Thursday, October 19, 2017

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves: By the Pricking of My Thumbs, 2006

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Tommy & Tuppence. So far, we've talked about their youthful escapades and their adventures as they approached middle age. We move into their golden years today, but with a twist...

Before Julia McKenzie took over the role of Miss Marple, Geraldine McEwan spent three seasons putting her own mischievous mark on the role. Following the success of the first season, it became clear that ITV was going to keep the train going as long as they could. Thus began the inserting of Miss Marple into non-series cases like The Sittaford Mystery. That announcement was controversial enough for fans, but it was pure scandal when it was announced that Miss Marple would be teaming up with another established Christie detective, in....

Agatha Christie's Marple: By the Pricking of My Thumbs (2006)
dir: Peter Medak

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Spies Like Us: N Or M?, 2015



All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Tommy & Tuppence. So far we've covered their early TV days - and now, their most recent appearance on the small screen...

In 2013, ITV aired the last episodes of signature series Poirot and popular reboot Marple, effectively ending an era of televised Agatha Christeries. Just two months after the final episode of Marple was broadcast, rival network BBC announced it was ready to re-stake its claim on the Queen of Crime, announcing the production of two miniseries in time for Agatha's 125th birthday in 2015. One of those was the three-episode And Then There Were None, which is a masterpiece, highly recommended. The other was Partners in Crime.

At the time of the announcement, Tommy was already cast (Jessica Raines would come aboard Tlater), because it was his idea in the first place. Comedian David Walliams, known for his collaborations with Matt Lucas on shows like Little Britain and Come Fly with Me, brought the idea of a Tommy & Tuppence reboot to the BBC, with Agatha Christie Ltd's Hilary Morgan support and company. Walliams, who earlier appeared in Marple: The Body in the Library, was apparently attracted by the idea of a couple bickering over a corpse. More than that, after re-reading the novels and short stories, Walliams felt that they were more worthy of celebration, to stand alongside Poirot and Marple as equals.

Naturally, a number of re-workings came. When picking an age for the Beresfords, the producers split the difference - late-30s/early-40s, with a son away at school. Mr. Carter of the Secret Service was still Mr. Carter of the Secret Service, but was also Tommy's uncle. The bellhop-turned-assistant Albert was greatly changed: he became a middle-aged, one-armed chemistry teacher frequently consulting for the Service. And of course, just as they picked an age for the Beresfords, they had to pick an era. The Roaring Twenties, as in the original stories and series? The War Years? The late-60s/early-70s?

No, no. These are spy thrillers, and what era screams that more than the Cold War? The action was updated to the 1950s, which meant Nazi spies would now become Soviet spies, in the adaptation of...

N Or M?
dir: Edward Hall

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Casting Coup Tuesday: N Or M?

It's Casting Coup Tuesday, where we dream-cast an imaginary adaptation of a beloved work. All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, in anticipation of the November 10th release of Murder on the Orient Express. We've imagined adaptations of a Poirot, and of a Miss Marple - and now, for your approval, a Tommy and Tuppence adventure...


Published in 1941, N Or M? is one of the more fascinating Agatha Christie reads. While all her novels keep up with the changing times, here Christie writes about life in England during The War, with all the fears and concerns of the era. The setting is a guest house in a small seaside town, where a variety of people escape the threat of Hitler's march on Europe: mothers whose husbands stay in London for work, middle-aged couples, the sick, veterans of The Great War now deemed too old to fight, German refugees, etc. All the while, there's talk of a Fifth Column, while radio and newspaper reports tell of the fall of France. And while history did echo the prevention of German invasion (the whole point of the mission), the book was obviously written before the horror of the Blitz. Surely that would have changed the tone a smidge.

Oh, but I mentioned a mission. So. Tommy and Tuppence are now in their forties - Tommy specifically puts his age at 46 - and while the twins Derek and Deborah are doing their part for the war effort, the Beresfords feel put out to pasture. Then comes Mr. Grant, a young member of the secret service who comes to Tommy on the recommendation of their old boss. To quickly sum up: there is a network of double agents within the government, there are two top spies that answer directly to Hitler, and one or both of them is staying at a guest house called Sans Soucie by the seaside. It is up to Tommy and Tuppence to find the spy.

