Monday, September 14, 2009


Last night I watched two crime series on television, and it was the best of times and the worst of times. Well maybe not the worst but very annoying.....

Spiral 2 continues the story of the struggle to maintain law and order in Paris. I read some time ago in a book about the French army mutinies of 1917, which stated the gulf between officers and men was greatest not in the British, Russian and German Imperial armies but in the army of the French Republic. In Spiral 2 we see a legal system collapsing and a police force under massive stress trying to deal with on one hand the immigrant populations of the "banlieue" [lieu de ban:places of exile] and on the other a privileged class, who regard themselves above the law.

No wonder Police Capitaine Laure Berthaud [Caroline Proust] looks rattled, disheveled and a good deal less glamorous than in Spiral 1. Most of the cast who survived series 1 return, including the cadaverous Judge Francois Roban [Phillipe Duclos], smooth prosecutor Pierre Clement [Gregory Fitoussi] and the attractive but machiavellian lawyer Josephine Karlsson [Audrey Fleurot]. Berthaud is ably supported by her loyal veteran cops Gilou [Thiery Godard], who seems to have recovered from his addiction to cocaine, and Fromentin [Fred Bianconi].

With this almost perfect casting and with Pierre Clement again mixing with the rich, powerful and corrupt this promises to be another great piece of television. Highlight of the first episode was a harrowing scene that should have been a dreadful warning to any young person contemplating taking drugs.
Listen or look [it is subtitled] for a great line by Gilou later in the episode.

I had watched Agatha Christie's Marple earlier in the evening and was still asking myself the question, why?
The episode was very evocative of England in the 1950s and we even were shown at one point the date on the newspaper is 1955. But Murder is Easy was written in 1939 and the book does not even feature the character Miss Jane Marple. She has been inserted into the plot which has also been altered considerably for the purposes of television. This was not achieved very successfully and despite a gallant attempt Julia McKenzie she will always be compared unfavourably in my mind with Joan Hickson, the definitive Jane Marple.
I admit to being extremely old fashioned and for instance not liking Mozart or Puccini operas in modern dress or book plots to be hacked about. I remember an episode in the Marple series, with Geraldine McEwan that ended up a little bit more like a Sarah Waters adaptation than an Agatha Christie.

Next week's episode is Why Didn't They Ask Evans, written by Agatha Christie in 1934, and once again with no Miss Marple.
Ironically ITV3 is showing next weekend the 1981 adaptation, which was fairly faithful to the book plot, and starred debonair James Warwick, as Bobby Jones, and the fragrant Francesca Annis as Lady Frances Derwent. This was so well received at the time that Warwick and Annis went on to star in Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime series based on her characters Tommy and Tuppence Beresford.

Why not write completely new stories ? Why not remake the old stories with the new cast if you want to ? Didn't Miss Jane Marple appear in 12 novels and 20 short stories why was it necessary to insert her in books she never appeared in? Why?

What can we expect next, adaptations of Conan Doyle's historical novels with Brigadier Gerard accompanied by Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson?

"No it has just happened that I have found myself in the vicinity of murder rather more often than would seem normal." Jane Marple


Blogger crimeficreader said...

Hi Norm, I have to admit that I gave up on the first in the new Marple series as it was far too slow. However, I did watch the second all the way through and enjoyed it a bit - 7 out of 10 perhaps?

I know that avid book readers can be purists or luddites when it comes to screen adaptations and I can be one too. But I haven't actually read much Christie and it was so long ago that memory does not serve well in my case. Thus I can take the screen version on its own merits, easily ignoring the novel on which it is based.

As a screen drama, the opening premise required a lot of suspension of disbelief. Is Jane Marple so into detection - to the point of an OCD disorder - that she'd have a quick conversation with a woman on a train and then, having read a report of her death in a newspaper, packs her bags and arrives at the departed woman's village? It's sort of Marple as Wonderwoman.

Then, further suspension is required as Marple actually stays with a young man she doesn't know, who just happens to be an ex-police officer in another country. 30s or 50s; it wouldn't have happened. This will be the bludgeoning in of a Miss Marple who was not in the original book, I take it?

That aside, it was an engrossing plot and it kept me going for 2hrs. Oddly, considering the speed of the deaths, no one ever seemed to feel threatened or at risk. That's the stiff upper lip for you.

