“EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” (1978) Review

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“EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” (1978) Review

I have noticed in the past decade or so, there have been an increasing number of television and movie productions that either featured the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (aka King Edward VIII and Mrs. Wallis Simpson), either as supporting characters or lead characters. Actually, only one production – the 2011 movie, “W.E.” – featured them as leads. And yet . . . with the exception of the 2011 movie, the majority of them tend to portray the couple as solely negative caricatures.

There have been other productions that portrayed Edward and Wallis as complex human beings. Well . . . somewhat complex. Television movies like 1988’s “THE WOMAN HE LOVED” and 2005’s “WALLIS & EDWARD” seemed to provide viewers with a highly romanticized view of the couple. Perhaps a bit too romanticized. And there was Madonna’s 2011 movie, “W.E.”, which seemed to offer a bit more complex view of the couple. But I thought the movie was somewhat marred by an alternate storyline involving a modern woman who was obsessed over the couple. I have seen a good number of productions about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Yet, for my money, the best I have ever seen was the 1978 miniseries, “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON”.

Adapted by Simon Raven from Frances Donaldson’s 1974 biography, “Edward VIII” and directed by him, the seven-part miniseries is basically an account of Edward VIII Abdication Crisis in 1936 and the pre-marital romance of the king and American socialite, Wallis Simpson, that led to it. The story began in 1928, when Edward Windsor was at the height of his popularity as Britain’s Prince of Wales. At the time, the prince was courting two women – both married – Mrs. Freda Dudley Ward and Thelma Furness, Viscountess Furness. Some two or three years later, Thelma introduced Edward to Ernest and Wallis Simpson, a pair of American expatriates living in London. The couple became a part of the Prince of Wales’ social set. But when Thelma left Britain in 1934 to deal with a family crisis regarding her sister Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, Edward and Wallis grew closer. By the time Thelma returned to Britain, Wallis had become the Prince of Wales’ official mistress. And both Thelma and Mrs. Dudley Ward found themselves unceremoniously dumped.

The miniseries eventually continued with the couple’s growing romance between 1934 and 1935, despite disapproving comments and observations from some of the Prince of Wales’ official staff and members of the Royal Family. But the death of King George V, Edward’s father, led to the prince’s ascension to Britain’s throne as King Edward VIII. By this time, Edward had fallen completely in love with Wallis. And despite the opinion of his family, certain members of his social set and the British government, he became determined to marry and maker her his queen in time for his coronation.

“EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” is not perfect. I do have a few complaints about the production. I realize that screenwriter Simon Raven wanted to ensure a complex and balanced portrayal of both Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. But there were times when I found his characterization a bit too subtle. This was most apparent in his portrayal of Edward’s admiration of the fascist governments of Germany and Italy. It almost seemed as if Raven was trying to tiptoe around the topic and I found it rather frustrating. On the other hand, Raven’s portrayal of Wallis at the beginning of her romance with Edward struck me as a bit heavy-handed. Quite frankly, she came off as some kind of femme fatale, who had resorted to deceit to maneuver Edward’s attention away from his other two mistresses – Freda Dudley Ward and Lady Furness, especially when the latter was in the United States visiting her sister, Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt. The production’s screenplay did indicate that Lady Furness may have conducted a flirtation with the Prince Aly Khan on the voyage back to Great Britain. Yet, Raven’s screenplay seemed to hint that Wallis’ machinations were the main reason Edward gave up both Mrs. Dudley Ward and Lady Furness.

Otherwise, I have no real complaints about “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON”. Ten or perhaps, twenty years ago, I would have complained about the last three or four episodes that focused on Edward’s determination to marry Wallis and the series of political meetings and conferences that involved him, her, her attorneys, the Royal Family, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, the king’s equerries, politicians, lawyers and journalists. Now, I found it all rather interesting. What I found interesting about these scenes were the various reactions to Wallis Simpson. Many of them – especially the Royal Family, the equerries and Baldwin – seemed to regard her as some kind of “Jezebel” who had cast some kind of spell over Edward. In its worst form, their attitude came off as slut shaming. The majority of them tend to blame her for Edward’s occasional lapses of duty and ultimate decision to abdicate. As far as I can recall, only two were willing to dump equal blame on Edward himself – Royal Secretary Alexander Hardinge and Elizabeth, Duchess of York, later queen consort and “Queen Mother”.

