“GREENSHAW’S FOLLY” (2013) Review

“GREENSHAW’S FOLLY” (2013) Review

It must have been a chore for both the BBC and later, the ITV, to maintain a television series featuring novels about Miss Jane Marple, one of Agatha Christie’s most famous literary characters. I say “chore” because I was surprised to discover that the mystery novelist had only written a limited number of novels and short stories featuring the character.

As it turned out, Christie wrote twelve Jane Marple novels. Twelve. All of them have been adapted for television more than once between 1984 and 2013. Christie also wrote a lot more short stories featuring the sleuth, but only a handful have ever been adapted . . . and only in recent years. One of those adaptations is the 2013 television movie from “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MARPLE” is “GREENSHAW’S FOLLY”.

“GREENSHAW’S FOLLY” is a loose adaptation of two Christie short stories – 1960’s “Greenshaw’s Folly” and 1932’s “The Thumb Mark of St. Peter”. Instead of revealing the plots of both stories, I will recap the plot for the 2013 television movie. “GREENSHAW’S FOLLY” begins with a woman named Louisa Oxley spiriting her young son Archie from an abusive husband. The pair arrives at Miss Jane Marple’s home in St. Mary’s Mead. To help them further, Miss Marple arranges for Louisa and Archie to stay at an estate called Greenshaw’s Folly, where the owner, an eccentric botanist named Katherine Greenshaw, hires Louisa to be her secretary. Louisa and Archie becomes part of a household that includes Mrs. Cresswell, the housekeeper; Nathaniel Fletcher, Miss Greenshaw’s actor/nephew; a house guest named Horace Bindler, who is a journalist claiming to be an architect, looking into the past of Miss Greenshaw’s father; the owner’s butler, whose name is Cracken; and a groundskeeper named Alfred Pollock. Nearby is a local priest named Father Brophy, who hopes to solicit money from Miss Greenshaw for the orphanage he manages. Also involved in the story is Cicely Beauclerk, one of Miss Marple’s elderly friends from St. Mary’s Mead, who had experienced a past trauma at the hands of Miss Greenshaw’s father years before.

Louisa and young Archie’s refuge is threatened when Cracken falls from a ladder and fatally cracks his head. His death is ruled by the police as accidental. However, Miss Marple, who has also been staying at Greenshaw’s Folly, begins to harbor suspicions when Mr. Binder mysteriously disappear. But when the estate’s owner, Miss Greenshaw, is brutally murdered, Miss Marple realizes that she has a full blown mystery on her hands.

What is there to say about “GREENSHAW’S FOLLY”? Although the television movie is based upon two Miss Marple short stories, the majority of the narrative seemed to be based upon the 1960 story – “Greenshaw’s Folly”. The other story, “The Thumb Mark of St. Peter”, had merely provided a foil for Louisa Oxley in the form of her abusive husband, and a “weapon” to be used in Miss Greenshaw’s murder. Although the narrative had started on a slow note, I must admit that it proved to be a very interesting tale about the Greenshaw family history and how many of the characters – aside from Louisa and Archie Oxley – had such a strong connection to it. Let me rephrase this. I thought the connection between the majority of the characters and the Greenshaw family worked. These connections include Nathaniel Fletcher’s blood connection to Miss Greenshaw; Mrs. Cresswell, Cracken and Alfred serving as Miss Greenshaw’s servants; Alfred’s past as a convict threatened to end his employment; Mr. Binder’s unexpected investigation into Miss Greenshaw’s past; and Father Brophy’s attempts to solicit money from Miss Greenshaw for his orphanage. What is more interesting is that Mr. Binder’s interest in the Greenshaw family past may have been threatening to the killer as well.

On the other hand, I had a problem with with subplot involving the past trauma that Miss Beauclerk had endured at the hands of the late Mr. Greenshaw. When you look at it, she had the strongest motive to kill Miss Greenshaw. It would be easy for her to scapegoat Miss Greenshaw for what the latter’s father had subjected her to as a child. But as the oldest suspect, it would have been nigh impossible for Beauclerk to carry out the murders. I realize that she could have recruited help from any of the other suspects. But . . . Miss Beauclerk’s age seemed like a minor problem in compare to a bigger one. There seemed to be something about her subplot that failed to resonate with me. In the Miss Beauclerk character, screenwriter Tim Whitnall had the strongest suspect for this story. And yet, I got the feeling that he was not particularly interested in her character or arc. Instead, it seemed as if the narrative ended up under utilizing the character . . . other than have her inadvertently direct Louisa Oxley’s abusive husband to his abused wife and son at Greenshaw’s Folly.

The production values for “GREENSHAW’S FOLLY” struck me as pretty solid. The majority of the story is set at a small English estate in the early-to-mid 1950s. This meant that production designer Jeff Tessler did not have to make any extra effort to re-create the television movie’s setting. But I will give credit to Tessler for doing his job in a competent manner and not providing any sloppy work. I can say the same about the production’s art department and costume/wardrobe department supervised by Jenna McGranaghan. The only wealthy character in the cast was Miss Greenshaw and being an eccentric botanist with no fashion sense, it was only natural that McGranaghan and her staff did not have to go the extra mile for the television movie’s costumes.