I didn't recognise Hugo Speer at the start, but it's been a few years since The Full Monty... Margot Stilley proved to be a one trick pony on the verbal in the acting capacity in this. In Nine Songs, when the songs were not playing, she was basically simply having sex with her b/f and had little dialogue. In Marple, her delivery was exactly the same, albeit she had clothes on, and from another decade. Disappointing on the acting front.

Julia McKenzie I am warming to in this role. I am looking forward to next week's as it happens.

However, I have a rule with further complcations: never mix screen with books. I can watch the TV as long as I have not read the book first, and where I am very unlikely to read the book afterwards. I can also watch the screen version, but only after reading the book (and then I can get as critical as you, Norm). I simply can't watch an adaptation and then read the book, as my potential and original appreciation and interpretation of the story have been destroyed even before I pick up the novel.

Hope that makes sense. It might not as my mind is elsewhere this evening. And definitely not with Agatha...

12:35 PM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Absolutely spot-on re the Christie adaptations, Norman. I am wondering if perhaps the McEwan that put you in mind of Sarah Waters was the catastophic Nemesis, rendered completely unrecognizable, scarely a character or situation left intact, set in a convent, and with a lesbian grand finale. And Nemesis also was one of the best of Joan Hickson's series, wonderfully rendered with an exceptionally fine cast and a rather stunning bit of dialogue for Miss Marple at the conclusion. I watched a while back the 1974 adaptation of Francis Durbridge's Melissa -- first-rate, with one of Peter Barkworth's best performances. That novel was adapted again in 1997, I think, by one Alan Bleasdale, and he seemed to think it necessary to rewrite Durbridge into oblivion, ending and all. The strange thing was he said his adaptation was a homage to the novelist -- bloody funny way to pay homage, I thought. But, in any case, you are surely right in what you say. Some small changes are often necessary and perfectly acceptable in adaptations, but this sort of wholesale rewriting is pointless -- they should either be faithful to the original or, if they think they've got stuff as good or better in them, write their own. My word, I do miss dear Joan Hickson -- such a wonderful starring role after a lifetime of Trojan work in the trenches of character acting. And thank God David Suchet is at the tiller of the Poirot series and plans to stay there.

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've just Twittered this great post, for whatever that is worth. I could have watched Marple this weekend as, unusually, 50 per cent of my family was away, meaning a considerable reduction in domestic duties (to be caught up on upon return of the absent 50 %!). But I didn't, partly because of the Joan Hickson factor you mention, and partly because the prospect of two whole hours of ITV replete with adverts and "lovingly recreated period detail" defeated me. Spiral 2, on the other hand, bring on the recorder!!! (I will not watch live becuase memory is pathetic, so I will not be able to remember details of all 8 eps from week to week. Will record all and watch maybe one per couple of days at the end, so my poor brain can cope). The Times today had a review, said it was brill, and commented on the haricut of that attractive woman who plays the main police investigator. Said was not good (the haircut) cf series 1.

12:58 PM  
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12:58 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

CFR yes that was a bit obvious forcing Marple into the plot. In the book it is the policeman from Asia who does the investigation.
If you haven't watched the 1981 version of Evans you might enjoy the new one I understand that the plot has been altered somewhat. I am in a critical mood at the moment with a few medical tests coming up soon and having become temporarily [I hope] deaf in one ear. Maybe that is why I enjoyed the sub titled program a lot more. ;o)
Us older models need a lot more servicing and maintenance.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Philip it must have been Nemesis I just remember the shock [and I lived in Chelsea for years] and thinking I am sure Christie did not write this!
Peter Barkworth was a superb actor and as you say David Suchet has become Poirot in most people's minds with his accurate interpretation.
I don't mind the insertion of Hastings in situations he never appeared in the books but he is not the main character.
More Christie posts coming up.

3:09 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks very much for the twitter Maxine. Caroline Proust did look as if she had tangled with a rioting banlieue but I still thought it was brilliant. A bit like The Wire but with subtitles so you can actually understand what is going on.
I have left Spiral 2 on my recorder to watch again and the only other series I have done that with is the Montalbano.

3:14 PM  

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