Another reason why I found this hardened anti-Wallis attitude so fascinating is that the Establishment seemed very determined that Edward never marry Wallis. I understand the Royal Marriages Act 1772 made it possible for the British government to reject the idea of Wallis becoming Edward’s queen consort, due to being twice divorced. But they would not even consider a morganatic marriage between the couple, in which Wallis would not have a claim on Edward’s succession rights, titles, precedence, or entailed property. I am not saying that both Edward and Wallis were wonderful people with no flaws. But . . . this hostile attitude toward the latter, along with this hardened determination that the couple never marry struck me as excessive. Were the British Establishment and the Royal Family that against Edward marrying Wallis, let alone romancing her? It just all seem so unreal, considering that the pair seemed to share the same political beliefs as the majority of the British upper class. And considering that Wallis was descended from two old and respectable Baltimore families, I can only conclude that the British Establishment’s true objection was her American nationality.

Although the political atmosphere featured in “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” seemed very fascinating to me, the social atmosphere, especially the one that surrounded Edward, nearly dazzled me. “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” is one of the few productions on both sides of the Atlantic that did a superb job in conveying the look and style of the 1930s for the rich and famous. This was especially apparent in the miniseries’ first three episodes that heavily featured Edward’s social life between 1928 and 1936. First, one has to compliment Allan Cameron and Martyn Hebert’s production designs for re-capturing the elegant styles of the British upper classes during the miniseries’ setting. Their work was ably enhanced by Ron Grainer’s score, which he effectively mixed with the popular music of that period and Waris Hussein’s direction, which conveyed a series of elegant montages on Edward’s social life – including his royal visit to East Africa with Thelma Furness, the weekend parties held at his personal house, Fort Belevedere; and the infamous 1936 cruise around the Adriatic Sea, aboard a yacht called the Nahlin. But if there was one aspect of “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” that truly impressed me were Jennie Tate and Diane Thurley’s costume designs. When any costume designer has two leading characters known as major clothes horses, naturally one has to pull out all the stops. Tate and Thurley certainly did with their sumptious costume designs – especially for actress Cynthia Harris – that struck me as both beautiful and elegant, as shown in the images below:

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that I was I was not surprised to learn that they had won BAFTAs for their work. Come to think of it, Cameron and Herbert won BAFTAs for their production designs, as well. Which they all fully deserved.

“EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” featured some solid and outstanding performances from the supporting cast. Cheri Lunghi and Kika Markham, who portrayed Edward’s two previous mistresses Thelma Furness and Freda Dudley Ward; along with Andrew Ray and Amanda Reiss as the Duke and Duchess of York; gave very charming performances. I could also say the same for Trevor Bowen, Patricia Hodge and Charles Keating as Duff Cooper, Lady Diana Cooper and Ernest Simpson. Veterans such as Peggy Ashcroft, Marius Goring, Maurice Denham and Jesse Matthews provided skillful gravitas to their roles as Queen Mary, King George V, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Aunt Bessie Merryman (Wallis’ aunt). And Nigel Hawthorne gave a warm and intelligent performance as Walter Monckton, who served as an adviser for both Edward and Wallis. And if you pay attention, you might spot Hugh Fraser portraying Anthony Eden in one particular scene.

But there were four performances that really impressed me. One came from John Shrapnel, who portrayed the King’s Private Secretary Alexander Hardinge. It seemed as if Shrapnel had the unenviable task of portraying a man who seemed bent upon raining on Edward’s parade . . . for the sake of the country and the Empire. There were times when I found his character annoying, yet at the same time, Shrapnel managed to capture my sympathy toward Hardinge’s situation. I was also impressed by David Waller, who portrayed Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. Waller also portrayed the politician in the 1988 television movie, “THE WOMAN HE LOVED”. But I felt more impressed by Waller’s performance in this production. I came away not only with Baldwin’s dislike of Wallis and frustration with Edward; but Waller also made me realize how much of a politician Baldwin truly was . . . especially when the latter tried to convince Wallis to disavow Edward.

The true stars of “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” proved to be the two leads – Edward Fox and Cynthia Harris. Of all of the actresses I have seen portray Wallis Warfield Simpson aka the Duchess of Windsor, I would say that Harris is the best I have ever seen. Not once did the actress succumb to hammy or heavy-handed acting . . . even when Simon Raven’s screenplay seem bent upon portraying the American-born socialite as some kind of gold digger in the first episode, “The Little Prince”. The late Art Buchwald and his wife Ann had recalled meeting the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at one of the latter’s dinner parties in post-World War II Paris. Although their recollection of Edward was not that impressive, they seemed very impressed by Wallis, whom they described as a cool, yet charming and savy woman. And that is exactly how Harris had portrayed the future Duchess. More importantly, Harris revealed – especially in the last three episodes – that Wallis was more than a cool and witty woman. She was also a complex human being. Edward Fox won a BAFTA for his portrayal of King Edward VIII, the future Duke of Windsor. As far as I am concerned, he more than deserved that award. I was really impressed by how Fox portrayed Edward as a complex individual, instead of some one-note hedonist, as many productions were inclined to do in the past decade. Fox recaptured all of the warmth, charm and charisma of the future Duke of Windsor. And the same time, the actor revealed his character’s frustration with his emotionally distant parents, his occasional bouts of immaturity, insecurity, self-absorption and single-minded love for Wallis. On one hand, Fox managed to skillfully express dismay at the economic conditions of the country’s working-class and in other scenes revel in his character’s luxurious lifestyle with abandonment. The actor’s performance struck me as a great balancing act.

