Thursday 8 October 2020

The Ubiquitous Miss Christie

No spoilers in these reviews! Everywhere you look, there's an Agatha at the minute. I've been very busy the last week or so stitching bears- and catching up on David Suchet's Poirot on ITV 3 as I sit and stuff these cuddly creatures. Then on Sunday night there were two mysteries -Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar,[2019] and Murder on the Orient Express [2017]

The first one was described as "An alternative history TV drama film". In 1930, following her divorce from Mr Christie, Agatha [already a successful writer of mysteries] sets off to join some acquaintances, Lord and Lady Woolley,  on their archaeological dig in Iraq [at Ur, where Abraham came from]. She meets Max Mallowan, an archaeologist some years her junior and they fall in love.
All that is fact - but the film throws in a proper AC style murder mystery - complete with ancient artefacts, a gibbering monkey, and lots of sand. 

Lord Woolley is played by Jack Deam [Inspector Mallory in the Father Brown mysteries] He seemed to be exactly the same character. It was very like an AC plotline- lots of red herrings, and bizarre details. Surfboarding was a new sport in the UK - and popular in Sidmouth. Agatha Christie and George Bernard Shaw tried this pastime. This fact has no relevance whatsoever to the film, but they threw it in anyway. I rate this film ***

Also on Sunday evening was Murder on The Orient Express. We recorded that and caught up with it later in the week. This one was a more challenging film, but I enjoyed it more too.

Super star-studded cast, headed up by Kenneth Branagh as Poirot, and chief supporting actor, his strange moustache. Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, and other actors whose initials weren't J and D made up the rest of the cast. Branagh was also the Director.

 I did find myself being a bit distracted by the cast though. Olivia Colman [a Norfolk girl who grew up and played Queen Anne, and Queen Elizabeth 2] is 'companion/maid'  to Judi Dench [Yorkshire lass, who played Queen Elizabeth 1 and Queen Victoria]  Some of the things said about Johnny Depp's character seem to have come straight from the court proceedings which Depp has been involved in this summer.

Now the thing it, if you like AC, you have probably seen the other versions of this - with Albert Finney in 1974 or David Suchet in 2010 [produced for TV, not the cinema] There have been other films, also radio versions in 1992 and 2017. So before it starts, you know whodunnit. And why, and how.

But the audience knowing little details like that do not put Kenneth Branagh off. He just gets on with doing his own thing. And I think it worked - mostly. The beginning of the film - when we find Poirot solving a mystery in Jerusalem, and being called away to sort out a problem in London [hence catching the express train] was a bit too Hollywood. Reminded me of some Indiana Jones stuff- and the mystery he had to solve there was so obvious. But this was just setting the scene, and introducing this fussy little Belgian who likes everything just so.

The main part of the story - a carriage full of disparate first class passengers who turn out to be all connected in random ways - is just like the book. 

But I enjoyed the way that Branagh put his own interpretation on the story and on the personification of the brilliant Belgian.  However there was one bit where Poirot gives chase to a character - and Bob felt that was also 'a bit too Hollywood' I cannot imagine the dapper Mr Suchet nimbly running along like that. KB does not have an egg shaped head, and his 'taches are very different - and he was clearly not adopting many of the Poirot-mannerisms which Suchet has made his own. But close your eyes and listen - there are some moments when you'd swear it was David's voice you are hearing!

It was very clever, it told the story in such a way that although you knew how it had to end, you were intrigued by how they would get there. And the final scene set things up beautifully for a sequel involving Murder on the Nile. ****

Yes there is some violence [the clue is in the title] but both these films are safe, weekend entertainment, with superb acting, great scenery and beautiful period costumes.[Ignore the filter-tip cigarettes in the first film, they were an anachronism] I'll let you know about Agatha and The Midnight Murders once I've watched it. 

Have you watched all/any of these? what did you think of them?


  1. Watched Agatha and the curse - it was OK. haven't see the new Nile, the trailer and the huge moustache put me off!

  2. Don't be put off by the moustache, Sue. KB couldn't play Poirot without one, and he obvs didn't want to look like Suchet (or Hitler) so I suppose he had to be a bit outlandish. Could be worse, he might have had a curly one like the Go Compare Guy.


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