But I was impressed by the production’s cast. I thought Julia McKenzie did a tremendous job in conveying Jane Marple’s struggles to maintain a refuge for Julia and Archie Oxley, solve the murders in the story and evade the police’s attempts to put an end to her investigation. And she did all of this while maintaining Miss Marple’s quiet and reflective personality. Another performance that impressed me came from Fiona Shaw, who was first-rate as the warm, yet obviously eccentric Katherine Greenshaw. Kimberly Nixon gave a nuanced performance as Louisa Oxley, the abused wife whose attempts to befriend others in her new surrounding is muted by her fear of being discovered by her husband. I also have to give kudos to Martin Compston, who skillfully portrayed Alfred Pollock, the reserved groundskeeper, whose past as a convict threatens his current job and his future. “GREENSHAW’S FOLLY” also featured excellent supporting performances from the likes of Julia Sawalha, Sam Reid, Judy Parfitt, Joanna David, Bobby Smallbridge, Rufus Jones, Oscar Pearce, Vic Reeves, John Gordon Sinclair as the no-nonsense Inspector Welch and Robert Glenister as the very ambiguous Father Brophy.

I have to confess . . . I could never regard “GREENSHAW’S FOLLY” as one of those memorable Agatha Christie adaptations. Not by a long shot. Aside from the Cicely Beauclerk subplot, I could not find anything wrong it. But I cannot deny that while watching it, I actually managed to enjoy it very much. And this is due to a still first-rate screenplay by Tim Whitnall, solid direction from Sarah Harding and an excellent cast led by Julia McKenzie.

“ADAM BEDE” (1991) Review

“ADAM BEDE” (1991) Review

Recently, I had come across an old BBC production that I have not seen in years. The production was a television movie based upon author George Eliot’s first novel, “Adam Bede”.

This adaptation of Eliot’s 1859 novel told the story of four young people from the rural English community of Hayslope around the end of the 18th century. This “love rectangle” revolved around a local carpenter named Adam Bede; a beautiful, yet self-absorbed milkmaid named Hetty Sorrel; the local squire’s charming grandson and heir, Captain Arthur Donnithorne; and Hetty’s cousin Dinah Morris, a beautiful Methodist lay preacher who is also attracted to Adam. How did this “rectangle” come about? Although highly regarded by the Hayslope community as an intelligent and talented carpenter, Adam has a weakness . . . namely his passionate and unrequited love for the beautiful Hetty. Unfortunately for Adam, Hetty was deeply in love, lust or simply dazzled by the handsome and charming Arthur. Did Arthur love Hetty? I honestly do not know.

As I had stated earlier, “Adam Bede” was George Eliot’s first novel. Eliot’s earlier skill as a writer is very apparent in this television adaptation. Do not get me wrong. I rather enjoyed “ADAM BEDE” very much. But it did not strike me as . . . fascinating or complex as other George Eliot adaptations I have seen. If one must be honest, the whole “servant girl get seduced by rich young man” scenario is not particularly new. I suspect that it was not new when Eliot wrote this novel back in the 1850s. I believe that Eliot had used this trope again when she wrote “Silas Marner”, which was published two years after this first novel. Both stories featured “fallen women” and both portrayed the latter in a slightly unsympathetic light. Mind you, Eliot did a good job in conveying Hetty’s struggles between the discovery of her pregnancy and the verdict during her trial. But I could not help but suspect a slight taint of Victorian morality in Eliot’s portrayal of Hetty. I believe screenwriter Maggie Wadey tried her best to overcome that rigid morality, but thanks to the narrative, I do not think she had fully succeeded. Especially when one considers how “ADAM BEDE” ended.

If I have a real problem with “ADAM BEDE”, it is the ending. If the production had been a two-part movie, perhaps . . . You know what? I suspect that stretching out the running time would not have solved what I believe was the narrative’s main problem. I believe changing the ending would have helped. One problem proved to be Hetty’s fate. After being found guilty of infanticide, Hetty was sentenced to execution. Her sentence was commuted to penal transportation to Australia at the last moment, thanks to Arthur Donnithorne. Ye-ee-ea-ah . . . I found this scenario a bit improbable. It seemed as if Eliot had tacked on this last minute fate for Hetty to avoid a truly tragic ending. Another problem I had with the ending proved to be the main protagonist’s relationship with the Dinah Morris character. The movie featured a brief scene in which Adam Bede regarded Dinah as an attractive woman. Despite this, he spent most of the production harboring a passionate, almost possessive love for Hetty Sorrel. Once Hetty was sent away for transportation, Adam became romantically interested in Dinah. Rather fast. Too fast, if you want my opinion. I realize that he was urged to consider Dinah as a romantic partner by others, but . . . yeah, I thought the final romance between the pair happened too fast.

However, “ADAM BEDE” had its virtues. One, the production did an excellent job in conveying the mores and traditions of a rural town in Britain at the end of the eighteenth century. I found it amazing how the town’s middle and lower classes were judged a bit more harshly than the upper-class residents. I noticed that although Adam is not regarded as morally questionable, many others tend to judge him based upon his moral compass . . . a lot. I also noticed that many seemed to regard Arthur’s morals with a wary eye, they seem willing to give him a pass. I doubt they would have been that generous with Adam. But that is always the case, is it not . . . at least for those who are not part of an elite social group.