If I must be honest, the real reason why I managed to enjoy “EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON” to this day is that it is almost a balanced portrayal of the British monarch and his lady love. Simon Raven, director Waris Hussein and a talented cast led by Edward Fox and Cynthia Harris managed to convey both the good and bad about the infamous royal pair without resorting to the cliches that have been apparent in other past and recent productions.

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“Adapting AGATHA CHRISTIE”

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“ADAPTING AGATHA CHRISTIE”

Ever since the release of the BBC recent adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel, “And Then There Were None”, television viewers and critics have been praising the production for being a faithful adaptation. In fact these critics and fans have been in such rapture over the production that some of them have failed to noticed that the three-part miniseries was not completely faithful. As long as the production followed Christie’s original ending, they were satisfied.

Mind you, I thought this new production, “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” was top notch, I have found myself growing somewhat annoyed over this attitude. Why do so many people insist that a movie/television production should be faithful to the novel it is adapting? I honestly believe that it should not matter. Not really. I believe that sometimes, it’s a good thing to make some changes from the original novel (or play). Sometimes, it’s good to remain faithful to the source novel. Sometimes, what is in a novel does not translate well to the television or movie screen.

A good example are the two adaptations of Christie’s 1941 novel, “Evil Under the Sun”. The 1982 adaptation, which starred Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, made some major changes in regard to characters and a minor subplot. The 2001 television adaptation, which starred David Suchet, was somewhat more faithful . . . but not completely. In my personal view, I believe that the Ustinov version was a lot better . . . more entertaining. Why? If I have to be brutally honest, I am not a big fan of Christie’s 1941 novel. No matter how many times I tried to like it (and I tried), it simply bored me.

In regard to the adaptations of “And Then There Were None”, there are only two adaptations that I really enjoyed – Rene Clair’s 1945 adaptation and this new version. The 1945 film is actually an adaptation of the 1943 stage play written by Christie. Because the play first opened in the middle of World War II, Christie had decided to change the ending in order to spare wartime theater goers the story’s nihilistic ending. Two years later, director Rene Clair and 20th Century Fox decided to adapt Christie’s stage play, instead of the novel. Several other movie adaptations – including the 1996 and the 1974 – did the same. As far as I know, only the Russian 1987 adaptation followed Christie’s original ending.

And how do I care about these numerous adaptations? I have seen both the 1966 and 1974 movies. I am not a fan of either. Personally, I found them rather cheap. I have never seen the 1987 Russian film. As for the 1945 and 2015 versions . . . I am a big fan of both. That’s right . . . both of them. I do not care that 2015 miniseries stuck to Christie’s original novel, despite some changes, and Clair’s 1945 movie did not. I simply happen to enjoy BOTH versions. Why? Both versions were made with skill and style. And I found both versions fascinating, despite the fact that they have different endings.

I do not believe it should matter that a movie or television ALWAYS adhere to the novel it is adapting. What should matter is whether the director, writer or both are wise enough to realize whether it is a good idea to be completely faithful or to make changes . . . for the sake of the production. If producer John Bradbourne and director Guy Hamilton can make a superior adaptation of “Evil Under the Sun” by utilizing major changes to Christie’s original story and if there can be two outstanding versions of “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” . . . with different endings, I really do not see the need for any film or television production to blindly adhere to every aspect of a novel it is adapting.

“PERIL AT END HOUSE” (1990) Review

“PERIL AT END HOUSE” (1990) Review

I just realized something. I have never read Agatha Christie’s 1932 novel, “Peril at End House”. I find this ironic, considering that I have seen the 1990 television movie adaptation of this novel at least three or four times. One of these days, I will get around to reading Christie’s novel and comparing it to the television adaptation. Right now, I am going to focus on the latter.

