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Agatha Christie’s Marple (2007) — the final set of three episodes

December 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Well, with the final three lined up, I can maintain my morale and keep going. After the first disasters, it’s been a terrible struggle to switch on the television. With a derisive laugh, I can always hope the broadcasters saved the best for the last set of three. Towards Zero is another of these adaptations which inserts Miss Marple (Geraldine McEwan) into the mystery. This is not necessarily an improvement on the Inspector Battle original, but it’s equally not necessarily a fatal flaw. A mystery is a mystery to be solved and this particular puzzle is quite elegant, no matter who does the sleuthing. The one good feature about this particular adaptation is the police officers who turn up to investigate the death that’s so obviously a murder are reasonably competent. They know to look for fingerprints and do search diligently for evidence. At times, they even ask intelligent questions when interviewing the select group of suspects. Their failure is to understand social dynamics of the people (who are not particularly likeable) and to see the significance of the summons from Lady Camilla’s room on the night she died. Incidentally, Eileen Atkins is rather pleasing as the reclusive old lady. It’s a shame she has to be bludgeoned to death. It makes a sad contrast with Tom Baker whose portrayal of Federick Treves tended to the grotesque. I suppose the whole thing worked quite well as entertainment although the drama of tipping poor Ted Latimer (Paul Nicholls) in the river was a bit over the top and the tennis match featuring Greg Rusedski and Neville Strange (Greg Wise) was tame. So, not that it’s in any sense a redemption for this series, this particular episode was one of the better ones. Perhaps we really will finish on a high note or two.

Eileen Atkins and Greg Wise

Ordeal By Innocence should have been better given the quality of the cast but, yet again, we have major tinkering with the original and poor direction. The result is that it’s rather difficult to distinguish between the adopted children. They all seem underdeveloped as characters. In the novel, there’s a better effort made to explore their individual personalities and, while this is not one of the best Christies, it does have a sound plot. Yet again Miss Marple has been inserted into the story and, worse, we have a change in the identity of the second victim and an unexpected suicide. Frankly, I fail to understand why the murderer should have chosen to kill Gwenda (Juliet Stevenson) and why add a twin only to have him disappear into the lake? Making any changes to the original should actually improve on the original, perhaps clarifying a weak point or making a dated element more meaningful to a modern audience. In this case, the result just feels muddled and, although the change to the ending does make quite a shrewd use of the book’s title, it’s the only ray of sunshine in this otherwise dismal swamp.

Juliet Stevenson when she was still engaged to be married

Looking back at a life wasted watching television, At Bertram’s Hotel has quite the most bizarrely confusing opening I can remember seeing in any sleuthing adaptation. The camera wanders around with Jane Marple bumping into people as the lobby of the hotel revolves around her and, supposedly, introduces all the main characters to us. In the original, the hotel has faded gentility. This has a Satchmo lookalike belting out a jazz number as the crowd from Piccadilly Circus, in town tonight, mills around without anyone to shout, “Stop”.* To say this is a re-imagining of the original novel is an understatement. Although the murder of Micky Gorman is reproduced with moderate reliability, the most fascinating aspect of the original has been thrown away, i.e. the actual purpose for the hotel remaining unchanged with the old folk lurking around the public rooms sipping tea.

Stephen Mangan as Inspector Bird on the roof with the body

The actual story we see on the screen with the twins, loopy renegades from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, and black-market dealings in artwork is a travesty. What makes it all the more dire is the decision to share the work of detection with a maid, Jane Cooper (Martine McCutcheon) who shows up the bumbling Inspector Larry Bird (Stephen Mangan) and is rewarded with the chance to live with him at the end — presumably so she can solve more of his cases for him. This gives us another example of a very satisfying novel distorted out of recognition to no good effect.