If middle and lower-class men had it bad, women of all classes had it worse. Dinah Morris is portrayed as a decent and pious woman. Yet, there seemed to be a slight air of disapproval directed toward Dinah, due to her role as a Methodist lay preacher. But no one is judged more harshly than Hetty Sorrel. Even by Eliot. Audiences are expected to harshly judge Hetty for her desire for a life “above her station”. But I will give credit to both Eliot and screenwriter Maggie Wadey for injecting a great deal more of ambiguity and sympathy toward Hetty . . . especially after she became pregnant.

I also have to commend the movie’s performances. There was not a bad one in the bunch. Susannah Harker made a very serene Dinah Morris, even I did not find the character particularly interesting. James Wilby had a more interesting character to portray, namely the shallow and sensual Arthur Donnithorne. However, I do not think Wadey’s screenplay really gave the actor much of a chance to explore Arthur’s ambiguity, aside from one or two scenes. “ADAM BEDE” also featured excellent performances from Jean Marsh, Paul Brooke, Robert Stephens, Freddie Jones, Michael Percival and Alan Cox.

Julia McKenzie struck me as particularly memorable as Mrs. Poyser, the aunt of both Dinah and Hetty. Although Eliot had written her as a comic figure, the actress managed to inject a good deal of pathos and emotion into the character, thanks to the screenplay. Patsy Kensit was superb as the flighty, yet hard-luck Hetty Sorrel, who proved to be the most interesting character in this tale. Kensit managed to skillfully rise the character’s one-dimensional portrayal in the movie’s first half and embrace the ambiguous quagmire that poor Hetty ended up in the second half. Superficially, Adam Bede did not seem as ambiguous as Hetty. Superficially. But underneath the stalwart and industrious carpenter existed a proud and emotional man, whose world centered around a woman who did not love him. And man did the producers select the right man to portray young Adam – namely Iain Glen. I have been aware of the actor for several decades. And I have noticed that whether he was playing a hero, a villain, anti-hero – you name it – Glen has always managed to convey the emotional depths behind his characters on a level that very few actors have managed to achieve . . . whether through his voice or expressions. Or perhaps both. And he utilized the same level of skill in his portrayal of the emotional and lovelorn Adam. No wonder I have been a fan of his for years.

Overall, I would never regard “ADAM BEDE” as one of my favorite George Eliot adaptations. The problem is that the movie reflected too much of the novel’s narrative flaws. But not all was lost with Maggie Wadey’s adaptation. I still managed to enjoy the movie, thanks to its intriguing plot and first-rate cast led by Iain Glen. In the end, I believe it had more virtues and flaws.

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D FROM SIDE TO SIDE” (2010) Review

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D FROM SIDE TO SIDE” (2010) Review

The 2010 television movie, “THE MIRROR CRACK’D FROM SIDE TO SIDE”, marked the third screen adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1962 novel of the same title. This particular adaptation from the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MARPLE”series starred Julia McKenzie as the leading character, Miss Jane Marple. 

Considering this is the third adaptation of Christie’s novel, I almost feel inclined to compare it to the 1980 and 1992 adaptations. Perhaps I might every now and then. Otherwise, I will try to focus on the 2010 movie itself. The story began with the arrival of Hollywood starlet Marina Gregg and her husband, director Jason Rudd to Jane Marple’s home village, St. Mary’s Mead, England. The pair is in England to film Marina’s latest film about the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. Marina and Jason have purchased Gossington Hall, the former home of Jane Marple’s recently widowed friend, Mrs. Dolly Bantry. The cinematic pair eventually Marina host a fête and reception for St. Mary Mead’s citizens. But due to a minor accident that left her foot sprained, Miss Marple was unable to attend. Among those guests that appeared at Gossington Hall for the fête were:

*Marina’s former husband and gossip columnist Vincent Hogg, who has a personal grudge against her
*Lola Brewster, Vincent’s current wife and Marina’s younger screen rival and Jason’s former lover
*Jason’s personal secretary, Ella Blunt, who happens to be infatuated with him
*Mrs. Heather Babcock, an annoying and self-involved St. Mary’s Mead citizen, who had first met Marina during World War II
*Local photographer Margot Pence, who happens to share a past connection to Marina

While Heather Babcock bores Marina with an account of their previous meeting during the reception at Gossington Hall, she drinks a cocktail meant for Marina and dies. Miss Marple and Detective-Inspector Hewitt discover that the cocktail had been poisoned. Both race to learn the killer’s identity before he or she can reach the true target – Marina Gregg.

I have always been surprised that “The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side” is not that highly regarded by literary critics. Although some regarded as among the best of her later novels, it remains not as highly regarded as many of her earlier works. This is a pity, because I have always found the 1962 novel to be among Christie’s more interesting works.