Directed by Renny Rye and adapted by Clive Exton, “PERIL AT END HOUSE” is the first full-length television movie aired on“AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”. It is also about Belgian-born detective Hercule Poirot’s efforts to prevent the murder of a young socialite, during his vacation in Cornwall. The movie begins with Poirot and his friend Arthur Hastings arriving at a Cornish seaside resort for their vacation. While conversing with socialite Magdala “Nick” Buckley on the resort’s grounds, Poirot notices that someone had fired a bullet into the brim of her floppy hat. Poirot exposes the bullet hole to Nick, who finds it difficult to believe that someone wants to kill her. She points out that aside from her house – End House – has no real assets. Poirot decides to investigate her inner circle, who includes the following:

*Charles Vyse – Nick’s cousin and an attorney
*Mr. and Mrs. Croft – an Australian couple that has leased the lodge near End House, who had suggested Nick make a will six months earlier
*Freddie Rice – a close friend of Nick’s, who is also an abused wife
*Jim Lazarus – an art dealer in love with Nick
*Commander George Challenger – a Royal Navy officer who is also attracted to Nick

Poirot eventually advises Nick to invite a relative to stay with her for a few weeks. Nick invites her distant cousin Maggie Buckley. Unfortunately, someone kills Maggie, after she makes the mistake of wearing Nick’s dress shawl during an evening party. Even worse, the killer eventually achieves his/her goal by sending a box of poisoned chocolates to Nick, while she was recuperating at a local hospital.

“PERIL AT END HOUSE” possessed a certain plot device that Christie had used in several of her novels. I would describe this plot device. But to do so would spoil the rest of the story. It took me years to spot this plot device. And I should be surprised that I have not come across anyone else who has spotted it. And yet . . . I am not. The fact that it took me several years to spot this particular plot device only tells me that Christie has utilized it with great effect in some of her more interesting and well-written mysteries. Thankfully, “PERIL AT END HOUSE” proved to be one of those well-written mysteries.

I must admit that Clive Exton did a pretty damn good job in adapting Christie’s novel for the television screen. He stuck very closely to the original novel’s plot . . . with a few changes that did no harm to the overall movie. Both Exton and Rye presented a well-paced production to the audiences. They set up the story with Poirot and Hastings’ arrival to Cornwall and continued on with without any haste or dragging feet. The only time the movie threatened to put me to sleep occurred between the story’s second murder and the revelation of the killer . . . . when the story threatened to ground to a halt. I have one last problem – namely the appearance of Chief Inspector Japp. I realize that Japp did appear in the novel. But his appearance merely dealt with Poirot’s request that he investigate the Crofts, whom the Belgian detective suspected of being forgers. The cinematic Japp immediately appeared following Maggie Buckley’s death as the main police investigator. And Cornwall is not under Scotland Yard’s main jurisdiction.

The production values for “PERIL AT END HOUSE” proved to be top-notch. Rye shot the film’s exterior scenes in Salcombe, Devon; instead of the county of Cornwall. I found that curious. However, both he and cinematographer Peter Bartlett certainly took advantage of the movie’s setting with Bartlett’s photography of Salcombe’s charming, Old World style. This was especially apparent in the movie’s opening sequence that featured Poirot and Hasting’s arrival by airplane. Actually, production designer Mike Oxley did an excellent job of recreating an English vacation resort in the early 1930s. The production practically reeked of the Art Deco style of that time period. However, I was especially impressed by Linda Mattock’s costume designs. I was especially impressed by those costumes worn by actresses Polly Walker, Pauline Moran and Alison Sterling. My only complaints about the movie’s visual styles were the actresses’ hairstyles. No one seemed capable of re-creating the early 1930s soft bob. The actresses either wore a chignon or in the case of Sterling, a Dutch Boy bob made famous by actress Louise Brooks in the late 1920s.

“PERIL AT END HOUSE” featured some solid performances by the cast. David Suchet gave his usual excellent portrayal of Hercule Poirot. I was especially impressed by the on-screen chemistry he managed to produce with Polly Walker. The latter gave a standout performance as the killer’s main target, Madgala “Nick” Buckley. Walker did an excellent job of transforming Nick from the charming “Bright Young Thing” to a wary and frightened woman, who realizes that someone is trying to kill her. Alison Sterling was also excellent as one of Nick’s closest friends, “Freddie” Rice. Next to Walker’s Nick, Sterling gave an interesting and skillful portrayal of the very complex Freddie. Hugh Fraser, Pauline Moran and Philip Jackson were also excellent as Arthur Hastings, Miss Lemon and Chief Inspector Japp. All three, along with Suchet, managed to re-create their usual magic. The movie also featured solid performances from Paul Geoffrey (whom I found particularly convincing as an early 30s social animal), John Harding, Christopher Baines and Elizabeth Downes. I found the Australian accents utilized by Jeremy Young and Carol Macready, who portrayed the Crofts, rather wince inducing. But since their accents were supposed to be fake in the first place, I guess I had no problems.