Looking back at this series, I really cannot imagine why Granada Television felt the need to so completely rewrite most of the source novels. Agatha Christie was remarkably inventive and, while not always completely on target, she was rather better than the team of people lined up to write these adaptations. In this final case, the adaptation itself is made worse by the poor direction, not establishing a clear understanding of who everyone is supposed to be in the first half of the show. But the consistent problem has been Geraldine McEwan. It’s unfair to keep on harping about Joan Hickson whose portrayal of Miss Marple was magnificent. I suspect Joan Hickson was simply lucky to land in a team that respected the original intention of Agatha Christie and were prepared to go the extra mile to support the harder, more predatory interpretation. It would have been just as easy to find Joan Hickson left high and dry in dismal adaptations or surrounded by melodramatically-inclined actors. When you actually examine Geraldine McEwan’s view of Miss Marple, there’s nothing wrong with the idea of her hiding behind the mask of senile incompetence. But she should let it slip every now and again so we can all be in on the joke. As it is, the directors did little or nothing to bend the fourth wall to let us see the “real” Miss Marple at work. The result is a view of this character as rather dotty, often lurking in the background and not infrequently relying on others to do the work for her. Indeed, on many occasions, there’s very poor continuity where sidekicks talk with someone or see something significant but are never seen reporting what was heard or seen to our sleuth. Obviously, some kind of telepathy is involved. So apart from one or two episodes, there’s very little to recommend. If you have the choice, buy the DVD set of the earlier Joan Hickson versions.

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: 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 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)

Agatha Christie’s Marple (2006) — the third set of three episodes

November 19, 2011 Leave a comment

It was a close-run decision whether to continue watching but, as it turned out, The Moving Finger was the best of the series so far. Although this is not saying much, given the awfulness that has gone before, there was just enough encouragement. You can always hope you have the worst behind you. . . Anyway, this has Geraldine McEwan’s Marple rather more in the background, wandering around, often looking a bit dotty, but able to make pithy remarks of substance every now and again to show her brain is still working. The primary point of view falls to Jerry Burton (James D’Arcy) who failed to end it all on his motorbike (instead of crashing his plane in the original novel). I suppose it does give him more to chew on as he recovers both physically and emotionally in the backwater village of Lymstock. The casting of Ken Russell and Francis de la Tour as the Calthrops is faintly hilarious, but everyone else, surprisingly including Harry Enfield as the prissy solicitor, is held back. Although they are all caricatures, this village is not quite a jarring as some of the others we’ve been exposed to. I could have done without the knowing opening sequence showing the arrival of the Burtons in their red sportscar, but this script sat back and allowed the story to unfold at a steady pace. The trap for the murderer is all you would expect, but I can’t say as I like the staged suicide. The safety of all involved depends on the killer coming up with something not immediately fatal, so this scenario is all a bit contrived to let everyone emerge unscathed. Nevertheless, it’s reasonably enjoyable.

Jerry Burton dressed for dinner

And now a moment of reflection. Until a few years ago, I used to go to the RSC’s latest interpretations of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. There’s always something interesting to watch as different productions with different actors can bring out unexpected subtleties. The words themselves never change too much (although there was a very famous musical created out of Comedy of Errors where there were more substantial changes), but the entertainment experience can be very different. So when we come to a new set of adaptations of Miss Marple novels, there’s a chance for new light to shine on the usually clever plots. All of which brings me to the Sittaford Mystery. Frankly, at times, I thought I was watching a television version of The Mousetrap as a group of people, caught in the same place by heavy snow, try to work out who the killer is. Except this is neither the titular mystery nor the stage play. It’s just a travesty. I cannot recall ever seeing such a botched adaptation. This may not be one of Christie’s best books, but it deserves better than this. All I will say is that, while it may not be a bad idea to insert Miss Marple into this particular story, there’s absolutely no need to invent all this backstory about Egypt and trotting out Robert Hardy to do his Churchill impression is laughable. The whole proceeds at a funerial pace, delaying the important séance far too long and then producing a different murderer at the end. I suppose the murder only comes after an hour because Timothy Dalton was cast as the victim. Had it been anyone less prestigious, we could have killed him in the first few scenes and made progress with the plot. This adaptation is not entertaining in its own right nor is it in any way faithful to the Christie original.