There were aspects of “THE MIRROR CRACK’D FROM SIDE TO SIDE” that . . . well, irked me. The production cast actor Nigel Harman as Marina Gregg’s director/husband Jason Rudd. Harman is over twenty years older than Lindsay Duncan, who portrayed Marina. May-December romances on screen are not as uncommon as one would think – regardless of whether the man or woman is older. If the two performers in question have the screen dynamics to overcome this age discrepancy, then fine. The problem is that Harman lacked the screen presence to keep up with the likes of Duncan. He was no Rock Hudson or Barry Newman. Come to think of it, I had the same problem with the Vincent Hogg-Lola Brewster pairing. Actress Hannah Waddingham is over thirty years older than Martin Jarvis. And yet, she seemed to lack the screen presence to keep up with the likes of Jarvis. At least in this television production.

I had another problem with the Vincent Hogg character . . . namely his profession as a gossip columnist. Hogg is supposed to be one of Marina Gregg’s former husbands. If the Vincent Hogg character had met and married Marina before he became a gossip columnist, I could understand this. But a Hollywood star marrying a columnist? I cannot see it. I also had a problem with the Heather Babcock character. I do not mean to be an ageist, but I feel that the actress who portrayed her, Caroline Quentin, was too old at the age of 49-50 to portray Mrs. Babcock. Then again, I could be using age to hide from the fact that I did not find Ms. Quentin’s performance convincing.

Did “THE MIRROR CRACK’D FROM SIDE TO SIDE” live up to this interesting aspect of the novel. I honestly do not know. Perhaps. Perhaps not. Do not get me wrong. With the exceptions of a few changes regarding the story’s characters, the 2010 television adaptation is more than less faithful to Christie’s novel. Thanks to Lindsay Duncan’s superb performance and Tom Shankland’s direction, it did a great job in conveying Marina Gregg’s fragile, yet artistic and ruthless personality and how she managed to accumulate so many enemies. There were certain scenes in the movie that I enjoyed. They include Miss Marple and Mrs. Bantry’s initial meeting with Marina Gregg and Jason Rudd at Gossington Hall for tea; any scene with Victoria Smurfit, who gave a very sharp, yet entertaining performance as Jason’s secretary, Elsa Blunt; the rather hilarious social encounter between the citizens of St. Mary’s Mead and the Hollywood newcomers at fête, and the scene featuring Marina’s breakdown during her filming of a Cleopatra movie.

I certainly had no problems with the movie’s production values. Sheena Napier, who worked on her fifth (out of eleven) “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MARPLE” movie, did an excellent job in re-creating the fashions of mid-20th century Britain. I can also say the same about Jeff Tessler, who skillfully took television viewers back to the same time period. And I felt somewhat satisfied with Cinders Forshaw’s photography. I say . . . somewhat. Although I found his photography beautiful and colorful, I felt annoyed by the soft focus style that hinted the production’s time period. So unnecessary.

I have already commented on those performances featured in “THE MIRROR CRACK’D FROM SIDE TO SIDE” – like Lindsay Duncan, Victoria Smurfit and Caroline Quentin. I might as well comment on the other performances that I had missed. Julia McKenzie gave a marvelous performance, as always, as the brilliant and observant amateur sleuth, Miss Jane Marple. I noticed, however, that her performance seemed a bit more subtle than usual. Was this due to working alongside the more ebullient Joanna Lumley? I do not know. But I did noticed that the latter’s portrayal of Dolly Bantry seemed even more extroverted than she did in 2004’s “THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY”. I enjoyed Ms. Lumley’s performance, but there were times when I found it a bit grating. I may not have been impressed by Nigel Harman’s chemistry with Lindsay Duncan, but I thought he gave a solid performance as Jason Rudd. On the other hand, I enjoyed Hugh Bonneville’s skillful portrayal of the cool and slightly sharp-tongued Detective-Inspector Hewitt. He also had a surprisingly good screen chemistry with Julia McKenzie. Martin Jarvis nearly dominated every scene he was in as Marina’s resentful, yet malicious ex-husband Vincent Hogg. I wish I could say the same for Hannah Waddingham, but I cannot. Even in those scenes in which she did not share with Jarvis, she made a very disappointing Lola Brewster. I certainly was not disappointed with Charlotte Riley’s excellent, yet cool portrayal of the enigmatic photographer, Margot Bence. I can also say the same about Brennan Brown, who gave a very entertaining performance as Marina’s highly nervous secretary, Hailey Preston. The television also featured solid performances from Olivia Darnley, Samuel Barnett and Neil Stuke and Michele Doctrice.

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D FROM SIDE TO SIDE” is not the best Jane Marple movie I have ever seen . . . or even one of the best. Nor can I say that it is the best adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1962 novel. But despite its flaws, I must admit that I still managed to enjoy it, thanks to Tom Shankland’s direction, Kevin Elyot’s screenplay and a first-rate cast led by Julia McKenzie.

Top Ten Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1950s

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Below is a list of my favorite television productions (so far) that are set in the 1950s:

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1950s

1 - A Nero Wolfe Mystery

1. “A Nero Wolfe Mystery” (2000-2002) – Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin starred in this adaptation of novels and short stories about the New York City based private detective from Montenegro, Nero Wolfe.

 

2 - The Company

2. “The Company” (2007) – Robert Littell produced this three-part miniseries adaptation of his 2002 novel about the Cold War during the mid and late 20th century. Half of the series is set during the 1950s. Chris O’Donnell, Rory Cochrane, Alessandro Nivola, Alfred Molina and Michael Keaton starred.

