Johanna's House of Glamour: Farewell Street
Further Linguistic Defeats

Why Didn't They Ask Evans?

The title belongs to an Agatha Christie novel and to a three-part television adaption of it which recently became available on BritBox, and which I strongly recommend to anyone who likes This Sort of Thing.

The sort of thing is a murder mystery featuring: an English village in the early 20th century; much beautiful photography of the village, the countryside, and great houses; a beautiful, witty, and brave heroine; a handsome and brave hero; the village church and its vicar; sinister aristocrats; a sinister doctor; names like "Bassington-ffrench"; a highly improbable story with a satisfactory resolution. And a light touch throughout.

I haven't read the book, but the series strikes me as being just about perfect as a Christie adaptation. It doesn't involve Poirot or Miss Marple, but rather two young people, Bobby Jones and Lady Frances ("Frankie") Derwent, the hero and heroine mentioned above. It's directed by Hugh Laurie, who also appears as the sinister doctor. Apart from Laurie, the only name I recognized among the cast was Emma Thompson, but they are all excellent. 

I found it completely delightful, as did my wife. The only falling-off from this near-perfection is one utterly incongruous use of the f-word. I suspect that in the book it's "bloody" or something of that sort that was pretty strong language in Christie's time, and that the writer(s) or Laurie thought it needed updating to something at least mildly offensive to 21st century ears, as the character who says it immediately apologizes. Or maybe there is a formal requirement in England that every program must include at least one instance of this word. Anyway it seems impossible that Christie would have used it.

There was one other small thing that struck me as slightly off: Bobby's friend "Knocker" Beadon is played by an actor who seems to be Jamaican (or some other formerly British West Indies place). That seems unlikely given the time and place, but I suppose it was not impossible, and in any case the character fits in very well. 

Here's the trailer. I had not seen it before watching the series, but it would certainly have made me do so. I cannot abide most trailers these days, which give you only a series of jerky quick cuts showing sensational moments which add up to nothing more than a rough impression. This one, in contrast, gives you a complete little scene, and a real sense of the characters.

There must be something about the book that makes it seem suited to dramatization, as this is the third one, fourth if you count one episode of a French TV show. One, from 2011, is reworked to include Miss Marple. That was unnecessary. Bobby and Frankie are just fine.


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The 1980 version features Joan Hickson, who later did the best Miss Marple characterization, in a minor role most unlike Miss Marple -- see here at the 1:13:17 point:

I can never remember which Marple I prefer. I don't even know how many there are, but I think there are two major BBC versions. I've been thinking of delving back into one or both of those. I do seem to recall that there was one I didn't think very good. But looking at a picture of Joan Hickson I think hers may be the one I thought was the best.

Anyway, that role is indeed most unlike Miss Marple. That whole movie might be worthwhile.

Something in the credits of that adaptation reminds me of a peculiar thing about the new adaption--the nickname of Bobby's friend, Knocker. A day or two after we watched it, my wife and I were talking about it and I couldn't remember the character's name. She wasn't sure either, so, phone in hand, she looked on Wikipedia. It has the name of the character in the book as Badger.

I was *really* puzzled by that, and just a bit distressed, because I felt very sure that it was a name that suggested hitting or striking, and I didn't like the idea that my memory was that bad. So I looked further on Wikipedia and found that the character was named Badger in the book, but Knocker in the new version. If you look at that Wikipedia page, which includes plot and cast summaries for the book and the movies, and search for Beadon, you'll see what I mean. There's no explanation for the change.

I think perhaps Hugh Laurie changed the nickname to reflect the very different character he created in this new version. Watch this clip as John Gielgud describes Badger in the 1980 version as "completely irresponsible, he's never done a hands-turn in his life," etc.:

Badger as a nickname seems to fit that character. I looked up Knocker and found it's used in the British Navy as a nickname for someone with White as a surname. Maybe that reflects Laurie's sense of humor?

Heh. Could be. And Knocker is not irresponsible at all, or not very. He and Tommy (the hero) are partners in an auto business.

And I suppose the nickname may have been explained in the show and i just didn't catch it.

I'd say Hickson's the best Marple as well, but Margaret Rutherford's stout and brash version, while nothing like the character in the books, is a hoot. She did a handful of comedic Marple movies in the 60's, and if you go into them not expecting too much they are a nice bit of fun.

I think I saw one of those many years ago and enjoyed it. Definitely not Miss Marple though, except in name.

The other BBC Miss Marple was Geraldine McEwan. I think I liked Hickson better.

Have you (or anyone else) seen any of the recent Christie miniseries that pop up on Amazon Prime? I think there's one with John Malkovich as Poirot, and another one with Bill Nighy as the detective?