For some reason, “PERIL AT END HOUSE” has never become a big favorite of mine. It is a well done adaptation of Christie’s novel. And I found it visually attractive, thanks to the movie’s production team. The movie also featured some excellent performances – especially from David Suchet, Polly Walker and Alison Sterling. Naturally, it is not perfect. But that is not the problem. I cannot explain my lack of enthusiasm for “PERIL AT END HOUSE”. I can only assume that I found nothing particularly mind blowing or fascinating about its plot. It is simply a good, solid murder mystery that has managed to entertain me on a few occasions. Perhaps . . . that is enough.

“PATRIOT GAMES” (1992) Review

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“PATRIOT GAMES” (1992) Review

I tried to recall the number of Hollywood movies made about Irish militants and their conflicts against the British government. And it occurred to me that very little have been made in which pro-Irish characters are portrayed as antagonists. Very little. One of them happened to be the 1992 movie, “PATRIOT GAMES”. And considering the rarity of such a scenario, it still surprises me that it was a big box office hit during the summer of 1992.

Based upon Tom Clancy’s 1987 novel, “PATRIOT GAMES” is a sequel to the 1990 film, “THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER”. The movie began with retired CIA agent Jack Ryan on vacation with his family in London. They witnessed a terrorist attack on Lord William Holmes, British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II by terrorists. When Ryan intervened, one of the terrorists wounded him, but he managed to kill one of the assailants, Patrick Miller, while his older brother Sean looked on. The remaining attackers fled, while Sean was apprehended by the police.

While recovering, Ryan was called to testify in court against Miller, who turned out to be a member of a breakaway group of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Miller’s compatriots, including leader Kevin O’Donnell and a woman named Annette, helped Miller escape before he could be shipped to a prison on the Isle of Wright. Thirsting revenge for his brother’s death, Sean convinced his compatriots to help him murder Ryan and the latter’s family before they can continue their activities against Lord William Holmes and the British Crown.

“PATRIOT GAMES” proved to be a pretty solid action thriller. The narrative provided plenty of action, personal drama, political intrigue and suspense to maintain my interest in the story. I also have to give kudos to the three screenwriters for ensuring that each aspect of the story balanced well, without one aspect overwhelming another. The interesting thing is that all of this happened because of two things – Jack interfered in the assassination attempt on Lord Holmes and killed a young man, and two, the young man’s brother wanted revenge for his death.

The movie also featured some solid acting. And I mean solid. Aside from one performance, none of the others performances in the film did not particularly rock my boat. Samuel L. Jackson was two years away from stardom, when he appeared as Jack Ryan’s close friend, Lieutenant-Commander Robby Jackson. Patrick Bergin gave a decent and strong performance as leader of the IRA breakaway group, Kevin O’Donnell. Polly Walker ably supported him as his fellow compatriot and lover, a mysterious Englishwoman named Annette. James Earl Jones repeated his role as Admiral James Greer and gave a solid, if not memorable performance. James Fox was entertaining as the Royal Family’s cousin, Lord William Holmes. Thora Birch struck me as very charming in her portrayal of the Ryans’ young daughter Sally. And both David Threlfall and Alun Armstrong gave intense performances as British police officers, Inspector Robert Highland and Sergeant Owens. I was especially impressed by Threlfall. Fans of the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” series will be surprised to find Hugh Fraser (who portrayed Arthur Hastings) portray Lord William’s private secretary, Geoffrey Watkins. In fact, his performance was so low-key that I barely noticed him, until the final action sequence. J.E. Freeman was equally intense as CIA official Marty Cantor. I especially enjoyed Freeman’s scenes with star Harrison Ford in which their characters engage in quarrels over Ryan’s interest in rejoining the CIA.

When I had earlier stated that the movie featured one performance that did rock my boat, I did not mean Ford. The actor took over the Jack Ryan character, when Alec Baldwin (who had portrayed the character in “THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER”) proved to be unavailable. I thought Ford did a pretty damn good job and managed to capture Ryan’s more subtle personality rather well. But I did not find his performance particularly dazzling. Anne Archer replaced Gates McFadden (“STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION”) in the role of Dr. Cathy Ryan, the main character’s wife. And like Ford, she gave a performance that I thought was pretty good, but not particularly dazzling. Richard Harris proved some oomph in the role of Paddy O’Neil, the IRA spokesman, who struggles to convince the world at large that O’Donnell’s compatriots no longer are connected with his organization. But the one performance that really impressed me came from Sean Bean, who portrayed Sean Miller, the terrorist who wanted revenge against Ryan.