 

3 - Agatha Christie Miss Marple

3. “Miss Marple” (1984-1992) – Joan Hickson starred in this adaptation of Agatha Christie murder mysteries featuring the elderly sleuth, Miss Jane Marple. The series was produced by George Gallaccio.

 

4 - MASH

4. “M*A*S*H” (1972-1983) – Larry Gelbert developed this Award winning adaptation of the 1970 movie and Richard Hooker’s 1968 novel, “M*A*S*H: A Novel About Three Army Doctors” about a U.S. Army field hospital during the Korean War. Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers and Mike Farrell starred.

 

5 - Agatha Christie Marple

5. “Agatha Christie’s Marple” (2004-2013) – Both Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie portrayed Miss Jane Marple in this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novels about the elderly sleuth.

 

6 - The Hour

6. “The Hour” (2011-2012) – Romola Garai, Dominic West and Ben Whishaw starred in this series about a BBC news show set in the mid-to-late 1950s. The series was created by Abi Morgan.

 

7 - Magic City

7. “Magic City” (2012-2013) – Mitch Glazer created this STARZ series about a Miami hotel owner during the late 1950s. The series starred Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Olga Kurylenko.

 

9 - Ill Fly Away

8. “I’ll Fly Away” (1991-1993) – Regina Taylor and Sam Waterston starred in this series about a Southern black housekeeper and her complicated relationship with her employer, a white attorney in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The series was created by Joshua Brand and John Falsey.

 

10 - Grantchester

9. “Grantchester” (2014-Present) – James Norton and Robson Greene starred in this adaptation of “The Grantchester Mysteries”, James Runcie’s series of mystery stories that feature an unlikely partnership between a Church of England vicar and a police detective during the 1950s.

 

8 - Ordeal By Innocence

10. “Ordeal of Innocence” (2018) – Sarah Phelps wrote and produced this third adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1958 novel. The three-part miniseries starred Bill Nighy, Anna Chancellor and Anthony Boyle.

 

 

“A POCKET FULL OF RYE” (2009) Review

 

“A POCKET FULL OF RYE” (2009) Review

While the producers of “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” seemed to regard the 1930s as the “golden age” of Hercule Poirot mysteries, I get the feeling that the producers for both “MISS MARPLE” and the recent “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MARPLE” regard the 1950s in a similar manner for those stories featuring Miss Jane Marple. As a fervent reader of Christie’s novels, I must admit that I believe most of the best Jane Marple mysteries had been published during the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s. One of those mysteries was the 1953 novel, “A Pocket Full of Rye”.

The novel was first adapted into a television movie in the mid-1980s, which starred Joan Hickson. Another television adaptation aired on ITV some twenty-four-and-a-half years later, starring Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple. “A POCKET FULL OF RYE” centered around the mysterious death of a London businessman named Rex Fortescue. After drinking his morning tea at his office, the businessman dies suddenly, attracting the attention of the police in the form of Inspector Neele. Neele and his men discover rye grain in the dead man’s pocket and that he had died from taxine, an alkaloid poison obtained from the leaves or berries of the yew tree. Neele realizes that Fortescue may have been initially poisoned at home due to presence of yew trees at the latter’s country home and the time it took for the poison to work.

Fortescue’s second and much younger wife, Adele, becomes the main suspect, due to her affair with a golf instructor at a nearby resort named Vivian Dubois. However, Adele is murdered, while drinking tea laced with cyanide. On the same day, a third victim is found in the garden, all tangled in the clothesline and with a peg on her nose. She was a maid named Gladys, who used to work for Jane Marple. When Gladys and Adele’s murders are reported in the media, Miss Marple pays a visit to the Fortescue home to learn what happened to Gladys. Miss Marple informs Inspector Neele that she believes the three murders adhered to the nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence”, which may have something to do with one of Rex Fortescue’s old dealings – the Blackbird Mine in Kenya, over which he was suspected of having killed his partner, MacKenzie in order to swindle it from the latter’s family. However, an investigation of Fortescue’s financial holdings and family connections reveal the possibility of other motives, as the following list of suspects would attest:

*Percival Fortescue – Rex’s older son, who was worried over the financier’s erratic handling of the family business
*Jennifer Fortescue – Percival’s wife, who disliked her father-in-law
*Lance Fortescue – Rex’s younger son, a former embezzler who had arrived home from overseas on the day of Adele and Gladys’ murders
*Patricia Fortescue – Lance’s aristocratic wife, who had been unlucky with her past two husbands
*Elaine Fortescue – Rex’s only daughter, who resented his opposition to her romance with a schoolteacher
*Gerald Wright – Elaine’s fiancé, a schoolteacher who resented Rex’s hostile attitude toward him
*Mary Dove – the Fortescues’ efficient housekeeper, who harbored a few secrets in her past
*Vivian Dubois – Adele’s lover and professional golf instructor
*Mrs. MacKenzie – the slightly senile widow of Rex’s former partner, who urged her children to seek revenge against the financier

I honestly did not know how I would view “A POCKET FULL OF RYE”. To my surprise, I enjoyed it very much . . . aside from a few scenes that I felt were out of place. The movie turned out to be a well-paced mystery that featured some solid acting from the cast. Although not completely faithful to Christie’s novel, the television movie proved to be a little more faithful, thanks to screenwriter Kevin Elyot and director Charlie Palmer. The character of Miss Henderson, Rex’s religious sister-in-law from his first marriage, was deleted from this production. And I did not miss her. I am also very grateful that Elyot and Palmer stuck to the novel’s original ending and avoided a ridiculous chase sequence that seemed to mar the 1985 adaptation. Although there was nothing really dramatic about the story’s final scene, it projected an air of justice finally achieved that I found particularly satisfying, thanks to Julia McKenzie’s performance.