Thus begins one of Christie's more exciting, surprisingly poignant, and all around best novels. The fact that it's only been adapted once, for television, only two years ago, is frankly shocking. You wouldn't have to change a detail to make it palatable for cinema-goers: there's romance, there's action, there's a torture chamber run by a dentist (33 years before Marathon Man), there's a kidnapping that ends with someone getting shot in the head midway through.

It is ready for filming. And I've got just the cast, after the jump...

Young Adventurers: Partners in Crime, 1983-84

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Tommy & Tuppence. Yesterday, we talked about their television debut in The Secret Adversary. Well that was just the lead-up to a full series, entitled...

Partners in Crime (1983-84)
dir: Paul Annett / Christopher Hodson / Tony Wharmby

Monday, October 16, 2017

Bright Young Things: The Secret Adversary, 1983

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. We talked all about Hercule Poirot at first, while last week was dedicated to Miss Marple. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Christie's super spy couple, Tommy and Tuppence, aka Partners in Crime.



While neither as popular or prolific as Poirot and Marple, Tommy and Tuppence were with Christie from the beginning to the end. The only characters to age alongside their creator, the pair made their debut in The Secret Adversary in 1922, twenty-somethings in search of excitement. By their final adventure, 1973's Postern of Fate, they are in their seventies, are grandparents, and have left the hustle and bustle of the city for a quiet life in the country. Secret Adversary was Christie's second book; Postern of Fate the last she ever wrote (though not, as we've mentioned, the last published).

For a series that spent one novel and ten short stories centered around a bright couple spying and going on adventures, it's surprising how little attention they've received on screen. Maybe it's because their adventures are few and far between - fifty years, one short story collection and four novels, the last of which is considered by many, including daughter Rosalind Hicks, to be Christie's worst. Still, there have been some interesting adaptations: the 1929 silent film Die Abenteuer GmbH, the 1950s radio series starring real-life couple Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim, a French film franchise from the past decade. But their most famous iteration was as a BBC series in 1983, beginning, as Christie did, with:

The Secret Adversary (1983)
dir: Tony Wharmby

Saturday, October 14, 2017

All Kinds Of Wonder Women

Poorly organized thoughts on current multiplex offerings

Victoria and Abdul
dir: Stephen Frears
scr: Lee Hall, based on the book by Shrabani Basu

Do biopics no longer require a point of view? While Ali Fazal is not lacking in charm, his Abdul is a bit of a cipher. Flirtations with giving his character more shades of grey are quickly abandoned, quickly making him a plot point rather than a character. Despite some lip service, Anglo-Indian tensions are not framed within a proper context - the movie would rather tsk-tsk the Royal Household for racism and classism at home than question the legitimacy of Empire or acknowledge the Queen's complicity in it. Thank goodness for Judi Dench's performance as Queen Victoria, a terrific, terribly sad portrayal embracing the Queen's contradictions and letting us see the cracks.


mother!
dir/scr: Darren Aronofsky

My love for Darren Aronofsky continues unabated. I shan't say much, only to point out that the dizzying cinematography, labyrinthine production design, and suggestive performances all contribute to a cinematic fever dream that's just...transportive. It's best to go into this not knowing anything, but if you must have a hint...I'll provide them after the jump (along with reviews of Blade Runner 2049, It, and more).

Friday, October 13, 2017

Psycho Beach Party: A Caribbean Mystery, 2013

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Next week is Tommy & Tuppence Week, but today, we conclude our look at Miss Jane Marple.  

Beginning in 2004, BBC rival ITV began their broadcast of a new series: Agatha Christie's Marple. After Maggie Smith passed on the role, Geraldine McEwan was cast, playing the St. Mary Mead spinster with a gleeful trickster quality, an older forest spirit having a ball! After the filming of the third series, though, McEwan fell and broke her hip; she retired from the role, and other from some voice-overs, seemed to retire from acting altogether. The question, of course, was: who would fill McEwan's shoes?

Enter Julia McKenzie.