Despite my praise of the film, many will be surprised to learn that “PATRIOT GAMES” is my fourth favorite of the five movies based upon Clancy’s series or characters. Many would find this especially surprising, since the last two movies,“THE SUM OF ALL FEARS” (2002) and “JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT” (2014), were not critically acclaimed. That would mean that I have a higher preference for one of the latter two films over “PATRIOT GAMES”. How could that be? Beauty or art is in the eye of the beholder . . . and I cannot help how I feel. I am not saying that “PATRIOT GAMES” is a terrible movie . . . or even a mediocre one. It is pretty damn good. But it did not take my breath away or fascinated me. My problem is that I did not find its plot – namely Jack Ryan dealing with a vengeful ex-IRA member – particularly fascinating. There did not seemed to be anything mind-boggling about it. Perhaps the subject matter was too personal for a tale penned by Tom Clancy. Another problem I had with “PATRIOT GAMES” is that aside from Sean Bean’s performance, I did not find the rest of them particularly dazzling or memorable. The most fascinating aspect of this film is that it featured three veterans of the “STAR WARS” movie franchise – Harrison Ford, James Earl Jones and Samuel L. Jackson.

Nevertheless, “PATRIOT GAMES” is still a pretty damn good movie. Harrison Ford managed to effortlessly take over the role of Jack Ryan from Alec Baldwin. He was supported by a solid cast that included a superb performance from Sean Bean. In the end, I believe it is still worthy of purchase for repeated viewings.

“DUMB WITNESS” (1996) Review

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“DUMB WITNESS” (1996) Review

There is a belief among fans of the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” series that the episodes and television movies that aired between 1989 and 2001 – ones that featured Arthur Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp and Miss Lemon – were more faithful adaptations of Agatha Christie’s novels that the more recent ones that have aired since 2003. I do not know if I agree with this opinion, especially after viewing the 1996 television movie, “DUMB WITNESS”

Screenwriter Douglas Watkinson’s script more or less remained faithful to the 1937 novel’s main narrative. Surrounded by grasping young relatives is a wealthy elderly woman named Emily Arundell. One night, she is injured after suffering a fall on the staircase of her home. Many believe that she had tripped over a ball by pet fox terrier, Bob. Emily later dies of what many believed to be natural causes before Poirot could meet her. And her estate was unexpectedly left to her companion, Miss Lawson. “DUMB WITNESS” remained faithful to that aspect of Christie’s novel. I suspect that many fans of the “POIROT” would be surprised at the number of changes Watkinson and director Edward Bennett made to the story.

I wish I could go into detail about the number of changes Bennett made to Christie’s story, but I suspect that would require an essay. I do know that in the novel, Hercule Poirot never met the victim, Emily Arundell. Instead, she had written a letter to him, claiming that someone was trying to kill her. By the time Poirot arrived at her home, she had been dead for some time, due to a delay in the delivery of her letter. The novel was also set in Berkshire. One of Emily’s nieces, Therese Arundell, was engaged to a Dr. Donaldson. Hastings ended up with Bob, Emily’s pet terrier. And the murderer committed suicide before being exposed by Poirot. Bennett changed the story’s setting to England’s Lake District, due to rewriting the Charles Arundell character into a motor boat racer and speed demon. Therese did not have a fiance in this movie. Instead, the beau of Emily’s companion, Wilhelmina Lawson, is a medical man named Dr. Greinger. Charles Arundell’s new profession led to Poirot and Hastings’ visit to the Arundell home in order to witness the racer attempt a new speed record. Because of this visit, Poirot met Emily Arundell before she was murdered. And the killer never got the opportunity to commit suicide in order to avoid prison.

I have never read Christie’s 1937 novel. But if it turned out to be better than this television adaptation of it, I look forward to reading it. As one would guess, I enjoyed “DUMB WITNESS” very much. It proved to be an enjoyable story that recaptured the provincial charm of the Lake District. The story provided certain elements of rural English life and society in the 1930s that contributed nicely to the story’s main narrative. “DUMB WITNESS” provided peaks into early 20th century’s penchant for speed due to the rise of motorized vehicles and the Charles Arundell character. It also provided glimpses into British spiritualism, due to the Tripp sisters, Emily’s elderly neighbors with an obssession with spiritualism and the occult.

