Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Episode-by-episode: Murder in the Mews


This adaptation was shot for the first series in 1988, the second ever episode. It was based on the short story 'Murder in the Mews' first published in the UK in 1937. The script is once again by Clive Exton and the director is Edward Bennet.

Script versus short story
Once again, Clive Exton delivers the goods with a script that stays fairly close to its source material. Bits of dialogue are moved around to straighten out the narrative, but most of it is kept intact. As is the case with most of these short story adaptations, Hastings and Miss Lemon are added to the story (which originally just featured Poirot and Japp of the "regular cast"). Both additions make sense. In fact, in the case of Hastings, Exton introduces some of the character traits that will help Hugh Fraser to flesh out the character in future episodes. For instance, Hastings keeps his car in a garage in the mews where the murder takes place, a hint of what will become a somewhat significant part of TV-Hastings's character, his love of cars. Also, when Poirot visits the scene of the crime, Hastings is outside working on his car and is given the task to  find witnesses, and he comes up with Freddie Hogg (who, in the short story, was one of three witnesses, together with his mother and father, a chauffeur, but they are only seen on screen, interviewed by the police). Later, Exton introduces Hastings and Poirot at the golf course at the same time as Miss Plenderleith is disposing of the golf clubs and the briefcase, adding an amusing scene in which Poirot attempts to play golf. Hastings's love of golf will also be referenced in future episodes (see, for instance, the Anthony Horowitz-scripted Murder on the Links (1996)). 


Miss Lemon is given a few lines on a dental appointment for Poirot, which he is very keen to avoid (again, a character trait that will be referred to in later episodes, e.g. Clive Exton's One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (1992)) and the tasks of George, the valet (who will not be introduced until Series Ten). Also, there is an added "subplot" of the starching of Poirot's collars, which is not present in the short story, but I am fairly certain it is taken from one of Christie's other stories (The Dream). As to Japp, his wife (Mrs. Japp) is mentioned, and she will be referred to in later episodes as well, see for instance Exton's Hercule Poirot's Christmas (1995) and Horowtiz's Hickory Dickory Dock (1995).

Now, as to the plot itself, most of it is kept intact. The morning after the discovery of the body is kept almost intact, with Japp, Poirot, Dr. Brett and another police officer (Divisional Inspector Jameson from the short story, presumably) examining the scene of the crime. Miss Plenderlieth is a professional photographer in the adaptation, with her own "studio" on the ground floor. The housekeeper Miss Pierce's presence is delayed until later in the story (when Poirot encounters her on his visit to the flat to check for the golf clubs again), but this is an insignificant change. The interviews of the suspects are moved around a bit, so that Miss Plenderleith is interviewed three times in total, once on November 6th, once following the interview of Laverton-West and then in the denouement scene at the end. The interview of Laverton-West is also split in two, with a small part of it set in his office and then a latter part - after Miss Plenderleith's second interview - set in a swimming pool. Then, the interview of Major Eustace is set in a nightclub (in Soho, presumably), possibly the one mentioned by Major Eustace in the short story (The Far East Club), and conducted by Japp and Jameson, not Poirot). The final denouement is kept almost word by word, with the introduction of Hastings asking some of the questions assigned to Japp in the story. 

Directing, production design, locations and soundtrack
Bennett makes good use of overhead shots, particularly when the scene of the crime is examined. This helps to visualise the (significant) position of the body, the gun, the entry wound etc. on the body. His directing seems competent and, importantly, unobtrusive. Now, as always in these adaptations, I have to mention the production design. The Bardsley Garden Mews flat is a magnificent set, very 1930s, very modernist and art deco. The flat layout is quite artistic in itself, suitable for a photographer, and I personally enjoy the fact that the "emerald green" colours referred to in the short story are at least hinted at in the design of the flat. As always, Whitehaven Mansions (aka Florin Court) is lovely, and particular points should go to the swimming pool set. Also, the decision to set the interview of Major Eustace in the nightclub proves that the production crew really do want to emphasise the production values, with the extravagant band and singer, the extras in the club and the detail of the set itself. In fact, this particular episode is very much set based, unlike some of the later episodes that place more emphasis on location (partly by choice and partly because the source material demands it). Consequently, there aren't any locations to refer to in this one, possibly apart from Laverton-West's office, but I haven't been able to work out where that is. Possibly somewhere in Bloomsbury? (Again, I'm not an expert). As to the soundtrack, there are no tracks available on any of Gunning's releases, but the song in the night club is an edited version of "Hindustan", written and composed by Oliver G. Wallace and Harold Weeks in 1918. This clip (from about 3:30) features the part presumably used in the adaptation, sung/spoken by Bing Crosby and Caterina Valente. This one, however, seems to be the more common version. 