I was also impressed by the movie’s production values. One, production designer Jeff Tessler and his crew did a top-notch job of re-creating the movie’s mid-1950s setting. I should add . . . “as usual”. After all, Tessler worked as production designer for the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MARPLE” series since it debuted back in 2004. “A POCKET FULL OF RYE” proved to be the first of four episodes for the series, in which she served as costume designer. Her work in this film provided audiences with the color and top-notch skill in which she created costumes for that particular time period. Another veteran of the “A POCKET FULL OF RYE” was cinematographer Cinders Forshaw, whose sharp and colorful photography proved to be one of the hallmarks of the series. One thing I cannot deny about “A POCKET FULL OF RYE”, it is damn beautiful to look at.

Did I have any problems with the movie? Well . . . yes. A few. Actually, I have only one major problem with the production . . . namely the addition of sexual situations in at least two or three scenes in the film. I am not a prude. Trust me, I am not. But . . . I found the sexual scenes featured in “A POCKET FULL OF RYE” out of place. Yes, the Christie novels have featured the topic of sex in many variations – including adultery, incest and homosexuality. And I have seen on-screen sex in one other production – namely 1965’s “TEN LITTLE INDIANS” and 2004’s “DEATH ON THE NILE”. I have never seen “TEN LITTLE INDIANS”. But the sex featured in “DEATH ON THE NILE” seemed so minimalized. I can say otherwise about “A POCKET FULL OF RYE” and the performers involved were clothed. But the way Palmer shot the scenes seemed so in-your-face. I can tolerate the scene featuring Adele Fortescue and Vivian Dubois. Personally, I thought their sex scene pretty much fit the narrative and confirmed (in a rather ham fisted manner) that the pair was involved in an affair. But the sex scenes featuring Lance and Patricia Fortescue seemed just as ham fisted. Even worse, I could not see how they served the narrative. The scene (or scenes) seemed to come out of no where.

I can certainly state that I had no problems with the performances in this production. Well, I had a problem with one performance. Julia McKenzie was excellent as soft-spoken Jane Marple, who seemed very determined to learn the murderer’s identity, due to her past with one of the victims. I can also say the same about Matthew MacFadyen’s performance, which struck me as intelligent, yet deliciously sardonic as Inspector Neele. I also enjoyed Helen Baxendale’s subtle performance as the quiet, yet observant housekeeper, Mary Dove. On the other hand, Rupert Graves gave an exuberant and very entertaining portrayal of the Fortescue family’s black sheep, Lance. And he clicked very well with actress Lucy Cohu, who gave a charming performance as Lance’s wife, Patricia. Another interesting performance came from Liz White, who portrayed Rex Fortescue’s enigmatic daughter-in-law, Jennifer. Actually, I believe she gave one of the better performances in the movie. Another first-rate performance came from Anna Madeley, who portrayed Rex’s shallow and adulterous wife, Adele.

I really enjoyed Joseph Beattie’s portrayal of Adele’s sexy, yet desperate lover, Vivian Dubois. And Ben Miles gave a subtle, yet complex performance as Rex’s pragmatic older son, Percival. Kenneth Cranham, Laura Haddock and Prunella Scales gave memorable performances as Rex Fortescue, his secretary, Miss Grosvenor and Mrs. MacKenzie. It seemed a pity they were not on the screen long enough for me to truly enjoy their performances. “A POCKET FULL OF RYE” also featured solid performances from Hattie Morahan, Chris Larkin, Ken Campbell, Wendy Richards and Rose Heiney.

“A POCKET FULL OF RYE” proved to be an entertaining movie and a worthy adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1953 novel. Along with a fine cast led by Julia McKenzie, I thought director Charlie Palmer and screenwriter Kevin Elyot handled the adaptation very well, aside from the sex scenes that struck me as unnecessary. Despite that . . . setback, I still managed to enjoy the movie.

“THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS” (2010) Review

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“THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS” (2010) Review

Anyone who has read Agatha Christie’s 1925 novel, “The Secret of Chimneys”, will be disappointed by the 2010 television adaptation that stars Julia McKenzie as Miss Jane Marple. The television movie bears little resemblance to the novel. But that does not mean one should completely dismiss the movie. 

