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Posts Tagged ‘Agatha Christie’

The cast of Appointment With Death

Appointment with Death is the last new Hercule Poirot mystery to be shown on PBS for Season X. David Suchet and a sterling ensemble cast reenacted Agatha Christie’s tale in Syria – or did they?

Lord and Lady Boynton, the victim, and Sarah King, right

Big changes were made to the original storyline, which Christie had originally set in Petra. Lord Boynton, a famous archeologist, now searches for the head of John the Baptist. The cast of characters differed from the novel, and when the murder was finally solved in a dramatic (and unbelievable) way, I could scarcely believe what I was watching.

Two Boynton children and Dr. Gerard
What could possibly be wrong with Dr. Gerard?

Many readers feel that Appointment With Death was one of Christie’s weakest novels, and tinkering with the story has done little to improve the plot. There is an undercurrent of cruelty in this adaptation  (Mrs. Boynton is a worse child abuser than Mrs. Norris in Mansfield Park), which has not been adequately explained. And while Lady Westholme (Elizabeth McGovern) had much to lose, her role in this plot has changed it beyond recognition.

Hercule Poirot and Dame Celia Westholme

Oh, dear. This episode was not a good way to end the season. The only positive thing I can say is that once again the actors are superb. Tim Curry, Elizabeth McGovern, Christina Cole, Tom Riley, and Angela Pleasance make for a sterling cast.

Let's hope the next Poirot season ends with a bigger bang.

Appointment With Death was filmed in the exotic locations of Casablanca and El Jadida in Morocco, and the UK.

Tim Curry….. Lord Boynton
Christina Cole….. Sarah King
Tom Riley….. Raymond Boynton
Cheryl Campbell….. Lady Boynton
Zoe Boyle….. Jinny Boynton
Emma Cunniffe….. Carol Boynton
Angela Pleasence….. Nanny
Paul Freeman….. Colonel Carbury
Beth Goddard….. Sister Agnieszka
Christian McKay….. Jefferson Cope
Mark Gatiss….. Leonard Boynton
John Hannah….. Dr. Gerard
Elisabeth McGovern….. Dame Celia Westholme

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Jemima Rooper as Norma Restarick in Third Girl

Third Girl is the second installment of Season X of Hercule Poirot on PBS Masterpiece Mystery! Unlike his dark and edgy stint on Murder on the Orient Express, David Suchet relaxes a bit in this production, once again showing the fastidious side of Poirot and reintroducing some of the dark humor for which Dame Agatha was well known. Case in point, Ariadne Oliver, the author/sleuth who was wont to “help” Poirot. As played by Zoë Wanamaker, the character is delightful.

Zoë Wannamaker and David Suchet

Jemima Rooper plays heiress Norma Restarick, the third girl who shares an apartment with Claudia, the first girl, and Frances, the second girl. These two beautiful women share a confidence about their beauty and themselves that Norma does not possess. Haunted by her mother’s death, Norma fears for her sanity when she thinks she has murdered her former nanny.

It was nice to see Ms. Rooper team up again with Tom Mison, who in this production played David Baker, the young artist who was commissioned to paint a portrait and whose eyes light up every time he sees Norma. Both Jemima and Tom portrayed roles in Lost in Austen, Tom a very likable Mr. Bingley and Jemima a befuddled Amanda Price, who steps back in time to exchange places with Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.

David Suchet as the incomparable Hercule Poirot

Watching Third Girl I was happy that no commercials would interrupt the flow of the story. Still, it had so many plot twists and elements going in various directions, that I felt the production would have benefited from an additional half hour to flesh out the story line and characters. Nevertheless, it is good to see Suchet back in old familiar form. If you missed this episode, you can watch it online for a week at this link through August 1.

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Murder on the Orient Express, PBS Masterpiece Mystery!, Sunday, July 11, 9 PM local listings. Starting 7-12, watch this episode online at this link.

