“NEMESIS” (1987) Review

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“NEMESIS” (1987) Review

Although not highly regarded by many Agatha Christie fans, I used to be a long time fan of her 1971 novel,“Nemesis”. My opinion of the novel has dimmed a bit over the years, but I still admire its slow, melancholic air that I believe gave it a rich atmosphere. As far as I know, there have been a radio adaptation of the novel and two television movie adaptations. One of the latter was a BBC production that aired in 1987.

“NEMESIS” begins with the death of a millionaire named Jason Rafael, whom Miss Jane Marple had first met in Christie’s 1964 novel, “A Caribbean Mystery”. Through his will, Rafael charges Miss Marple to solve a crime that he believes remain unsolved – the murder of his ne’er do well son Michael’s former fiancée, Verity Hunt. If Miss Marple is successful, she will inherit £20,000. Rafael arranges for Miss Marple to join a bus tour of famous British homes and gardens that includes one Miss Elizabeth Temple, the headmistress of a famous girls’ school that Verity had attended; a Professor Winstead, a psychiatrist who had examined Michael Rafael to judge whether the latter was capable of murder; a young woman named Miss Cooke, whom Miss Marple had spotted in St. Mary’s Mead; and the latter’s companion, a Miss Barrow. Accompanying Miss Marple is her nephew/godson Lionel Peel, a character created by screenwriter T.R. Bowen. During one stop of the bus tour, Miss Marple meets a Mrs. Lavinia Glynne and her two spinster sisters – Clotilde and Anthea Bradbury-Scott. Miss Marple learns that Rafael had arranged for the three sisters to take care of her during the tour’s more physically challenging segments. She also discovers that at least two of the sisters – Clotilde and Anthea – knew both Verity and Michael very well, since the former’s parents knew the Bradbury-Scotts before their deaths.

Regardless of my feelings for Christie’s novel, I must admit that I am not a major fan of the 1987 adaptation.  Do not get me wrong.  I managed to enjoy the movie. But I would never regard it as one of my favorite adaptations that featured the Jane Marple character. I have at least three problems with this production. One, “NEMESIS” seemed to move at an incredibly slow pace. Granted, many of the “MISS MARPLE” television movies were guilty of slow pacing. But there were times when it seemed that a snail moved faster than the pacing for this film. Another problem I had with “NEMESIS” is that the story does not feature many suspects. Not really. It seemed pretty obvious in the story that most of the characters that knew Michael Rafael and Verity Hunt – Elizabeth Temple, Professor Winstead, an Archdeacon Brabazon and Lavinia Glynne – made improbable suspects. That only left the two remaining Bradbury-Scott sisters, Clotilde and Anthea, Miss Cooke and Miss Barrow. Actually, Bowen’s screenplay tried to include Michael Rafael as a suspect by placing him in the area when Elizabeth Temple was killed. But that did not really work for me.

Which leads me to my third problem with this production . . . namely Michael Rafael. In Christie’s novel, the latter had been in prison for a decade, convicted of Verity Hunt’s murder (and possible the murder of a local girl named Nora Brent). However, Bowen changed matters by allowing Michael to roam free as a suspect who had never arrested or convicted. Worse, he had Michael roaming the streets of London as a homeless man, acting as some kind of advocate for many of London’s homeless. Every time the story focused on Michael, I had to reach for my remote and push the fast forward button. It was either that or allow the Michael Rafael sequences put me to sleep. Not even Bruce Payne’s performance could keep me interested. If I must be more brutally frank, I thought the 2007 adaptation handled its changes of the Michael Rafael character a lot better. I wish that Bowen had adhered to Christie’s original story by allowing Michael to remain in prison, if he was that intent upon closely following the novel.

However, “NEMESIS” was not a terrible movie. Despite its shortcomings, it proved to be pretty solid adaptation. Bowen and director David Tucker did an admirable job in adapting Christie’s novel for the television screen. More importantly, they did an equally admirable job of adhering to the novel with very few changes. Although I am not particularly thrilled with the changes done to the Michael Rafael character, I have to admit that I liked the addition of the Lionel Peel character. He strongly reminded me of the Arthur Hastings character and actually managed to somewhat assist Miss Marple in her investigation.