Timothy Dalton looking Prime Minister material

All of which brings us to Nemesis. I have no great brief to defend the novel. Being the last Miss Marple novel and one of the last books she wrote before dying, it’s rather plodding in execution although the idea is up to the usual Agatha Christie standard. But the slowness of the novel is not an excuse to substantially rewrite the plot. I suppose if I came to the television adaptation not knowing anything about the original, it would seem quite a clever idea to maroon everyone on a tour bus. That said, the pace of the story on screen is turgid and the last act in the convent the worst kind of melodrama. As an adaptation, I can see absolutely no justification for radically changing the plot to omit one murder and change everything about the motivation for the original death, to convert Clotilde (Amanda Burton) and Anthea (now renamed Sister Agnes and played by Anne Reid) into nuns, to introduce Miss Marple’s nephew, Raymond West (Richard E Grant), to no good purpose and to omit Professor Wanstead who was important in resolving the crime in the novel.

Geraldine McEwan and Anne Reid trying to spot the murderer

I have to say I cannot imagine anyone less like the original Nemesis than Geraldine McEwan. She’s there with a twinkle in her eye and a slightly dotty look, completely unlike the spirit of divine retribution who’s supposed to have been remorseless in delivering just deserts (whether they were wanted or not). For this adaptation to work, we have to be prepared to believe the dead millionaire essentially did all the detective work before he died and could then persuade everyone implicated to turn up for the tour. His problem was that he didn’t have any actual evidence as to whodunnit and so must rely on Miss Maple to produce the confession. In neither case is this convincing. If there was sufficient circumstantial evidence to suggest a crime had been committed, no sane millionaire would rely on a person as portrayed by Geraldine McEwan to complete the investigation. Her decision to include the philandering and blocked author as her sidekick says it all. Neither one of them can cut the mustard, even if he was in the library with the candlestick.

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 (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 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)

Agatha Christie’s Marple (2005) — the second set of three episodes

November 6, 2011 Leave a comment

With a sense of foreboding, I sat down to watch this second set of three Marple adaptations. We had not exactly started off auspiciously and I had visions of Agatha Christie vaguely stirring in her grave as broadcast signals slowly penetrated the soil around her grave. The first effort is A Murder Is Announced. We’re back in a village circa the 1950s, this one appropriately named Chipping Cleghorn, where someone obviously well-meaning announces the imminent death of person or persons unknown. Come the appointed time, the lights go out, shots ring out and, not surprisingly, a man is duly found dead. Giving up her quiet holiday in a nearby hotel, Miss Marple invites herself into the middle of the investigation and, before long, she’s suggesting lines of inquiry to the random office officer in charge. It’s a wonderful commentary on these pre-CSI times that we could innocently believe our British police officers were so accessible and willing to give credence to an old biddy’s ideas. You can’t see an author today describing anything other than a highly professional squad that appears and erects barriers to keep curious eyes away. Not forgetting the Crown Prosecution Service lurking in the wings to ensure a fair trial will be possible. The notion of gathering all the suspects in the library for sherry and an accusation or two would be frowned on. Yet, that’s the Golden Age paradigm. We meet the cast of suspects, watch the sleuth at work and then arrive at the dénouement in which our detective reviews the evidence, highlights the clues and points the fickle finger of fate at the baddie(s).

Zoë Wanamaker, Geraldine McEwan and Elaine Paige in A Murder Is Announced

Let’s characterise this series as a race between Geraldine McEwan and Joan Hickson. The new team wants to distance itself from the earlier series. It wants this set of adaptations to be better. So they have no compunction in rewriting the books to make for “better” television. Yet one of the more extraordinary aspects of this adaptation is that the production team neglected to do anything about Mitzi (Catherine Tate). The 1950s was a time of great parochialism and hostility to all foreigners, particularly if they were coloured. Indeed, in the next episode, Sleeping Murder, a seaside town is thrown into a paranoid frenzy when a person of Indian origin is seen on the promenade — ironically, something that did not happen in the original novel. Anyway, Mitzy who cooks and “does for” the family is an appalling caricature and it would have been better to avoid pandering to our current anti-immigration prejudices by toning down the performance. That the script leaves out characters from the book, overeggs the relationship between Hinch and Murgatroyd, and actually has Miss Marple cry when she comes across a body, shows the production team has no compunction about changing stuff. In this case, I’m not convinced this does justice to the book but, in its own terms, it does manage to focus on the core mystery which remains ingenious. Zoë Wanamaker and Elaine Page are quite pleasing as Letitia Blacklock and Dora Bunner.