David Suchet as Hercule Poirot

Hercule Poirot arrives at Masterpiece Mystery for Series X and the viewer will not be disappointed. David Suchet is back as Poirot, the Belgian detective, and I can imagine no one better in the role. This summer’s Masterpiece Mystery! will feature three new Poirot mysteries based on Agatha Christie Novels: Murder on the Orient Express (July 11), Third Girl(July 18) and Appointment with Death (July 25).

The Orient Express was more than a train – it was an experience. Considered the height of luxury in travel, it was also the turbojet Concorde of its day in that it provided the fastest route from Paris to the East. Agatha Christie and her husband traveled in style all the way to Instanbul, and her trips gave her the background information and details she needed to craft a truly unique murder plot. More a string of luxury sleeping cars, seating cars, couchettes, and dining cars than a regular passenger train, the Orient Express crossed many borders over rail lines owned by a number of companies and nationalities. With so many consortiums and countries involved in its smooth running, one marvels that the train made its destination at all, much less in record time.

Passengers trapped on a snow bound train

In 1929 the train was stalled in a snow storm in Turkey, leaving the passengers stranded for days. Christie based her 1934 murder mystery on that true event, as well as on the 1932 kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr., which made the headlines in respectable newspapers and scandal sheets for weeks.

Toby Jones plays the evil victim

This PBS production of Christie’s famous tale is darker in tone than the famous Sydney Lumet adaptation of the book in 1974, which starred Albert Finney as Poirot. That movie’s ending was more pat and Hollywood in style. There was no doubt that Ratchett, the villain (Richard Widmark), was evil through and through, whereas the villain (Toby Jones) in this PBS production seems to operate more from fear and self-protection.

The suspects have no place to go

The ending in this most recent adaptation is strikingly dark and ambivalent; raising questions of justice, ethics, and morality. I confess that it has been so many years since I’ve read this mystery that I cannot recall how faithful this film’s ending is to Agatha’s book.

Barbara Hershey as Caroline Hubbard

The actors are once again superb. We do not see Barbara Hershey enough these days, and the fabulous Eileen Atkins makes an unforgettable appearance. Samuel West, David Morrissey, and Hugh Bonneville round out a sterling cast. My major complaint about this production is its length, which was too short to develop the story lines for many of the suspects.

Eileen Atkins as Princess Dragomiroff, one of the suspects

Watch behind the scenes videos at this link.

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The latest Miss Marple Mystery on PBS Mystery!, The Blue Geranium, was originally an Agatha Christie short story. While I did not find this mystery quite as satisfying to watch as The Secret of the Chimneys, I found my viewing time well spent. The solution leads to a typical old-fashioned Agatha Christie twist, with Miss Marple racing against time to save an innocent man. Once again the British cast, led by Julia McKenzie, Toby Stephens, and Claudie Blakley is sterling. To see where the clues were dropped, you can watch the 90-minute presentation online from June 28 through July 11!

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Miss Marple (Julia McKenzie) and Dolly Bantry(Joanna Lumley)

Last Sunday, Miss Marple made a grand fifth season entrance for PBS Masterpiece Mystery! with its latest episode, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. If you missed the episode, it is available online at this link until June 6th.

Marina (Lindsay Duncan) stares off into space with a look of doom

In this elegant mystery, based on a tragic event in actress Gene Tierney’s life, film star Marina Gregg (Lindsay Duncan) takes up residence at Gossington Hall with her fifth husband, young film director Jason Rudd (Nigel Harman). During a charity garden party, a guest named Heather Badcock (Caroline Quinton) drinks a poisoned cocktail and survives the experience by a mere few seconds. Laid up with a sore ankle, Miss Marple learns from her friend Dolly Bantry (played by the incomparable Joanna Lumley) that Marina was caught staring into space with a look of doom on her face just before poor Heather cocked up her toes.

Marina and husband #5, director Jason Rudd (Nigel Harman)

Enter Inspector Hewitt, whose list of usual suspects includes Marina’s past husbands and entourage of employees, colleagues, and hangers-on, looks for the obvious suspect. An attempt is made on Marina’s life while she is filming a movie, which confirms in Hewitt’s mind that she was the original target for murder, not Heather. Throw in a blackmailer, who is also found dead, and the plot has sufficiently thickened to leave viewers scratching their heads and relying on Miss Marple to make sense of the mayhem.