Although a long time fan of Christie’s novels, I have never read “The Secret of Chimneys”. Familiar with many of the author’s novels, I knew that the former was not one that featured Jane Marple. I did not care. I have come across other Miss Marple television movies in which the literary source did not feature her as the main character. However, I was surprised to learn that the 2010 movie bore very little resemblance to the original novel. Then again, I should not have been surprised. The forces behind the adaptations of Christie novels seemed to have a penchant for changing the plots and sometimes, even the murderer’s identities, whenever the whim struck them. And this whim certainly went into full gear for “THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS”.

Written by Paul Rutman, the plot for “THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS” begins in the 1930s, when an Austrian named Count Ludwig Von Stainach first visited Chimneys, the estate of the 9th Maquis of Caterham to attend a diplomatic ball. During that visit, a famous diamond belonging to Lord Caterham, is stolen; leading to the beginning of the decline of his family’s fortunes. Over twenty years later, Jane Marple, who is related to Lord Caterham’s family, visits Chimneys for a weekend house party when she learns that it is being considered to become a part of National Trust. Also attending the house party held by Lord Caterham is a local ambitious Member of Parliament (M.P.) named George Lomax, who wants to marry the aristocrat’s younger daughter, Lady Virginia Brent; older daughter Lady Eileen “Bundle” Brent, and National Trust advocate Miss Hilda Blenkinsopp. However, the main reason behind the house party proves to be the visiting Count Von Stainach, whom Lomax wants Lord Caterham to entertain in order to sign a deal for iron ore that post-World War II England desperately needs. Unbeknownst to everyone else, Lady Virginia has met and fallen in love with a young man named Anthony Cade, who has decided to crash the party in order to prevent her from marrying Lomax. However, the house party takes a dark turn when someone shoots and kills Count Von Stainach in one of the manor’s secret passages. And since Anthony was the first to stumble across the count’s body, he becomes “Suspect Number One”.

Knowing that “THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS” was not an original Jane Marple mystery, I had no idea on what to expect from this television series. Thankfully, the movie proved to be a surprisingly entertaining film filled with some humor, strong characterizations, plenty of romance – both charming and poignantly sad, and two very puzzling mysteries. Although one mystery surrounded the disappearance of the Brents’ diamond and the other featured the murder of Count Von Stainach, both proved to be connected to one another. I have read the synopsis of Christie’s 1925 novel. I must admit that it read more like a political thriller than a murder mystery. And a part of me felt somewhat relieved that screenwriter Rutman did not attempt a faithful adaptation of the novel. Some have claimed that Anthony Cade, who was featured as the main investigator in the novel, had been pushed into the background. I cannot agree with this assessment. Instead of the story’s main investigator, Cade was used as one half of the movie’s main love story and the main suspect of Von Stainach’s murder. Rutman did a very good job in utilizing the Cade character, while replacing him with Miss Marple as the main investigator.

There were technical aspects of “THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS” that I certainly enjoyed. Chris Seager’s photography struck me as beautiful. The movie’s photography displayed its filming locations – Hatfield House for the exterior shots and Knebworth House for the interior shots – with beautifully sharp colors. Miranda Cull contributed to Seager’s photography with her art designs for the movie’s interiors shot inside Knebworth House. And Sheena Napier did an excellent job of designing costumes for the movie’s characters. This is a movie filled with upper-class or aristocratic characters who have seen better times, financial. This means that Napier’s costumes had a mid-century elegance that seemed slightly worn, and did not come off as expensively glamourous.

Charlotte Salt, Jonas Armstrong, Ruth Jones and Matthew Horne. Anthony Higgins, whom I have not laid eyes upon in years, gave a charming performance as the elegant, yet extroverted Count Ludwig Von Stainach. But there were performances that really caught my eye. One of them came from Stephen Dillane, who gave a deliciously twisted performance as the slightly eccentric Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Fitch. Another performance that impressed me came from Adam Godley, whom I last saw on USA Network’s “SUITS”. I thought he perfectly portrayed the ambitious, yet controlling politician George Lomax. I rather liked Dervla Kirwan’s portrayal of Lady Eileen “Bundle” Brent, Lord Caterham’s older daughter. I felt Kirwan did an excellent job in portraying a woman who is struggling to deal with the possible erosion of a lifestyle she had known all of her life. Edward Fox is another I have not seen in years. But I felt that he, along with Dillane and Julia McKenzie gave the best performances in the movie. Fox’s Maquis of Caterham proved to be a skillful portrayal of an elderly, yet sad man whom seemed unable to stop grieving over a recently deceased wife.

Julia McKenzie has received some criticism for her portrayal of Jane Marple over the past three to four years. Apparently, many fans believe she seemed a bit too robust and young to be portraying the elderly sleuth. McKenzie, who is in her early 70s, is old enough. And quite frankly, I have enjoyed her portrayal just as much as I have Joan Hickson and Geraldine McEwan’s. McKenzie simply has a different, slightly less incoherent style in approaching the Miss Marple character. And not only did I enjoyed it in “THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS”, but also in her other Miss Marple movies.

I would not exactly view “THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS” as one of the best Miss Marple mysteries I have seen on television. But thanks to some solid direction from John Strickland, a surprisingly first-rate script written by Paul Rutman and some superb performances from a cast led by Julia McKenzie, I ended enjoying it very much.