Sophia Myles, Aidan McArdle and Geraldine McEwan in Sleeping Murder

A Sleeping Murder is one of these deeply annoying adaptations of a novel in which we’re expected to accept the extraordinary as complete ordinary. Although Sophia Myles does her best as Gwenda Halliday, her arrival in this particular house in this particular village is such an amazing contrivance made worse by the ability of Aidan McArdle as Hugh Hornbeam to pick up a telephone and summon Miss Marple at the first sign of hysteria. Quite what possessed the production team to murder a reasonably good book with this farrago of rubbish is beyond me. In the original, Ms Halliday is newly married and arrives from New Zealand. There’s no connection to India, no Hugh Holliday as a love interest, and no Funnybones at the end of the pier where, quite frankly, they should all have sunk without trace since sorting out their relationships is hardly entertaining. The only good thing about this episode was the quality of the singing by Sarah Parish and Anna-Louise Plowman.

Anthony Andrews, Geraldine McEwan and Greta Scacchi in By the Pricking of My Thumbs

Then as if the producers decided to go for death by a thousand cuts, we move on to the even more annoying adaptation of By The Pricking of My Thumbs. I didn’t believe this lot would go for complete butchery but this is the case here. This is a perfectly respectably Tommy and Tuppence novel, a series in which Agatha Christie would let her hair down a little and write a more thrillerish, atmospheric book. There would always be a basic puzzle to unravel, but she was always aiming for a greater spirit of adventure than ever would have surrounded the semi-geriatric Jane Marple. For those of you who have yet to dip into one of these books, Tommy works for MI6 and, together with his wife Tuppence, they catch nazi spies during the war and are involved in other faintly daring-dos. For the record, they are equally bright and tend to strike sparks off each other until they arrive at the “answer”. In this mockery, we have Tuppence (Greta Scacchi) as an alcoholic wife left on the shelf by an absentee Tommy (Anthony Andrews). In a visit to a nursing home to visit Tommy’s aunt, Tuppence meets Miss Marple and, in due course, they set off the investigate the goings-on in Farrell St Edmund. When Tommy does appear, he’s played as a pompous idiot who uses the threat of instant incarceration in the Tower if anyone fails to answer one of his questions. Not even the joy of seeing Steven Berkoff and Leslie Phillips can prevent this from being the worst in this Marple series so far.

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

Agatha Christie’s Marple (2004) — the first 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 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)

Agatha Christie’s Marple (2004) — the first three episodes

October 22, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve read every novel and short story by Agatha Christie, reading all the paperbacks to catch up in the 1950s, and then buying the hardbacks as they were published until the final case. This means, with one of two exceptions, I’ve got most of the plots in my memory. So, in watching these adaptations of the Miss Marple novels, I’ve been able to remember whodunnit — well with one exception which I’ll come to later.

I find myself faintly amused because, growing up in the immediate period following World War II, I knew people like the characters shown in this “modern” reproduction. Although I was merely middle class and never attended a country-house weekend, my parents were on the fringes of higher society and mixed with people who did. We lived in a private estate — in modern terms, it was a gated community. What actually happened was that on a preset number of days in a year, the groundsman closed the gates to prevent a permanent right of way being established along our road. Looking back on it, most of the children and teens I grew up with were from monied backgrounds. I met their parents at the social events. Before television became established, neighbours used to take it in turns to throw open their homes for an evening party. It was a fascinating time and it’s captured with considerable skill in this series of adaptations.