Actors and characters
I have discussed the character development and performances of the main characters elsewhere, and the important character traits added here, like Hastings's golfing and love of cars, have already been outlined above. Suffice to say that David Suchet here displays Poirot's strong sense of justice in the final scene. Bringing to mind the more recent ending of the Murder on the Orient Express adaptation, we see Poirot visibly enraged by Miss Plenderleith's attempt at taking matters into her own hands (a point to make note of for those fans who claim that Poirot is never angry or emotionally upset). Also, the adaptation nicely brings out the ambiguity of the crime, as we as viewers are invited to feel that her actions were justified (the way Major Eustace is portrayed in the film, as something of a brute, and the emphasis placed on Miss Plenderleith's affection for the victim (she attends her funeral in this adaptation, and Poirot's question - "You were fond of your friend?" - is emphasized by the actors' tone of voice and the soundtrack).

Of the guest actors, Juliette Mole (Jane Plenderleith) and David Yelland (Laverton-West) are the standouts. The first because she manages to bring out the sympathetic qualities and the genuine grief of her character, and the second because of his borderline caricature, but quite believable ambitious politician (well, and the fact that he goes on the become George, Poirot's valet, in later adaptations!).  

10 comments:

  1. Jane seems to almost have been in love with Barbara - witness not only her deep grief but her resentment of the engagement - and I don't mean that as a bad thing. I prefer it to Christie female characters who will do anything for the guy, even kill their friends!

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  2. @fangirl82 I thought the same as you, and so did my wife. I asked her, "Are they implying what I think they are?" And she said, "I think so." We were both surprised when the blackmail turned out to be over a bastard child instead of a lesbian affair, although that would doubtless have been only hinted at rather than stated explicitly in a Christie novel.

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  3. Well, the subject of the blackmail is an out-of-wedlock child in the original. But Jane could have had the lesbian feelings without Barbara really reciprocating, since after all, Barbara has had affairs with men and was engaged to one.

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  4. Jane and Barbara have one of the healthier female relationships in a "verse" where there seems to be more female rivalry than friendship (and I refer, not to Christie in general, but to Poirot stories, because I think there is more genuine female friendship and solidarity in Marple and other Christie stories.) Jane and Barbara seem to even communicate about important things (because Jane knows about the baby.) I guess we can assume that Barbara, if she would really rather kill herself than live without her MP-fiance, didn't reciprocate whatever romantic feelings Jane might have had...which I find to kind of be the really sad part: Barbara, you were already living with someone who loved you more than Charles ever could! (Frankly, many women in Christie could have avoided their tragedies if they'd valued each other as much as they did men!)

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  5. In Nemesis, Miss Marples talks about Verity loving Chlotilde (sp?) in "an almost romantic way" (although that seems to be more a guardian-ward or teacher-student relationship than a friendship between peers) and Miss Marple says it's normal for a girl to feel that way about another female at a certain stage of adolescence, but that the natural order of things is for her to grow out of it and fall in "real" "adult" love with a man...which Verity did and Chlotilde couldn't accept.

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  6. One good reason for adding Hastings to this is that he was in The Market Basing Mystery, which was rewritten as Murder in the Mews. (The same happens with The Incredible Theft/The Submarine Plans).

    Was this episode made first? Poirot's voice is noticeably different in places.

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    1. Good point! No, judging by Suchet's accounts of the first series, they were made in order, with Clapham Cook being the first. But this was second, so he was still finding his way a bit with the voice. You can certainly hear a difference between these early adaptations and the final ones.

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  7. I was rather smitten by the voice of the girl who sang "Hindustan", I listened to it several times.
    And I am impressed by the authenticity of the period costumes, autos, and a lot of art-deco.

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    1. I agree! The attention to period detail is what makes these early adaptations really stand out.

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  8. These early adaptations are really good. They stick much more closely to the written source and are very thoroughly researched. I notice some people think Poirot's accent is unpolished here; perhaps so, but I like Suchet's earlier renderings more than the last couple of seasons, when he has become far more "foreign" and less familiar with English idioms. Here he is idiosyncratic but less intensely so.

    The sets: This first flat of Poirot's always bothers me as I think there are too many useless ornaments and they are not symmetrical enough. But the mews flat is really wonderful. The exterior is a Victorian building with the interior refurbished in an aggressively modern style, with a few "arty" Victorian pieces thrown in (the oriental screen and harp, for instance, which clash with the modernist furniture but are obviously used as photo props). Then the victim's room appears to be furnished with older, possibly second-hand pieces, and is much more feminine. This kind of detail makes watching and re-watching a great pleasure. And of course, the night club with its lavish detail is awesome.

    I also am very impressed with how thoroughly the main actors have their characters set, so early in the series.This means they were given sufficient time to think, and presumably to interact with each other in rehearsals. Notice how Hastings isn't upset when the children's firecrackers make him jump, and Miss Lemon's seriousness in the face of Poirot's quirks (though later she acquires a little twinkle). And Poirot's kindness to servants while being much more high-handed with upper class people - it's nice that this little trait was established so early in the series. Although one notices that Suchet didn't master the mincing walk this early.

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I'm a passionate fan of Poirot, Agatha Christie and the ITV series. If you have any questions, comments, suggestions or requests, please e-mail me at poirotchronology@gmail.com, post a comment on one of my blogs, or get in touch on Twitter @pchronology. (I used to call myself HickoryDickory)