The best aspect of “NEMESIS” is that it did not deviate from the novel’s theme . . . namely love. I read another review of the movie that tried to hint that the changes in Bowen’s screenplay emphasized on the topic of decay. Recalling Christie’s original novel, it was an argument that I found hard to accept. More than anything, I believe love played a major role in this story. Due to a series of interviews with other characters in the story, Miss Marple came to the conclusion that Verity Hunt was a much beloved young woman. In fact, her observation led her to question the stark condition of Verity’s resting place. The love Verity shared between Michael Rafael had led to her murder and emotionally ruined his life. The love theme that seemed to permeate the screenplay convinced me that both Bowen and Tucker to maintain the melancholic air that made the novel so interesting . . . and haunting.

I certainly had no problems with the production’s performances. Joan Hickson gave one of her best performances as the truth-seeking Jane Marple. In fact, this particular movie featured one of my favorite Hickson moments on film . . . the moment in which Miss Marple confronts the murderer and reveals the latter’s motive and methods. “NEMESIS” also featured superb performances from Margaret Tyzack, Anna Cropper and Valerie Lush, who portrayed the very interesting Bradbury-Scott sisters. Despite my complaints about the Michael Rafael character, I cannot deny that Bruce Payne gave a very intense performance as the hard-luck drifter. Both Roger Hammond and Patrick Godfrey nearly made a perfect screen team as Jason Rafael’s pair of solicitors, Mr. Broadribb and Mr. Schuster. Peter Tilbury gave an entertaining performance as Miss Marple’s mild-mannered nephew (or godson), Lionel Peel. And I found Helen Cherry’s portrayal of the former school headmistress, Elizabeth Temple, very poignant. Another poignant performance came from Liz Fraser, who portrayed the mother of the missing and presumed dead Nora Brent. The movie also featured solid performances from Ann Queensberry, Jane Booker, Alison Skilbeck, John Horsley and Peter Copley.

I suppose I should be grateful that “NEMESIS” did not prove to be a narrative mess, like the 2007 adaptation of the same novel. Yes, it possessed flaws that made it difficult for me to regard it as one of my favorite Miss Marple adaptations. But it still managed to somewhat closely follow the 1971 novel and maintain its melancholic air. And it also featured excellent performances from a cast led by Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. On a whole, it proved to be a pretty damn good movie.

“THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” (1986) Review

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“THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” (1986) Review

The year 1920 witnessed the beginning of Agatha Christie’s career as a mystery novel with the release of her first novel,“The Mysterious Affairs at Styles”. The novel also introduced a new sleuth to the literary world, Belgian-born Hercule Poirot. Another seven years passed before Christie introduced her second most famous character, Miss Jane Marple, in a few short stories. But in 1930, Miss Marple appeared in her first full-length novel called “The Murder at the Vicarage”

Fifty-six years later saw the first adaptation of the 1930 novel – a 102 minutes television movie that starred Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” featured the elderly sleuth’s investigation of the murder of a wealthy magistrate and former Army colonel in Miss Marple’s town of St. Mary Mead. The magistrate, Colonel Protheroe is so disliked by most of the citizens of St. Mary Mead that even the local vicar, the Reverend Leonard Clement believes his death would be a great service to the village. Reverend Clements ends up eating his words when Colonel Protheroe’s murdered body is found inside the vicar’s study. While investigating Colonel Protheroe’s murder, Miss Marple and Detective Inspector Slack unearth a good number of suspects; including the Colonel’s new widow Anne Protheroe, her lover Lawrence Redding, the Colonel’s only child Lettice Protheroe, the high-strung curate Christopher Hawes, St. Mary Mead’s mysterious new citizen Mrs. Lestrange, small time poacher Bill Archer and even the good Reverend Clement himself. Anne Protheroe and Lawrence Redding each confess to the crime, convinced that the other was guilty. However, both Miss Marple and Detective Inspector Slack realize that both are innocent and continue their investigation of the murder.

When I first read Christie’s 1930 novel, I must admit that it did not particularly move me. The plot seemed like a typical murder mystery set in a small village. There was nothing extraordinary about it, aside from Miss Marple’s continuous relationship with Inspector Slack. Mind you, I have seen mediocre or bad adaptation of some first-rate Christie novels. And I have seen some excellent adaptations of her mediocre novels. The 1986 adaptation of “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” proved to be one of those productions in which my opinion of it matches the original novel. How can I say this? I found it a bore.

