A house call on Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple
We’ve had quite a few articles about Agatha Christie on Taking The Short View, from the Hercule Poirot films featuring Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov and a new version of Murder on the Orient Express starring Kenneth Branagh, to the more recent (and divisive) BBC adaptation of The Secret Adversary plus stand-along stories such as And Then There Were None and Witness for the Prosecution.
But with a solitary exception, the other major Agatha Christie character of Miss Marple has been somewhat overlooked here, and I thought it was time to set that right – not least because the stories that featured her were my earliest Christie loves. To a seven year old boy growing up in the seventies, the idea that Nanny might be some sort of supersleuth in disguise solving crimes from the comfort of her armchair in the corner of the living room was just too wonderful.
The character had already made it onto the screen as long ago as the 1960s with Margaret Rutherford in the key role. Her portrayal of Miss Marple is about as accurate to the books as Roger Moore’s James Bond is to Ian Fleming’s novels, which is to say not even close. And yet I have a deep affection for the four Rutherford films made by MGM, just as I love some of the Moore 007 outings out of all proportion for their actual merits. Read the rest of this entry »
Murder on the Orient Express (2017) [DVD]
It was with some trepidation that I approached the latest big screen adaptation of Agatha Christie’s seminal Murder on the Orient Express. For one thing, my enduring affection for both the novel and Sidney Lumet’s 1974 film meant I was already predisposed to not liking the new kid on the block. For another, I’d heard some very polarised reactions to the new film with some not liking it one bit. I can’t remember the last time that my father was ever as vitriolic about a film as he was after seeing this at the local Odeon.
Given all that, I was surprised by how much I liked the new film. Its by no means a match to the original version, nor even to the delightful 1994 BBC Radio 4 dramatisation by Michael Bakewell starring John Moffatt as Hercule Poirot (the pictures are always better on the radio.) But it’s nonetheless a solid, quality production which strikes a balance between sensible reverence for the source text with the necessary updates to appeal to a 21st century cinema-going audience. Read the rest of this entry »
Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Death on the Nile (1978), Evil Under the Sun (1982)
We all have our favourite films which are indisputable classics – Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Vertigo, The Godfather, The Third Man for example – and find I have to ration them out and not watch them too often, lest their appeal becomes faded by too many viewings. That’s happened with Star Wars: A New Hope, a film that I know every beat, every line, every music cue so well that it’s hard to sit through it these days, or see it with properly appreciative fresh eyes.
But there is a strange sub-class of favourite films that I find I can watch endlessly. They’re not necessarily great films – indeed, part of the appeal seems to be that they’re quite ordinary and flawed. For me, the exemplar of the sub-class is Star Trek: The Motion Picture and it’s not for nothing that it’s been dubbed “the slow motion picture.” Even so, I have to keep a look for it in the TV schedules so that I know when it’s on and can therefore avoid it, because if I happen across it while channel-surfing them I’m liable to stay as stuck to it right to the end credits much as a fly is unable to free itself from flypaper. Other examples of the type are a number of the Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes films of the 1940s, and several of the dodgier James Bond films of the mid-Roger Moore period.
Death on the Nile is another of those motion pictures with the weird, inexplicable alchemy enabling endless rewatches. Read the rest of this entry »
The Witness for the Prosecution (BBC One)
Not long ago I commended BBC Daytime’s production of The Moonstone (which got a quick repeat over Christmas week) for its simplicity and clarity, and for telling its tale clearly and succinctly without being trapped and weighed down by the weight of literary pretension, portentousness and over-styling that so often afflicts its evening peak time counterparts.
An example of what I mean by the latter helpfully showed up on the Christmas schedules in the form of The Witness for the Prosecution. There’s no question that this was a high-class, top quality production from the BBC, a display of the very finest technical television craftsmanship with every frame immaculately photographed and a top notch script by Sarah Phelps who also adapted last year’s Christmas Christie treat And Then There Were None. Read the rest of this entry »
And Then There Were None E1 (BBC One) (2015)
Contains some mild spoilers for episode 1, but not whodunnit…
One of the most aggravating things about recent screen adaptations of Agatha Christie’s novels is that today’s generation of network executives seem to regard the source material as too old hat to trust on its own anymore. Instead, recent productions have tended to send up and spoof Christie’s canon (the early series of ITV’s Agatha Christie’s Marple was particularly bad in that respect) or make the stories outright comedies (the woeful Partners in Crime for example.) Even the widely regarded, long-running series of generally excellent David Suchet Hercules Poirot dramas lost faith and started extensively rewriting and reimagining the stories toward the end, usually only managing to demonstrate a complete lack of understanding about what they were dealing with in the process.
It was therefore with some trepidation that I worried about what the BBC would do with its 2015 take on And Then There Were None, commissioned as part of global celebrations for the 125th anniversary of the Queen of Crime’s birth. The book is a favourite of mine and is in fact the best-selling murder mystery of all time around the world, so you’ll forgive me if I’m henceforth hyper-sensitive about any disrespectful failings that I might find here. Read the rest of this entry »
Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime S1E1 “The Secret Adversary” (BBC One)
Well that wasn’t as completely terrible as it might have been.
Seriously, I came into this BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime very much fearing the worst and almost didn’t bother watching at all, so sure was I that I would hate every aspect of it. My hackles had been principally raised by the casting of Little Britain star David Walliams in the lead role of Tommy Beresford which seemed to suggest that the new show would continue the approach of recent productions which have tended to lampoon Christie, the genre and the period. Among the worst such recent offenders were early episodes of ITV’s Marple, then starring the late Geraldine McEwan, which played out more like a cartoon that invited us to laugh derisively at the story rather than appreciatively with it. Indeed, Walliams had been a minor guest star in one of those episodes, 2004’s “The Body in the Library”. Read the rest of this entry »