“RETURN TO CRANFORD” (2009) Review

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“RETURN TO CRANFORD” (2009) Review

Due to the success of the 2007 miniseries, “CRANFORD”, the BBC aired a two-part sequel called “RETURN TO CRANFORD” (also known as the “CRANFORD CHRISTMAS SPECIAL”), some two years later. Like the original miniseries, it was adapted by Heidi Thomas and directed by Simon Curtis. 

“RETURN TO CRANFORD” was based on material from Elizabeth Gaskell’s two novellas and a short story – “Cranford”,“The Mooreland Cottage”, and “The Cage at Cranford”, were all published between 1849 and 1863. Also, themes from “My Lady Ludlow”“Mr. Harrison’s Confessions”, and “The Last Generation in England” were included to provide continuity with the first miniseries. The new miniseries took place between August and December 1844. The citizens of Cranford find themselves facing major changes in their society, as the railroad continues to be constructed near the edge of town. In fact, I was surprised to learn that a great deal of the story surrounding the new railroad was not in any of Gaskell’s novellas and short story. Only the storylines featuring about Mrs. Jameson’s (Barbara Flynn) cousin, Lady Glenmire (Celia Imrie) and Captain Brown (Jim Carter), Miss Pole’s (Imelda Staunton) Parisian “cage” for her pet cockatoo, and a magician named Signor Brunoni (Tim Curry) putting on a show came from Gaskell’s works.

I have to be frank. It did not bother me that most of the material featured in the miniseries did not come from any of Gaskell’s novellas and short stories. Thanks to some decent writing by Heidi Thomas, I believe that it all worked out fine. Unlike the 2007 miniseries, ”CRANFORD”, the screenplay for ”RETURN TO CRANFORD” seemed tighter and more focused. In fact, I noticed that the majority of major storylines featured in the miniseries have ties to the main story about the railroad’s construction. Because of this, ”RETURN TO CRANFORD” avoided the episodic style of storytelling that I believe marred ”CRANFORD”. My favorite storyline featured the budding romance between two newcomers to the town of Cranford – William Buxton (Tom Hiddleston), the Eton-educated son of a salt baron (Jonathan Pryce) and Peggy Bell (Jodie Whittaker), the daughter of a less-affluent widow (Lesley Sharp). Mr. Buxton wants William to marry his ward, the Brussels-educated Erminia (Michelle Dockery). But neither are interested in each other. And Peggy has to deal with her ambitious and greedy brother, Edward (Matthew McNulty), who dislikes William. What I liked best about ”RETURN TO CRANFORD” was that most of the storylines were tied to the new rail line being constructed near Cranford – even the William/Peggy romance.

As much as I hate to admit it, ”RETURN TO CRANFORD” had its problems. Another storyline featured the problematic pregnancy suffered by Miss Matty’s maid, Martha Hearne (Claudie Blakley). The problem arose, due to the lack of doctors in Cranford. And I found this confusing. The 2007 miniseries ended with two doctors residing in the town – the recently married Dr. Frank Harrison and longtime resident Dr. Morgan. A year later, both no longer resided in Cranford and Heidi Thomas’ script never revealed their whereabouts or fate. Thomas’ real misstep featured the death of Lady Ludlow (Francesca Annis) and the arrival of her ne’er-do-well son, Septimus (Rory Kinnear). The latter’s attempt to cheat young Harry Gregson (Alex Etel) out of the money he had inherited from the late Mr. Carter was a poorly conceived and written storyline. And despite the built-up, it failed to have any real impact upon the Harry Gregson character, due to its vague ending. As much as I found Signor Brunoni’s Christmas show rather charming, I thought it also reeked of a sentimentality that made my teeth hurt. Especially when Miss Matty’s reunion with Jem Hearne (Andrew Buchan) and his daughter entered the picture.

The production design for ”RETURN TO CRANFORD” was top notch as ever. And Alison Beard’s supervision of the costumes proved to be just as first-rate as Jenny Beavan’s work in the 2007 miniseries. The cast continued its first-rate work from the previous miniseries – especially Judi Dench as Miss Matty Jenkyns, Imelda Staunton as town gossip Octavia Poole, Francesca Annis as the aristocratic Lady Ludlow, Emma Fielding as her assistant Laurentia Galindo, Alex Etel as Harry Gregson, Julia McKenzie as Mrs. Forrester, Jim Carter as Mr. Brown, and Barbara Flynn as the pretentious Mrs. Jamieson. But the newcomers that impressed were Tom Huddleston as William Buxton, Jonathan Pryce as the tyrannical Mr. Buxton, Jodie Whittaker as Peggy Bell, Celia Imrie as the earthy Lady Glemire and Tim Curry as the warm-hearted magician Signor Brunoni.

For a while, I had been reluctant to watch ”RETURN TO CRANFORD”. Because it was a sequel to the 2007 miniseries, I figured that it could never be as good as ”CRANFORD”. I was wrong. I do not know if I would consider it better than the first miniseries. But the latter is certainly not better than the sequel. And ”RETURN TO CRANFORD” does have one major advantage . . . namely Heidi Thomas’ screenplay turned out to be more tightly written, due to her decision not to use much of Elizabeth Gaskell’s material. Personally, I find that rather ironic.