The best I can say about “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE” is that it is a close – but not completely accurate – adaptation of Christie’s novel. Unfortunately, T.R. Bowen did nothing with the screenplay to improve on the story. And Julian Amyes’ direction of the movie nearly put me to sleep. It was so boring and slow. Amyes tried hard to make the killer’s revelation interesting. But not even that worked. Between John Walker’s dim lighting of the scene and Amyes’ snail like direction, I fell asleep and had to rewind back to the scene in order to learn the killer’s identity. When a person falls asleep during a scene featuring the killer’s revelation, it is time to go back to the drawing board – so to speak.

Also, the movie was not served well by most of the bland characters that populated the story. Most of them – aside from a few – struck me as dull and one-dimensional. Some of the best characters in a murder mystery tend to be the original victim. Unfortunately, Colonel Protheroe turned out to be one of those rare cases in which the main victim proved to be uninteresting. I found his character so one-dimensional. Not even Robert Lang’s energetic performance could make it work. The character of Reverend Clement had been down-sized by the story’s translation from the novel to the screen. Apparently, Bowen could not find a way to make his character a major part of the investigation . . . which occurred in Christie’s novel. Only a handful of characters seemed interesting to me. And I have the performers to thank. Cheryl Campbell managed to inject some real energy into her portrayal of the vicar’s younger and sexy wife, Griselda Clement. David Horovitch was at his sardonic best as the police inspector who tries his best to dismiss Miss Marple’s sleuthing skills. Joan Hickson earned a BAFTA nomination for her performance as Jane Marple in this movie. I do not know if she truly deserved that nomination. But I must admit that I enjoyed her subtle, yet sly performance as the brilliant, amateur sleuth. I especially enjoyed her scenes with Horovitch’s Slack.

I guess there is nothing else I can say about “THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE”. It is not one of my favorite Miss Marple productions. Actually, I feel it is one of my least favorites featuring the elderly sleuth. The original story simply did not strike me as interesting and screenwriter T.R. Bowen did very little to enliven it. Also Julian Amyes’ slow-paced direction did not help matters. The only pleasures I managed to derive from this movie were the first-rate performances of Joan Hickson, David Horovitch and Cheryl Campbell.

“4.50 FROM PADDINGTON” (1987) Review

“4.50 FROM PADDINGTON” (1987) Review

The 1957 Agatha Christie novel, “4.50 From Paddington” aka “What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw” has been a favorite of mine since I was in my early teens. There have been one film and two television adaptations of the story. I never saw the film adaptation, which starred Margaret Rutherford. But I have seen the two television versions. One of them was the 1987 BBC adaptation that featured Joan Hickson as Miss Jane Marple. 

“4.50 FROM PADDINGTON” begins when Mrs. Elspeth McGillicuddy, an old friend of Miss Marple, travels by train to visit the latter in St. Mary’s Mead. When her train passes another on a parallel track, she witnesses a woman being strangled inside a compartment of the latter. Mrs. McGillicuddy reports the murder to Miss Marple, who suggests that she contact the police. But due to her age and inability to see the murderer’s face, Mrs. McGillicuddy is ignored by the police. Miss Marple decides to take matters into her own hands by tracing Mrs. McGillicuddy’s rail journey. The elderly sleuth’s investigation leads her to the Rutherford Hall estate, where the railway borders at a curved embankment. Miss Marple recruits an acquaintance of hers, a young professional housekeeper named Lucy Eyelesbarrow, to hire herself out to the family that resides at Rutherford Hall, the Crackenthorpes, to continue the investigation.

Considering that the 1957 novel happened to be a favorite of mine, I had hoped this adaptation by T.R. Bowen would prove to be very satisfying. Needless to say . . . it did not. I am not one of those who demand that a movie or television adaptation adhere closely to its source. But some of the changes made by Bowen in his adaptation proved to be rather annoying to me. And I do not believe these changes served the movie very well. Among Bowen’s changes were:

*No one was stricken by food poisoning

*Only one member of the Crackenthorpe family was murdered, instead of two

*The above mentioned victim was killed in a hunting accident, instead of being poisoned

*The nature of the romantic triange between Lucy Eyelesbarrow, Cedric Crackenthorpe and Bryan Eastley has been changed considerably

*Instead of Detective Inspector Dermot Craddock investigating the case, Detective Inspector Slack from three previous “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MISS MARPLE” productions served as the main investigator

*The addition of Chief Inspector Duckham, who was an invention of the screenwriter, was added.

