Partners in Crime

A-Partners in Crime (New)Two Christie Novels Fare Less Than Well in New TV Series

Compared with the Poirot and Marple mysteries, Agatha Christie’s “Tommy and Tuppence” novels are decidedly third place. The idea of a young couple wanting to solve crimes in the style of other fictional detectives was a cute one and  the plots and the approach were lighthearted.

In 1982-1983, British television came out with “Partners in Crime,” in which the Beresfords, Tommy (James Warwick) and Tuppence (Francesca Annis), sleuthed around through 11 tales, one of which was “The Secret Adversary.” Warwick was rather dull, Annis a bit over the top; but they were enjoyable on a somewhat shallow level.

For some reason, it was decided to redo “The Secret Adversary” and give “N or M?” a try, with yet a new team: Jessica Raine (Tuppence) and David Williams (Tommy). Each story is given 3 parts of 55 minutes each—and I read that the British viewers’ reaction was less than favorable.

For one thing, Christie’s spy novels are never quite as good as her murder mysteries. (See “The Big Four,” the worst of the Poirot novels.) Secondly, Tommy and Tuppence are forever making the wrong moves, and in the real world they would have wound up dead in the first few hours.

Alas, Warwick’s Tommy was dull, but he looks like Olivier when compared with Williams. As some actor once said about another of the profession, he “runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.” Nor is he handsome enough and certainly not young-looking enough for the part. Raine is a better actor but again not young-looking enough. So you can see that a much better set of leads might have helped the clunky plots. And each story having165 minutes running time merely emphasizes the awkwardness of the plots.

With an eye to a second series (which has been blurred by the poor reception of this first series), the writers established two permanent secondary characters. James Fleet plays Carter of the Secret Service, while Matthew Steer is the scientist Albert. Neither is encouraged by the director to bring any life into the proceedings.

At least the older series had the advantage of the colorful costumes of the 1920s. Here, the far drabber costumes of the 1950s are of no help. So while I usually carp about television’s taking a good series and remaking it into a bad one, here we have a not all that good a series being made into a poor one. If there is a lesson to be learned, why hasn’t it?

There is some interesting bonus material and the subtitles are much appreciated.

The Best “Miss Marple” Series Now is Complete in HD

The Best “Miss Marple” Series Now isA-Miss Marple 2 Complete in HD 

At last, BBC has completed on DVDs the restoration of the original “Miss Marple” series. Yes, these are the ones in which Joan Hickson gives the definitive characterization of the seemingly dipsy but razor-sharp village busybody, Jane Marple. With the arrival of Vol. 3, viewers can now enjoy these mysteries that have been not only remastered in high definition but supplied with subtitles. The latter are, however, often incomplete or paraphrases of what is actually spoken. Why?

Hickson is by far the best of the Marples. Margaret Rutherford’s portrayal had Agatha Christie fuming. Helen Hayes in two television versions was characterless, while Geraldine McEwan’s Marple was pure Jessica Fletcher and best forgotten—especially since the original plots were considerably altered. Julia McKenzie was at least sincere but lacked that goofy façade that Hickson so beautifully managed.

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The dust over of the first British edition in 1930

Volume 1 of this enhanced BBC series contains “The Murder at the Vicarage,” “The Moving Finger,” “The Body in the Library,” and “A Murder is Announced.” In Volume 2 are “They Do It with Mirrors,” “A Pocketful of Rye,” “4:50 from Paddington,” and “The Mirror Cracked from Side to Side.” And now the last volume rounds it all off with “A Caribbean Mystery,” “At Bertram’s Hotel,” “Nemesis,” and “Sleeping Murder.”

Among the many familiar stars spotted along the way are Jean Simmons, Claire Bloom, Timothy West, Tom Wilkinson, Joss Ackland, Paul Eddington, and a very young Samantha Bond.

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Agatha Christie, the mind behind the mind of Marple

One can see where Christie had tongue firmly in cheek. You can spot the twinkle in her eye when she names a story after a nursery rhyme, so in “A Pocket Full of Rye,” having two serious murders, is amusing to follow the hints in the song’s lyrics. The author confessed that she also had a lot of fun with “The Body in the Library,” the very title of which, like “The Murder at the Vicarage,” sounds deliberately old fashioned.

My favorite episode? “A Murder is Announced” for its complexity and “A Murder at the Vicarage” for the performances of Paul Eddington and Cheryl Campbell. My favorite character? Top honors to David Horovitch as Chief Inspector Slack, whose dislike of Miss Marple is matched only by his admiration for her astuteness.

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Lucy Worsely

Add to this a delightful set of bonus features at the end of each of the three BBC sets, “A Very British Murder.” Here narrator Lucy Worsely, with a charming weak “r,” discusses with dozens of old prints and photographs, mysteries—real and fictional—and personalities behind them that captured the British imagination from the mid-1880s and through the next 100 years.

Grab all 3 sets right quick. And happy viewing.

Restored “Poirot” Series is Completed at Last

IMG_20150607_0001Restored “Poirot” Series is Completed at Last

   At last! The Acorn Media series of Hercule Poirot DVDs starring David Suchet, restored with subtitles in the order of their original UK telecasts, is now complete with the issuing of “Poirot, Series 13.” For reasons that can only be guessed at, the Public Television stations showed four of the five, leaving those who wished to see the final episode to wait for the DVD.

“Elephants Can Remember” and “Dead Man’s Folly” are quite good, sticking mostly to the original novels. The latter can be compared with the film version of 1986 starring Peter Ustinov as the Belgian sleuth. “The Labours of Hercules” drops the framing device of the original and manages to cram three or four of the “labours” (British spelling) into a new framing device that does not quite work. But for those unfamiliar with the original (which was really a set of independent short stories), no harm is done.

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Miss Lemon and C.I. Japp rejoin Poirot in a silly mystery

“The Big Four” is Agatha Christie’s worst Poirot novel and is noted only for the appearance of Hercule’s twin brother Achille! The televersion drops this altogether, but the story is quite silly even without it. But how good it is to see Hastings (Hugh Fraser), Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran), and Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) again.

“Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case” is very true to the book. As David Suchet explains, they didn’t have the heart to film this last; so it was filmed before “Dead Man’s Folly” to leave the cast and crew in a better frame of mind. There is a 19-minute interview with Suchet as a bonus.

So there we are. All of the Poirot novels and short stories are out and available for repeated viewings by fans and fans-to-be. Thank you, Acorn.