An older and more thoughtful Joan Hickson as Miss Marple

Born in 1932, Geraldine McEwan has been one of England’s premier actresses for decades. I’ve seen her live on stage in the West End and the Nat — she had immense presence. Even on the small screen, there’s an irresistible life about her and she hits a note of impish charm in this version of Miss Marple. However, I’m not sure we should be smiling at or with Miss Marple. I remind myself of the performances given by Joan Hickson in the television adaptations shown in the 1980s. There was a certain air of menace about that Jane Marple. You had the sense that, behind the apparent confusion you would expect of a lady of that age, there was a real predator waiting to pounce.

Geraldine McEwan and Amanda Holden in 4.50 From Paddington

So, in the order I’ve seen the series, we started with The Murder at the Vicarage. Frankly, this is a less than impressive mystery. It’s too contrived, depending on being able to ensure Miss Marple will not be too seriously injured as the motorcycle sweeps by. First published in 1930, the characters are cyphers who move around to be in the right places at the right time. Nevertheless, some of the stereotypical characters from village life are nicely skewered in this adaptation and we have the joy of seeing old stalwarts like Herbert Lom and Mirian Margolyes. Except when the team was meeting to plan the series in 2003/4, I wonder what justification they devised for relocating the series to the 1950s. Yes, it makes the milieu instantly recognisable to me as an older viewer, but what other benefits flow from bringing this classic novel twenty years forward in time? Does it make it cheaper and easier to dress the sets, find old cars still running, or save time in recreating the clothes? Frankly, it just annoys me. If you are going to be “true” to a book when adapting it for the screen, you should not reinvent it unless there’s a good reason. This is not the same as, say, staging one of Shakespeare’s plays in modern dress. Often relocating the plot into a more recognisable modern context gives a new set of interpretations to the words. This enhances our understanding and translates the original intention into a form more accessible to the modern audience. I see absolutely no benefit from relocating Miss Marple into the 1950s. As a further trivial objection, using Hambleden, Bucks. as St. Mary Meade is disconcerting when it so regularly pops up in television and films, e.g. in the Midsomer Murders, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, etc.

Then we come to What Mrs McGillicuddy Saw (or as I prefer to think of it, 4.50 From Paddington). This is slightly more in the Tommy and Tuppence mould, with Lucy Eyelesbarrow (Amanda Holden) doing some unofficial sleuthing in the country home of the Crackenthorpe family. This allows for some routine melodrama as our young heroine finds the original body from the train and is a key witness to the death of a family member. This has more life about it for the contemporary audience, but it remains fairly trite.

Geraldine McEwan and Joanna Lumley showing period charm

Finally, The Body in the Library appeared and, for the first time, I found myself involved. Although we start off in St. Mary Mead, this is mostly set in Eastbourne which is shot in a nicely period way, showing life in a hotel with its thé dansants and evening dances and bridge sessions. This directly matches my own experiences of seaside holidays in the 1950s with the snobbishness beautifully caught on screen. Better still, we have the joy of Joanna Lumley as Dolly Bantree, Ian Richardson as the tragically-wounded Conway Jefferson and, of all people, Simon Callow as Colonel Melchett, but. . .

At this point, I need to step back. What’s the purpose of a television adaptation of a classic novel? In one sense, it’s a rescue mission. Sometimes, the prose style doesn’t travel well in time, so showing us the story makes it more accessible to a modern audience. However, I disapprove of an adaptation that rewrites the ending, particularly in a whodunnit. After reflection, I understand why I was hooked. The sly banter between Geraldine McEwan and Joanna Lumley is very contemporary in tone. Thematically, there’s also a lot more sexuality on display than ever Agatha Christie would have written about. This is very much a story for a modern audience. On balance, I’m not convinced. If adapters want to write their own detective stories, that’s fine by me. But they should not rewrite classic novels, changing the identity of the killer or killers. How would the audience feel if Pride and Prejudice was rewritten so that Elizabeth marries either Mr. Collins or Mr. Wickham? I suspect there would be rioting in the streets as everyone equipped themselves with new trainers, kitchen knives and other essentials with which to pursue the writers. So, I give this a good mark as contemporary television, but zero as an adaptation of a classic novel.

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

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 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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