A good number of Christie novels and adaptations have revealed British xenophobia against foreigners – especially in the bigoted attitudes of British characters toward Poirot. But the xenophobic attitude in “DUMB WITNESS” seemed to have grown worse in the characters’ attitude toward Emily’s nephew-in-law, the Greek-born doctor, Dr. Jacob Tanios. He is married to Emily’s other niece, Bella Arundell Tanios. Emily seemed to be the only character who actually liked Dr. Tanios. Poirot seemed to be put off by his brusque manner. One can say the same about Hastings, who also automatically labeled Tanios as Emily’s killer. I had this odd feeling that Hastings’ lack of tolerance toward Tanios not only originated from the latter’s brusque personality, but also the fact that he came from Eastern Europe, which is regarded as the continent’s backwater. The interesting aspect about the xenophobic attitude depicted in “DUMB WITNESS” was that it struck me as very disturbing, yet at the same time, not too heavy-handed. Kudos to both the screenwriter and the director.

“DUMB WITNESS” featured some solid performances by the cast. But there were a few performances that I found rather exceptional. David Suchet was impeccable, as usual, in his portrayal of Belgian detective. Hugh Fraser gave one of his better performances as Captain Arthur Hastings, revealing the character’s mild xenophobia with great subtlety. Ann Morrish did an excellent job in conveying the strong-willed presence of the elderly Emily Arundell. Julia St. John gave a memorable performance as Emily’s mild-mannered niece, Bella, who seemed to be in terror of her foreign-born husband. And I was also impressed by Paul Herzberg’s portrayal of Jacob Tanios. He did an excellent job of revealing how his character’s brusque manner hid a personality intimidated by the hostility he was forced to face in a foreign country. I am not going to pretend that I am a person that likes having pets. I do not. But I could not help but fall in love with Snubby, the fox terrier, who portrayed Bob, one of the cutest dogs I have ever seen on television or in a movie.

Overall, I would say that “DUMB WITNESS” was an entertaining adaptation of Christie’s novel. Thanks to director Edward Bennett and screenwriter Douglas Watkinson and a cast led by David Suchet, it was a solid and classy affair that also provided a surprisingly deeper look into British xenophobia.

“MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” (2001) Review

“MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” (2001) Review

One can categorize the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” television movies into two categories. The ones made between 1989 and 2001, featured the supporting characters Captain Arthur Hasting, Miss Lemon (Hercule Poirot), and Chief Inspector Japp. The ones made post-2001 sporadically featured the mystery writer, Adriande Oliver. The very last television movie that featured Poirot’s close friend, Hastings, turned out to be 2001’s “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA”.

Based upon Agatha Christie’s 1936 novel, “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” told of Hercule Poirot’s investigation into the murder of Louise Leidner, the wife of an American archeologist named Dr. Leidner. The story began with Poirot’s arrival in Iraq, who is there to not only visit his friend Captain Arthur Hastings, but also meet with a Russian countess of a past acquaintance. Hastings, who is having marital problems, is there to visit his nephew Bill Coleman, one of Dr. Leidner’s assistants. Upon his arrival at the dig, Poirot notices the tension between Mrs. Leidner and the other members of her husband’s dig – especially with Richard Carey and Anne Johnson, Dr. Leidner’s longtime colleagues.

Both Poirot and Hastings learn about the series of sightings that have frightening Mrs. Leidner. The latter eventually reveals that she was previously married to a young U.S. State Department diplomat during World War I named Frederick Bosner, who turned out to be a spy for the Germans. Mrs. Leidner had betrayed Bosner to the American government before he was arrested and sentenced to die. But Bosner managed to escape, while he was being transported to prison. Unfortunately, a train accident killed him. Fifteen years passed before Louise eventually married Dr. Leidner. Not long after Poirot learned about the lady’s past, someone killed her with a deadly blow to her head with a blunt instrument.

Many Christie fans claim that the 1989-2001 movies were superior to the later ones, because these movies were faithful to the novels. I have seen nearly every “POIROT” television movie in existence. Trust me, only a small handful of the 1989-2001 movies were faithful. And “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” was not one of them. First of all, Arthur Hastings was not in the 1936 novel. Which meant that Bill Coleman’s was not Hasting’s nephew. Poirot’s assistant in Christie’s novel was Louise Leidner’s personal nurse, Amy Leatheran. In the 2001 movie, she was among the main suspects. There were other changes. Dr. Leidner’s nationality changed from Swedish to American. Several characters from the novel were eliminated.

I only had a few quibbles about “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA”. One, I found Clive Exton’s addition of Captain Hastings unnecessary. I realize that the movie aired during the last season that featured Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp and Miss Lemon. But what was the point in including Hastings to the story? His presence merely served as a last touch of nostalgia for many fans of the series and as an impediment to the Amy Leatheran character, whose presence was reduced from Poirot’s assistant to minor supporting character. Two, I wish that the movie’s running time had been longer. The story featured too many supporting characters and one too many subplots. A running time of And if I must be brutally honest, the solution to Louise Leidner’s murder struck me as inconceivable. One has to blame Agatha Christie for this flaw, instead of screenwriter Clive Exton. I could explain how implausible the murderer’s identity was, but to do so would give away the mystery.