Inspector Hewitt (Hugh Bonneville, L) and sidekick take a traditional approach to solving a murder

As always, the cast of characters is superb. In addition to Ms. Lumley, Lindsay Duncan (Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Lost in Austen) and High Bonneville (Mr. Bennet in Lost in Austen and Mr. Rushworth in Mansfield Park) also make an appearance. I’ve grown quite accustomed to seeing Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple, and she fits my idea of that dowdy but sharp-eyed sleuth like a well worn glove. (As an aside, I advise that any of Miss Marple’s friends or relatives should steer clear of her, for where ever she goes, death is sure to follow!)

Why is reporter Margot Bence (Charlotte Riley) making life difficult for Marina?

The setting of a small English village and costumes of the late 1950’s, early 1960’s (the book was published in 1962) are superb. I have had the privilege to watch all three new episodes of Miss Marple this season, and while I liked this tale, it is not the best of the three. Perhaps because Mirror was based on a true story, the murder plot seemed a little loose and diffuse. The ending is enigmatic and lacks the satisfying and tidy wrap up of most of Agatha Christie’s plots. And yet I found my hour and a half well spent.

Joanna Lumley as Dolly Bantry

Well done, PBS Masterpiece Mystery! Two more original episodes will be aired (The Secret of Chimneys and The Blue Geranium), including two encore presentations (A Pocketful of Rye and Murder is Easy.) Five Miss Marples in one season! Life can’t get much better than this.

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Miss MarpleYour own DVD set of Marple, Series 4 is available for shipping today! Agatha Christie’s spinster sleuth is brilliantly played by Julia McKenzie in this delightful mystery series. Julia as Miss Marple dons the traditional tweeds as if they were made for her, and the casts for all four episodes are stellar: Matthew MacFadyen, Rupert Graves, Wendy Richard, Hattie Morahan, Sylvia Simms, Anna Chancellor, Jemma Redgrave, Russell Tovey, Amanda Root, Elliot Cowan, Joan Collins, and Nigel Terry are among the suspects and victims. This set of finely produced DVDs, issued by Acorn Media, includes the following episodes:

Disc 1 A POCKET FULL OF RYE

Who poisoned wealthy businessman Rex Fortescue? Miss Marple barely has time to ponder this question before her former maid Gladys turns up strangled on the Fortescue estate, a clothes peg stuck on her nose. The murders seem to bear an uncanny resemblance to a child’s nursery rhyme. Miss Marple and Inspector Neele uncover clues from the dead man’s shadowy past that may reveal a method to the madness. Go to the PBS page to read about this episode.

Disc 2 MURDER IS EASY

Murder is easy, as long as nobody thinks it’s murder. So says elderly Miss Pinkerton to Miss Marple during a chance encounter on a train. Soon Miss Pinkerton herself dies, and Miss Marple believes that it was no accident. Her curiosity piqued, she travels to the peaceful village of Wychwood-under-Ashe to investigate. Charming her way into village life, she befriends a former policeman and discovers a shocking secret—one worth killing for.  Read the recap on Austenprose

Disc 3 THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS

Miss Marple’s old friend Carrie-Louise has always had a soft heart for charitable causes. This time it’s juvenile criminals, lodged in a reformatory on the estate she shares with her husband. But her sister, Ruth van Rydock, is worried about her and asks Miss Marple to pay a visit. With her sharp eyes and unerring sleuthing skills, Miss Marple quickly assesses the situation—but not in time to prevent a murder. Can she save her friend from becoming the next victim? Read the synopsis and about the cast in this PBS link.

Disc 4 WHY DIDN’T THEY ASK EVANS?