I saw the Malkovich one. So-so in my opinion. I don't recall even seeing the other one listed, but it looks interesting.

Seems that there are three of these and all three have gotten pretty bad reviews by Christie fans.

Three episodes of Ordeal By Innocence you mean, I guess? Too bad. One of the great things about the Evans one. the new one, is that it doesn't make an effort to "appeal to contemporary tastes," except in those minor ways I noted.

No, three miniseries: Ordeal, The ABC Murders (the Poirot one with Malkovich), and The Pale Horse. There's also a 3-part version of 'And Then There Were None' from 2015. Its reviews are better -- don't know if it was done by the same people who did the other three.

Pale Horse rang a very faint bell, so I looked it up and found that I have seen it. I didn't care much for it either. As best I recall my final reaction was "ok whatever."

I'm not a Christie purist by any means, not even that much of a fan, and haven't read the novels on which either Pale Horse or ABC is based. Just didn't think they were that good. Not terrible, but, obviously, forgettable.

I haven't seen the recent big-budget Death on the Nile. I was a little surprised that it was made, as there's an older one which was excellent (as I recall). And I wonder that anyone would attempt Poirot again after David Suchet.

I think I'll give "And Then...." a go. Turns out that one of my local libraries has it on DVD.

Hadn't heard about Death on the Nile, although I do remember a new version of Murder on the Orient Express from a few years ago. Same people, apparently, did both.

The '70s Murder on the Orient Express was also, as far as I'm concerned, definitive. Even though it's not David Suchet as Poirot.

I saw the Malkovich one. I really liked the way Poirot is portrayed as a serious believer, but the related backstory they gave him was dumber than dumb.

I don't remember either of those aspects of it. In fact I don't remember much of it at all. Clearly it did not make much of an impression on me.

Had nothing new on hand to watch last night, and was too tired to read, so I pulled out an old episode of Morse, one that I didn't remember, The Wench is Dead. Turned out to be pretty good, with Morse attempting to solve a Victorian mystery from his hospital bed. The action, such as it is, goes back and forth between Morse's current woes and a depiction of the 19th century events, which is handled in good UK TV fashion.

This got me thinking that I have never read a Morse novel, despite having seen all the TV movies at least twice. I think that next time I'm in the mood for a mystery novel, I might go with the first Morse book.

I only vaguely remember that particular episode, but I watched a lot of Morse a year or so ago and thought they were as good as I remember from their original appearance (20-30 years ago). Morse was a bit more of a jerk than I recall, though.

I've only read, as in physical book, one Morse novel, The Way Through the Woods. I wasn't especially taken with it. But I listened to one, The Daughters of Cain, and liked it a great deal. The difference made by a good reader can be huge. In particular I remember that class differences among the characters came out in the voices in a way they wouldn't on the page.

Both those are relatively late in the Morse list, by the way. Which might or might not mean anything.

The Poirot and Miss Marple characters change with each new film version. Malkovich's Poirot had a past life as a priest; Kenneth Branaugh's lost the love of his life early on, and so became the pompous fellow we know to hide his pain. And the Miss Marple as done by Geraldine McEwan had a love affair with a married man who was killed in World War I, which made her worldly wise and quite liberal.

I guess things could be worse, though. According to this piece, back in 2011 there were plans to have Jennifer Garner play Miss Marple "as a younger, sassier amateur sleuth."

Poor Agatha. Here's what she said about the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple: “Why don’t they just invent a new character? Then they can have their cheap fun and leave me and my creations alone.”

I’m glad we were spared the sassy Marple. I’ve come to hate that word.

Was it Christie I was just recently reading about who had refused even to see movies based on her work?…can’t remember…

There is a movie or tv show made in the past few years that involved young Agatha and the period when she disappeared for a bit. I recall enjoying it and don’t recall the sort of groaners that might be inserted into such a thing. But maybe I was just didn’t think about it. Can’t remember the name of it.

That was Agatha and the Truth of Murder, which Wikipedia says is an "alternative history drama". I prefer going with just made up out of whole cloth. :)

I didn’t mind that in principle—it was just speculatively filling in an existing blank space in the life of a real person. I don’t think it tampered with known facts. But taking someone’s fictional creation and tweaking it to suit yourself is cheating. Especially irritating if you’re trying to “update” it.

The answer to Christie’s question about just creating a new character is probably just “branding.” They just wanted the built-in sales appeal of the Miss Marple trademark. A new character wouldn’t have had that.

Not that that makes it ok. On the contrary…

Iirc, Christie eventually warmed to Rutherford's portrayal and even dedicated one of her later books to her.

Now I’m curious about the Rutherford films.

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