But I still enjoyed “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA”. Clive Exton did the best he could with a story slightly marred by First of all, I was impressed by the production’s use of Tunisia as a stand-in for 1933-36 Iraq. Rob Hinds and his team did an excellent job in re-creating both the setting and era for the movie. They were ably assisted by Kevin Rowley’s photography, Chris Wimble’s editing and the art direction team – Paul Booth, Nigel Evans and Henry Jaworski. I was especially impressed by Charlotte Holdich’s costume designs that perfectly recaptured both the 1930s decade and the movie’s setting in the Middle East.

David Suchet gave his usual top-notch performance as Hercule Poirot. I am also happy to include that he managed to avoid some of his occasional flashes of hammy acting during Poirot’s revelation scene. Hugh Fraser gave his last on-screen performance as Arthur Hastings (so far). And although I was not thrilled by the addition of the Hastings character in the movie, I cannot deny that Fraser was first rate. Five other performances really impressed me. Ron Berglas was perfectly subtle as the quiet and scholarly Dr. Leidner, who also happened to be in love with his wife. Barbara Barnes wisely kept control of her portrayal of Louise Leidner, a character that could have easily veered into caricature in the hands of a less able actress. I also enjoyed Dinah Stabb’s intelligent portrayal of Anne Johnson, one of Dr. Leidner’s colleagues who happened to be in love with him. Christopher Bowen did an excellent job of keeping audiences in the dark regarding his character’s (Richard Mason) true feelings for Mrs. Leidner. And Georgina Sowerby injected as much energy as possible into the role of Amy Leatharan, a character reduced by Exton’s screenplay.

“MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” was marred by a running time I found too short and an implausible solution to its murder mystery. But it possessed enough virtues, including an excellent performance by a cast led by David Suchet, an interesting story and a first-rate production team; for me to consider it a very entertaining movie and one I would not hesitate to watch over again.

Ranking of “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” Movies

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With one more season of “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” left with David Suchet as the famous literary Belgian detective, I thought it would be nice to rank some of the series’ feature-length movies that aired between 1989 and 2010. I have divided this ranking into two lists – my top five favorite movies and my five least favorite movies: 

RANKING OF “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” MOVIES

Top Five Favorite Movies

1-Five Little Pigs

1. “Five Little Pigs” (2003) – In this beautifully poignant tale, Hercule Poirot investigates a fourteen year-old murder in which his client’s mother was erroneously convicted and hanged for.

2-After the Funeral

2. “After the Funeral” (2006) – When a relative of a deceased man questions the nature of his death at a family funeral, she is violently murdered the following day and the family’s solicitor requests Poirot’s help. Better than the novel, the movie has a surprising twist.

3-The ABC Murders

3. “The A.B.C. Murders” (1992) – In this first-rate adaptation of one of Christie’s most original tales, Poirot receives clues and taunting letters from a serial killer who appears to choose his random victims and crime scenes alphabetically.

4-Murder on the Links

4. “Murder on the Links” (1996) – While vacationing in Deauville with his friend, Arthur Hastings, Poirot is approached by a businessman, who claims that someone from the past has been sending him threatening letters. One of my favorites.

5-Sad Cypress

5. “Sad Cypress” (2003) – Poirot is asked to investigate two murders for which a young woman has been convicted in the emotional and satisfying tale.

Top Five Least Favorite Movies

1-Taken at the Flood

1. “Taken at the Flood” (2006) – In this rather unpleasant tale, Poirot is recruited by an upper-class family to investigate the young widow of their late and very rich relative, who has left his money solely to her.

2-The Hollow

2. “The Hollow” (2004) – A favorite with many Christie fans, but not with me, this tale features Poirot’s investigation into the murder of a successful doctor at a country house weekend party.

3-Appointment With Death

3. “Appointment With Death” (2008) – In this sloppy adaptation of one of Christie’s novel, Poirot investigates the death of a wealthy American widow, during his vacation in the Middle East.

4-Hickory Dickory Dock

4. “Hickory Dickory Dock” (1995) – In a tale featuring an annoying nursery rhyme, Poirot’s secretary Miss Lemon persuades Poirot to investigate a series of apparently minor thefts in a university hostel where her sister works, but simple kleptomania soon turns to homicide.

5-One Two Buckle My Shoe

5. “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” (1992) – Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp investigates the alleged suicide of the Belgian detective’s dentist. Despite the heavy political overtones, this movie is nearly sunk by a premature revelation of the killer.