A dying man’s last words turn young Bobby Attfield into an amateur detective. With the help of two assistants, beautiful socialite Frankie Derwent and family friend Jane Marple, he sets out to solve the riddle they pose. When someone tries to kill Bobby, it only strengthens his resolve. A trail of clues leads the unlikely trio to Castle Savage and its strange inhabitants, the discovery of yet another murder, and the lingering question: why didn’t they ask Evans? Read our review in this link.

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synopsis_askevans_01Gentle readers, Afficionados of Agatha Christie mysteries will have one more chance to see an original Miss Marple mystery on Masterpiece Mystery! this Sunday. My good friend Hillary Major has reviewed the last episode. What did she think? She thought it was well worth her while, as did I. See this episode on Sunday, July 26th, at your local PBS television station. The series airs 9 pm local time.

When vicar’s son Bobby Jones (Sean Biggerstaff) discovers a dying man abandoned on a Welsh cliffside, he is determined to elucidate the man’s cryptic final words: “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” Fortunately, Bobby has help — from childhood friend (and romantic interest), the impetuous Lady Frances “Frankie” Derwent (played by Georgia Moffett), and from an old friend of the family, just arrived in town for a visit.

Miss Marple doesn’t appear in Agatha Christie’s mystery novel Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (first published in the U.S. as The Boomerang Clue), but the good-humoured tension between the mild-mannered detective and the eager young pair of would-be gumshoes makes the opening of this Masterpiece Theatre episode sparkle. While critics could argue, with some merit, that Miss Marple’s presence is extraneous to the plot and that, in fact, the stakes would be higher if her protégés were forced to discover the truth on their own, it is hard to complain when Julia McKenzie is on the screen. Miss Marple may appear to be absorbed in her knitting, but McKenzie’s bright eyes are keenly tracking Bobby and Frankie at they plot to uncover the criminal, and soon Miss Marple is an acknowledged co-conspirator. Viewers of many ages will feel a bit smug when Miss Marple proves, time and again throughout the episode, that older is wiser when it comes to solving mysteries.

poster_askevans

The search for the murderer sends Bobby, Frankie, and Miss Marple “undercover” to the Savage family estate, where suspects abound — the recently widowed and seemingly out-of-touch matriarch Sylvia Savage; the suspiciously ubiquitous psychiatrist; Mr. Evans, former business associate of the deceased and, like most orchid-lovers in fiction, just a bit creepy; not to mention the truly creepy Thomas Savage, a teenager who spends most of his time with his pet snake. Then there are the psychiatrist’s beautiful but disturbed wife and the handsome young piano teacher, who between them manage to complicate Bobby and Frankie’s blooming courtship.

Immune to such distractions, it is Miss Marple who begins to suspect that the heart of the matter may lie in the Savage family’s past, in time spent in China between the world wars. Christie has cleverly used the personal drama to illustrate a larger, societal guilt surrounding Britain’s post-WWII relationship with China. As one of her characters puts it in Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, when Britain withdrew their presence they “practically gave it to the Japanese.” While this political issue creates an underlying frisson in the episode, the focus really is on individual crimes and their consequences, as the Savage history is revealed.

Although a few of the plot point may stretch the viewer’s credulity (like the chance meeting of Bobby and Frankie at the beginning of the episode or Bobby’s semi-successful impersonation of a chauffeur), overall, the mystery is well-structured and makes for an action-filled hour-and-a-half. With eye-catching cinematography, strong acting, and a complicated knot to unravel, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? will be appreciated by many a Sunday-evening armchair sleuth.

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David Suchet is the quintessential Poirot

David Suchet is the quintessential Poirot

Alas the two Poirot episodes with David Suchet on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery! have been aired and are no longer available for online viewing on PBS’s website. The good news is that the DVD set is for sale on July 7th. Beautifully packaged by Acorn Media, this fabulous boxed set offers three DVDs:

1. Cat Among the Pigeons

As Meadowbank School for Girls begins its term, a new student causes the headmistress, Miss Bullstrode (Harriet Walter, Atonement), unease. Princess Shaista is a political refugee hiding from revolutionaries in her native land. Fortunately, when the bodies start turning up, Poirot is on hand. Read my short review of the episode on this blog.

