Friday, February 17, 2017

TV Review - Murder is Easy

Murder is Easy
Based on the book by Agatha Christie
Starring: Steve Pemberton, Shirley Henderson, Sylvia Syms, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lyndsey Marshal, James Lance, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Camilla Arfwedson, Hugo Speer, Anna Chancellor, David Haig, Margo Stilley, Jemma Redgrave, Russell Tovey, Stephen Churchett, Steven Hartley, and Julian Lightwing
Release Date: July 12th, 2009
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Miss Marple is on a train when she meets a very distracted female passenger on her way to London, a Miss Lavinia Pinkerton. Miss Pinkerton is distressed about the possibility that Scotland Yard closes for lunch because she has to talk to them because she believes there has been two murders in her town. Miss Marple isn't sure what to make of her, but Miss Pinkerton's parting words that murder is easy if no one thinks it's murder makes Jane pick up Miss Pinkerton's discarded newspaper, The Wychwood Gazette, to read about the tragic death of the Vicar due to bees. A few days later when she reads of the death of Miss Pinkerton on an escalator in the London Underground Jane packs her bags for Wychwood and is determined to get to the bottom of Miss Pinkerton's suspicions. Arriving for Miss Pinkerton's funeral claiming to be an old friend Jane is soon taken into the community's confidences about the upcoming election concerning Major Horton, James Abbot, and Dr. Thomas, the other recent accidents, the secret trysts, and the nosey yet attractive American who is visiting. Though one of the town's residents sees through Miss Marple's act. Luke Fitwilliam is ex police and is back in Wychwood to clear out his mother's estate and can tell when someone is lying. Miss Marple comes clean, dropping her doddering old lady act and the two of them set out to solve these crimes, another of which has just been committed as Dr. Humbleby drops dead of acute septicemia. Can they catch the killer before even more "accidents" happen?

By the time Julia McKenzie quietly sidled in as Miss Marple taking over from fan favorite, and apparent belligerent drunk Geraldine McEwan, there were only four remaining books and two short stories containing Miss Marple left to adapt. Well, when a series runs to twenty-three ninety minute movies and is drawing on a base of only twelve books staring a character, liberties will be increasingly taken. While this started with McEwan, having Marple show up in four stories she had no right to be in, McEwan somehow pulled it off, nosing her way in. Whereas McKenzie was more passive, just a figure in the background as the series took more and more liberties with the mysteries, heavily expanding and changing them, much to the audience's displeasure. While I'm a fan of McKenzie, she is an incredibly talented actress, she just didn't have the oomph to force her way into these new narratives. I felt like this was the slow death of Marple... it didn't surprise me in the least when the BBC took over the Christie franchise and quickly put Marple out of it's misery. It was a pale imitation of what it once was, whereas Poirot had only gotten better over the years and ended on a high note. Therefore it should come as no surprise that I had actually, until rewatching Murder is Easy, entirely forgotten this episode. The fact that Benedict Cumberbatch was in an episode of Marple was pretty much a surprise to me. But in no way an unpleasant one.

Personally I never got the Christie purists who complained about the changes. Until now. Changing one or two things isn't a crime, but here? They took a solid mystery and tried to make it more modern and more Christie simultaneously by adding in incestuous rape and then having all the suspects rounded up for the big reveal. The mystery worked fine as originally written and would have featured FAR more Benedict Cumberbatch if his character hadn't been relegated to Miss Marple's sidekick. But even if Benedict hadn't been playing the role of Luke Fitzwilliam if you think my favoritism is swaying my opinion, if it had been anyone else, the changes just don't work. There is barely a shadow of the original story. Murder is Easy was written to be about a rather witchy town with lots of people who are at odds, all of them a bit of an outsider, instead we have a happy little village where on the surface everyone is getting along. Yes, they still have dark secrets, but they were bland. It was all who was sleeping with who and not who was doing Satanic rites up on the hillside. And the problem I have is that there are so many actors whom I legitimately love in this, but throwing a whole bunch of celebrities onto the screen isn't going to solve a production that had the temerity to think they knew better than Christie. This adaptation just doesn't work. All the changes throw the dynamics of the narrative off so that you can't actually enjoy watching it.

Each and every change to a character has a ripple effect until at the end the calm stream becomes a massive waterfall. I just want to shake the writers and scream WHY in their faces as long as my breath will hold. They could have just slipped Jane into the story, not changed EVERYTHING. As a starting point let's take Luke Fitzwilliam. Luke is supposed to be the stranger, the interloper that Jane becomes. By having him be a local KNOWN to be ex police, well the who idea of subterfuge and a secret investigation is out the window. The narrative instantly because about Miss Marple being cleverer than the cops with her sitting smugly behind doors from where she's secretly running the interrogations. I mean, it's just a boring police procedural at this point, NOT a classic of crime. Bridget Conway, the love interest, becomes not a local engaged to the big MP, but an American looking for her real parents? Um, why!?! In fact there's only TWO DEATHS, out of the seven in the book that happen the same way. What, those seven different accidents weren't good enough for you ITV people? Apparently death by bees is far sexier... and I'm not even going to talk about the stupid hat dye.

But what makes this adaptation utterly unbelievable is the change of the timeline. In the book aside from the final three deaths they are spread out over a longer period of time, about a year or so. Having the characters be killed by "accident" over the course of a year, well, that makes it more plausible that no one would have cried foul. But to have all these people "accidentally" die over the course of a few days!?! Well, even the ever delightfully bumbling Russell Tovey as PC Terence Reed should have cottoned onto them all being camouflaged murders even without Miss Marple appearing on the scene. I mean, seriously, that many bodies so quickly? And they didn't think, hang on a minute, do we maybe have a serial killer!?! By this point I was actually hoping they'd all die for their stupidity except for Jemma Redgrave who was oddly endearing as the Doctor's manic widow. And the fact that besides just a regular PC there was Luke Fitzwilliam on the scene, a true officer of the law, how stupid are these townspeople? The only real joy I got from this episode was watching Russell Tovey and Benedict Cumberbatch work together. After watching them recently on Sherlock, it's fascinating to see how in just four years they had grown as actors.

In the end though I just want to know, why the change of motive? In the book Honoria Waynflete is a bitter woman pissed at being jilted and seeing her family lose their fortune, but underneath it all she was just insane. She killed just to kill, which is the most terrifying of criminals. Here she was raped by her brother and had the baby and put it up for adoption. When the baby, all growed up, shows up in Wychwood, well, ANYONE who might have known her horrid secret must be killed. It all kind of eliminates the evil... because the killer was a victim who was only trying to cover up a horrible secret she's kept hidden for years. She is sympathetic, to an extent. But you can at least understand the motive... It just makes the story less than. A classic full of sinister townsfolk or a tragedy that has repercussions for years to come... I wanted a mystery, a proper tale of criminals and instead I got this. It just didn't feel worthy of Christie. It comes from modern sensibilities that want to understand and feel pity for the killer. There can't just be evil, that is now reserved for the realms of horror. A mystery has to be complex and understanding and despite being the bestseller of all time ITV felt that they knew better. Personally this was the end of Marple for me, and if I could give one final piece of advice, if would be to Luke Fitzwillim; don't get involved with the girl. She's the product of incestuous rape and her mother was a serial killer. Crazy runs in her family so now you go and run for the hills.


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