Friday, 9 August 2013

Episode-by-episode: Evil Under the Sun


©ITV
This episode was based on the novel Evil Under the Sun, first published in 1941. It was adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz and directed by Brian Farnham.

Script versus novel
Horowitz remains largely faithful to the novel, but there are several minor changes. First, he had to reintroduce the Big Three properly, just as he had started doing with Lord Edgware Dies. The solution this time around is to add an Argentinean restaurant, in which Hastings has invested much of his capital. Japp and Poirot attend the opening night (Miss Lemon, of course, is 'way behind with her filing'). This scene allows the three leads to be acquainted with Arlena Stuart, Kenneth Marshall and the man who is later believed to have been blackmailing Stuart. It also provides a rather humorous reason for Poirot to go on holiday - he is admitted to hospital and is considered 'medically obese' (later revealed to be food poisoning, and Hastings's restaurant is obviously to blame - another bad investment). In turn, the Jolly Roger Hotel becomes Sandy Cove Hotel, a health resort, and all the guests are admitted with (more or less plausible) health issues. Also, throughout the episode, Poirot complains of the diet programme he has to follow (on Miss Lemon's orders, of course). This subplot / introduction is actually quite nicely handled, and it does make Hastings's (who is not in the novel) presence feel somewhat more plausible. Second, several insignificant guests are deleted, including Mr. and Mrs. Gardener, the Cowans and the Mastermans. Third, Linda Marshall, Kenneth Marshalls daughter, becomes Lionel Marshall here. He is revising for his chemistry exams and borrows a book at the library on poisons (rather than Linda's weird obsession with witchcraft). Also, making the child a man provides a handy extra suspect (Lionel's glasses are found misplaced at the scene of the murder - not a pair of scissors, like in the novel). Fourth, Rosamund Darnley - who speaks of a friend of hers who was in Egypt when Poirot was there - is here an old acquaintance of Poirot's from that very same holiday. She is still an old friend of Marshall's, though, and Horowitz even adds a scene in which Poirot overhears a conversation between the two that is potentially incriminating for her. Fifth, Chief Inspector Japp replaces Inspector Colgate and Colonel Weston, the Chief Constable (the latter was replaced by Japp in Peril at End House, too, so that makes sense, I guess). Sixth, Major Barry's hunt for the smuggler's ring is linked with the visit of two bird watchers (a couple who want to dine at the restaurant in the novel). Seventh, Lionel doesn't try to commit suicide, like Linda does in the novel. Eight, Miss Brewster is given a motive for murder - she lost a significant amount of money by investing in a play Arlena Stuart pulled out of. Ninth, Miss Lemon gets to investigate in London and Blackridge (first, looking into the details of Stuart's will, second, looking into the previous murder that Stephen Lane is linked to). Tenth, the potential blackmail is explained (quite cleverly) by the differences between British English and American English - "lose a great deal". All in all, though, almost all Horowitz's changes are sensible and are primarily made to add extra twists and turns. It's not a great episode, but there is not much wrong with it either.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Farnham's direction is competent and somewhat straight-forward. He makes excellent use of the great location (Burgh Island hotel - the very hotel at which Agatha wrote the novel!). Other locations include Salcombe, South Devon (the very same location that was used for Peril at End House, which, judging by several references in the novel, took place not far from the hotel), and the Blackridge scenes were shot in Buckinghamshire - Hambleden Church and Frieth Village Hall. Gunning's soundtrack is well executed. It has not been released.

Characters and actors
It's nice to see the development of the main character relationships (even if, by now, it does seem to strain credibility a little, if you ask me). I particularly enjoy Pauline Moran's display of utter shock when her employer is admitted to hospital - she is obviously concerned and wants him to be all right, a display of the affection she has for him. Her concern for his health equally so. Of the guest actors, there doesn't really seem to be any standouts in this one. They all do a competent job, but that's that. A young Rusell Tovey can be spotted playing Lionel.

16 comments:

  1. "I particularly enjoy Pauline Moran's display of utter shock when her employer is admitted to hospital - she is obviously concerned and wants him to be all right, a display of the affection she has for him. Her concern for his health equally so."

    Agreeing absolutely with the above. And the whole "El Ranchero" business, which is rather silly in and of itself, is worth it just for that. Miss Lemon has practically hypnotized herself into believing she's Madame Poirot - I don't mean that in a negative way, I mean she really has taken it upon herself to look after Poirot like a wife would. And in a way, so has Hastings. I love the concern they both show for Poirot (it's Hastings to the rescue when Poirot is nearly strangled!) And it is very nice to have Poirot actually give credit to both his associates. (Hasn't Hastings been made more competent than i the books?)

    I am confused about something: Hastings has already been to Argentina, obviously...is he supposed to be married to Bella? If he is, what does it say about their marriage that he's always in England?

    And think of the funny irony of the whole El Ranchero business: if anyone collapsed at dinner within a mile of Poirot, he'd assume it was poisoning. And yet, when it happened to him, everyone assumed it was natural causes. I can see that he didn't want to believe he had a health problem...but you would think he would have jumped to the conclusion that someone was out to get him.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Miss Lemon: "We might have lost you the other night. It doesn't even bear thinking about." So restrained, and yet, such love there. (The question comes to mind: would Vera Rossakoff do the health regime thing or would she continue to prepare the lavish picnics?)

    Hastings seems like quite the gamesman / outdoorsman - but I think they've been consistent with that. Poirot has the "little gray cells" but Hastings does better in crisis situations that require strength or involve physical danger.