2. Mrs. McGinty’s Dead

With help from mystery novelist and old friend Ariadne Oliver (Zoe Wannamaker), Poirot tries to save a man from hanging for a murder he might not have committed. As Poirot tracks down the real killer, he finds his own life at risk. Read my short review of the episode on this blog.

3. Super Sleuths: Poirot – Exclusive bonus

This 47 minute DVD features inteviews with stars Dvid Suchet, Philip Jackson (Chife Inspector Japp), Hugh Fraser (Captain Hasings), and Puline Moran (Miss Lemon). Also interviewed are producer Brian Eastman, director Ed Bennett, and writer Anthony Horowitz (Foly’s War).

Suggested price of the 3-Vol Boxed set is $49.99 at Acorn Media but it is on sale at Amazon.com for $36.99. Acorn media distributes distinctive home video releases to the North American market with a focus on British television.

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The Cat Among the Pigeons, the new Hercule Poirot mystery on PBS’s Mystery was as satisfying an Agatha Cristie mystery as I’ve seen in a long time. If you missed this episode on June 21, PBS will make it availabe for online viewing between June 22 and July 5, 2009.

Meadowbank, the most expensive girl's school in England

Meadowbank, the most expensive girl's school in England

Hercule Poirot and Inspector Kelsey

Hercule Poirot and Inspector Kelsey

Written in 1959, this novel translates very well into a t.v. special. Most rewarding are the number of familiar British actors who have portrayed characters in Jane Austen film adaptations. This episode stars Harriet Walter as Miss Bullstrode, head mistress of Meadowbank Girl’s School. She wishes to retire, but before she does, she invites Mr. Poirot to study the teachers in her school to make certain that she has read their characters correctly, for one of them will be appointed the new head mistress. Before Mr. Poirot can advise her, the nasty gym teacher, Miss Springer (Elizabeth Berrington), is killed in a gruesome manner – impaled by a javelin through the heart. (Shades of the priest being killed in the originalThe Omen.) The remaining staff swiftly become murder suspects, as Poirot works with Inspector Kelsey (Anton Lesser, who recently played Mr. Merdle in Little Dorrit) to uncover the murderer. The mystery deepens as another body is found, the princess of Ramat is kidnapped and her deceased father’s priceless rubys go missing. Needless to say, the school is in trouble, with parents removing their daughters as the bodies pile up.

Claire Skinner and Natasha Little

Claire Skinner and Natasha Little

Miss Springer, Victim

Miss Springer, Victim

David Suchet is remarkable as the Belgian detective, Inspector Poirot. Poirot’s stories are among my least favorite of the Agatha Christie mysteries, but Suchet is so superb in the role that I cannot wait to see the next episode. Sharp-eyed movie buffs will note that both Harriet Walter and Claire Skinner, who plays Miss Rich, a teacher with a past, played Fanny Dashwood, the former in the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, and the

Adam, the gardener, or is he?

Adam, the gardener, or is he?

latter in last year’s version of Sense & Sensibility. Both performances were excellent, though I was struck by how soft Ms. Skinner looks in this part as compared to her turn as the hard hearted Fanny. Natasha Little, Becky Sharp in 1998’s Vanity Fair, plays an enigmatic character and love interest to the handsome Adam, (Adam Croasdell), a man who is out of place as a lowly gardener. “There’s a cat among the pigeons,” the French teacher Mlle Blanche (Amanda Raison) declares to Mr. Poirot before things go bump in the night again.

Harriet Walter as Miss Bullstrode

Harriet Walter as Miss Bullstrode

PBS will be showing Six by Agatha from June 21 through July 26th. The next episode to air is Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, another Poirot tale. I will most definitely be glued in front of my t.v. watching Mystery! again.

Harriet Walter & Claire Skinner in Poirot (L) & as Fanny Dashwood in Sense & Sensibility (R)

Harriet Walter & Claire Skinner in Poirot (L) & as Fanny Dashwood in Sense & Sensibility (R)

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