As I had stated earlier, the novel featured the second appearance of Dermot Craddock as the chief investigating officer in a Miss Marple mystery. But instead of hiring John Castle to reprise his Detective Inspector Craddock role from 1985’s “A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED”, the producers brought back David Horovitch to portray the irritating Detective Inspector Slack. Horovitch had already portrayed Slack in two previous Miss Marple movies,“A BODY IN THE LIBRARY” and “MURDER IN THE VICARAGE”. Horovitch is a first-rate actor, but the character of Detective Inspector Slack has always annoyed me. I would have preferred if Craddock had made his second appearance in this movie. To make matters worse, actor David Waller, who had worked with T.R. Bowen for“EDWARD AND MRS. SIMPSON”, was added to portray Chief Inspector Duckham, a character who never appeared in the novel.

Screenwriter T.R. Bowen made matters worse with more changes. Instead of two, only one member of the household ended up murdered – Harold Crackenthorpe, who was a banker. And his murder was disguised as a hunting accident. Harold was murdered with poisoned pills. Bowen completely left out the scene featuring a mass case of food poisoning from which the family suffered. Although the subject of Martine was brought up, Bowen never made the connection between her and the best friend of Bryan Eastley’s son, Alexander. And instead of following Christie’s portrayal of the “love triangle” between Lucy, Cedric Crackenthorpe and Eastley, who happened to the widower of the late Edith Crackenthorpe; Friend decided to settle matters by having Lucy fall in love with Eastley, who was portrayed as an infantile and suggestible man. Even worse, Lucy seemed to have lost her sense of humor, thanks to Bowen’s script and Jill Meager’s uninspiring performance. Friend also transformed Cedric into an annoying and oozing ladies’ man who tries to hit on Lucy every chance he could. In the novel, Cedric never openly displayed his attraction to Lucy, when he was swapping witty bon mots with her. Yet, Christie made it obvious that he was attracted. And the novel left the matter open on whom Lucy would choose open.

But the one change made by Friend that really annoyed me, turned out to be the big revelation scene. After Miss Marple identified the killer to the police, the Crackenthorpes and Elspeth McGillicuddy; a ridiculous action scene was tacked on by Bowen, allowing Eastley to run after and have a fight with the fleeing killer. It was quite obvious to me that this scene was nothing more than a setup for the audiences to approve of the unconvincing love story between the humorless Lucy and the infantile Eastley. What an incredibly stupid ending to the story!

But despite these flaws, I still managed to somewhat enjoy the movie. One, Joan Hickson was great as ever as Jane Marple. She was supported by solid performances from Joanna David as Emma Crackenthorpe, Andrew Burt as Dr. John Quimper, young Christopher Haley as Alexander Eastley, Robert East as Alfred Crackenthorpe, David Waller as Chief Inspector Duckham, Mona Bruce as Elspeth McGillicuddy and even David Horovitch as Inspector Slack. Slack may have struck me as an annoying character, but I cannot deny that Horovitch gave a competent performance.

Another aspect of “4.50 FROM PADDINGTON” that impressed me was its production design. Raymond Cusick did a first rate job in transforming television viewers back to the mid-to-late 1950s. He was ably supported by Judy Pepperdine’s convincing costumes – especially for Jill Eager and Joanna David’s characters. I was not that impressed by most of John Walker’s photography. However, I must admit that along with Martyn Friend’s direction, Walker injected a great deal of atmosphere and mystery into the scene featuring the murder that Mrs. McGillicuddy witnessed.

It really pains me to say this, but despite Hickson’s first rate performance and the production design, “4.50 FROM PADDINGTON” does not strike me as one of the best Miss Marple movies to feature the late actress. Another version was made in 2004 and quite frankly, it was not an improvement. Hopefully, someone will make a first-rate adaptation of one of my favorite Christie novels.