“LORD EDGEWARE DIES” (2000) Review

“LORD EDGEWARE DIES” (2000) Review

The worlds of Britain’s upper-crust and artists mingled in Agatha Christie’s 1933 novel called “Lord Edgeware Dies aka Thirteen at Dinner”. There have been at least three movie and one radio adaptations of the novel in the past seven to eight decades. The most recent was a 100 minute television adaptation that aired in 2000 on the ITV series, “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”.

In “LORD EDGEWARE DIES”, Belgian-born detective Hercule Poirot is approached by celebrated stage actress, Jane Wilkinson aka Baroness Edgeware, to approach her rather unpleasant husband on the possibility of a divorce. She has plans to marry her current beau, the Duke of Merton. Although reluctant to carry out such a task, a reluctant Poirot is charmed by the actress into committing this deed. However, both he and his friend, Captain Arthur Hastings, are surprised to learn that Lord Edgeware had already informed his estranged wife of his willingness to grant her a divorce in a letter. Poirot surprises the actress with this information. But she claims that she has never received such a letter.

Jane’s relief at this bit of news is spoiled when Lord Edgeware is found murdered inside his study. When both his secretary and butler claim that the actress had appeared at her husband’s house, several minutes before his death, she becomes the prime suspect. However, a newspaper article catches the eyes of Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard. Through the article, they discover that Jane had been a guest at a dinner party on the night of her husband’s murder. Although Jane was one of the first guests to rise from the table, she was only gone for a few minutes. And when the American-born impersonator/comedienne Carlotta Adams was found dead from an overdose, Poirot begins to realize that someone had hired her to appear at the Edgeware home as Jane Wilkinson.

“LORD EDGEWARE DIES” surprisingly turned out to be that rare occasion in which a screen adaptation adheres faithfully to the novel source. The only major difference between the 1933 novel and the 2000 movie was the addition of Poirot’s secretary, Miss Lemon, to the story. One would think that such faithfulness made “LORD EDGEWARE DIES” one of the best Christie adaptations to be filmed. Perhaps other Christie fans might believe so, but not me. I am not saying that “LORD EDGEWARE DIES” is a terrible movie. Trust, it is not. If I have to be brutally honest, I found nothing exceptional about it.

There were a few aspects about Anthony Horowitz’s screenplay that I found troubling. The screenwriter nearly gave away the murderer’s identity just before the death of the third victim, a Scottish writer named Donald Ross, with a penchant for Greek mythology. And I could have done without the subplot involving Hasting’s return to England. It could have worked in a POIROT aired five years earlier or so. But “LORD EDGEWARE DIES” proved to be one of the last three or four movies to feature the Arthur Hastings character. Why create a big hullabaloo over Hasting’s return to England, when his character was destined to be gone within a year? Worse, Hastings seemed more than ever like a buffoon. Poirot’s interactions with Chief Inspector Japp seemed a lot stronger.

Aside from a few performances, I found nothing exceptional about the cast featured in “LORD EDGEWARE DIES”. David Suchet seemed competent as usual as Hercule Poirot. So did Philip Jackson as Chief Inspector Japp and Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon. Only Hugh Fraser suffered, thanks to Horowitz’s script. And despite being a competent actor, I am afraid that Fraser was unable to overcome the script’s less-than-pleasing portrayal of Hastings. Helen Grace gave one of the few outstanding performances as prime suspect Jane Wilkinson. Her portrayal was complex, yet at the same time, made it easy for me to see why Poirot was charmed by her personality. Fiona Allen gave an amusing performance as impersonator Carlotta Adams. And Iain Fraser was solid as the intelligent and observant writer, Donald Ross. Aside from the Fraser, the only other performance that failed to impress me came from John Castle. I found this disappointing, because Castle is usually a subtle, yet outstanding performer. I suspect that like Fraser, Castle was hampered by a badly written character. Even worse, his Lord Edgeware came off as a one-dimensional bully.

Rob Harris did an outstanding job as the movie’s production designer. I thought he and his team did a great job in re-creating London of the 1930s. I was also impressed by Chris O’Dell’s cinematography and Frank Webb’s editing. I was especially impressed by Webb’s editing and Brian Farnham’s direction in the sequence featuring Scotland Yard’s chase of Lord Edgeware’s butler at Croydon Airport. I found Charlotte Holdich’s costumes very sharp and sophisticated – especially for the Lady Edgeware character. On the other, whoever styled Helen Grace’s hair for role, did a slightly sloppy job in re-creating a 30s hairdo for her character.

In the end, I found “LORD EDGEWARE DIES” as a solid, entertaining, yet undistinguished addition to the list of adaptations for “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”. I enjoyed it, despite its flaws. But I would never consider it to be one of the best Christie adaptations around. It is a good movie, as far as I am concerned . . . but not a great one.