    Isn't this, however, about the only episode where the tendency to seasickness is a big issue for Poirot? In Death on the Nile, Bond Robbery, and Problem at Sea, it's downplayed almost to the point of being eliminated.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The suspension-of-disbelief issue: if it really was from El Ranchero, food poisoning wouldn't happen that soon after ingesting the food.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Depends on the pathogen. They all have different incubation periods and some can be that quick.

      Delete
  4. I enjoy how Christie set up these so-called seductresses - these women with very glamorous, sexy appearances, controversial-for-the-time careers, (like acting), a tendency to have affairs, often without caring if the man is married, and the apparent ability to make men do what they want - and then - low and behold - THEY turn out to be the men's victims, not the other way around. (Elsa Greer is another example, whom I consider luckier than Arlena, Linnet Ridgeway, or Valentine Chantry - Amyas only wanted to have sex with Elsa and then discard her - he didn't need to steal her money or kill her.)

    Of course, back when the books were published, the twists of "Arlena was Patrick's victim" and "there was nothing special about Elsa to Amyas" were surprises because back then, women like that were likely thought of by many people as evil. Today, critics and viewers have a tendency to laud such characters as feminist or empowered - simply because they engage in behavior that was traditionally taboo for women. Because it's taboo doesn't mean it's healthy for the women, or will make them happy! I think Christie shows with Arlena particularly that such women aren't having affairs because they're strong but because they're needy. And if nothing else, their lives seem to revolve around men...and there's a lack of solidarity with other women.

    I think Steven Moffitt and Mark Gattis were trying to go for something similar in Scandal in Belgravia, too. Everyone talks about Irene being so strong, but the use of sex as power really turned against her in the end.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This opens with one of those scenes where a character does something they wouldn't normally do entirely for the viewer's benefit. In this case, the unidentified (at this point) cyclist screams on discovering the body, even though there's no-one around to hear. Once you know who she really is, there's no reason for her to scream or make any pretence at shock when she's alone.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "Also, making the child (Linda/Lionel) a man provides a handy extra suspect."

    Linda's a suspect in the book anyway. The murderers deliberately set her up as one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True. But by making her male, and having Poirot point out that the murderer could have the hands of a young man, Lionel becomes a more obvious suspect than Linda was in the book.

      Delete
  7. The production team don't seem to understand what a causeway is. It should be elevated above the sea - that's the whole point. They're not natural formations but artificial roads across the water. Even in the book, the causeway is only submerged at high tide.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree. But then, they did use the location that Chrisite based her story on, so I suppose that was more important than the accuracy of the term.

      Delete
    2. Part of the Bigbury-on-Sea resort is called the Burgh Island Causeway. Tidal islands that are accessible at low tide have strips of land connecting them to the mainland which are called tidal causeways.

      Delete
  8. Why is Japp in this story? Devon is not under the direct jurisdiction of Scotland Yard. I don't know the name of the actress portraying Arlena Marshall. But her performance seemed like a second-rate version of Diana Rigg's performance in the 1982 movie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, that's one of the conundrums of the series. I suppose they wanted to include Japp since this was the only episode in which they could include the main "family" that season (the only other episode was Murder in Mesopotamia). It doesn't make sense, and I think that's one of the reasons the new producers in Series Nine decided to ditch Japp and Lemon.

      Delete
  9. actress playing miss lemon overacts in this episode, more than usual.
    other than that, this is a solid episode. murder plot is (while way too complicated to be executed by any real murderers) is ingenious and tight. and its presentation is well done. unlike in some other episodes, there are no big holes in solution, or cheating concealments from viewers.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I don't know if I watched some cut version, but there are two big mistakes (at least in the movie I saw).

    The first one is that Ms Brewster's vertigo is never mentioned. During the explanation poirot says that redfern chose ms brewster on purpose to go in the boat with him because she wouldn't climb the ladder. But as vertigo is never mentioned this statement doesn't mean anything, especially since ms brewster is an amateur athlete.

    Secondly, again in the explanation, poirot asks hastings if he remembers that mrs redfern told them that she was a teacher (and a teacher found alice corrigan's body). Mrs redfern never said that on screen.

    I liked the major barry subplot.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I like this version much better than the 1982 version with Ustinov (except that Diana Rigg was deliciously wicked in the 1982 version). This one has a better setting and doesn't over-glamorize the hotel guests. Of course Peter Ustinov was only a mediocre Poirot as well (too clownish).In this version Poirot stands out as beautifully citified and crisp in spite of the health spa setting.

    Regarding changes to the story, I disliked the restaurant subplot as unnecessary, but it does give a reason for Poirot to be somewhere unlikely for him, and it showcases Miss Lemon again. I disliked the brimstone preaching scene at the beginning as also being unnecessary. If they wanted to increase his chance of being a suspect they could have just had him explain his breakdown and show disgust at Arlena's behavior. I realize British TV pretty much always shows clergy as useless or demented but I felt it was overkill. I liked the change of Linda to Lionel as the Linda subplot was too unbelievable. I liked adding the smuggling subplot as well.

    As to mistakes: the original storyline requires too tight of a timeline to do the murder. It doesn't make sense that the pair of culprits would tie themselves down to only a 20-30 minute window. It doesn't make sense that Arlena would not become impatient and sneak out to peek at what Christine was doing on the beach. And yes, Miss Brewster's vertigo is never mentioned, but Poirot only says that she "like the rest of us" would not want to climb the ladder.

    Incidentally, that marvelous Sea Tractor which is used at high tide is actually in use at Burgh Island. But it was invented in 1969!

    ReplyDelete

About Me

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)