramming everything into a nominal three hours (allowing for the odd advertising break every now and again) has produced superficial characterisations, key scenes are omitted as where Brandon agrees to give Edward a living, and the general tone of the production is slightly darker than I would have expected. In the last episode, Elinor and Marianne are in bed together discussing men. There’s no better place for such discussions. Marianne wonders whether men treat women as mere playthings. This seems to be emphasised by the way in the which production is paced. Willoughby is shown as something of a sexual predator. The inclusion of an actual duel with Brandon is an interesting decision to show Willoughby’s humiliation in private does nothing to damp down the public persona. Indeed, his manner in the London ball could not be worse and his dismissal of his new wife when confronting Elinor in Cleveland is cold-hearted, as is the implicit denial of wrongdoing in siring an offspring with Brandon’s ward. Where it not for Marianne’s lack of experience and more romantic temperament, he would never have made progress. Her experience shocks her into accepting Brandon as a rock she can cling to in any storm. I’m not sure I’m convinced by this Marianne’s declaration of love for the man. She seems to be recovering from Willoughby rather quickly and emerging as somewhat flighty. In the novel this is avoided because she firmly explains her emotions as being less than love. That’s why her marriage is a triumph of sense over sensibility.

Edward Ferrars (Dan Stevens) not clearly defined as a character

But the real problem comes with the lack of screen time for Edward. The whole point of this man is his honour. Yet we are never given the chance to get to see the man and understand just how seriously he takes any promise he makes. This underwriting complicates what we see of Elinor’s reaction to him. Depending on how you view their first meeting, he may be seen as leading her on when he knows he cannot take it further. Or we could see Elinor as being as overly romantic in her reaction to him. Why is there this confusion? It’s the scene in the library at Norland. By allowing Margaret Dashwood (Lucy Boynton) to leave and give them the necessary privacy, he’s encouraging Elinor to believe a proposal is coming. Worse, he should know Margaret will almost certainly pass on the news to the rest of the family. The behaviour of a gentleman of the time would never have allowed this to happen. He would have been sensitive to the needs of preserving propriety if others were present or of ensuring privacy. So this production starts us off on the wrong tack with this character. Frankly, this is one of the many problems with the script by the usually reliable Andrew Davies.

Brandon (David Morrissey) at home on the range

We can perhaps forgive the opening sex scene. It does give some credibility to the power the wife Fanny (Claire Skinner) exercises over John Dashwood (Mark Gatiss) and sets up the scenes showing the marginalisation and departure of the female Dashwoods to their impoverished cottage. The country houses and interiors, as always, show high production values and give the adaptation considerable credibility. If only there had been four rather than three hours, we might have had the time to meet and get to know the people. Sad really but, for once, this Sense and Sensibility is a poor show despite the more than competent acting of the principals.

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