Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Episode-by-episode: Hallowe'en Party

© ITV
This episode was based on the novel Hallowe'en Party, first published in 1969. It was adapted for television by Mark Gatiss (who previously scripted Cat Among the Pigeons, acted in Appointment with Death and co-wrote the upcoming The Big Four with Ian Hallard) and directed by Charlie Palmer.

Script versus novel
Gatiss's script manages to transport the plot from its 1960s setting to the series' 1930s setting almost seamlessly, with the odd fact that Halloween parties in the UK probably were far less common in the 30s. For instance, he removes any references to LSD and other drugs. As to changes to the plot, he removes a couple of characters, most notably Superintendent Spence and his sister Elspeth McKay, but also Ann Reynolds, Dr Ferguson, Harriet Leaman (the cleaner), Miss Emlyn, and the boys, Nicholas Ransom and Desmond Holland. It would be nice to have Spence included, particularly since he was present in the two previous novels he was in (Taken at the Flood and Mrs McGinty's Dead), but I suppose he felt there would be too many investigators on the case (Poirot, Mrs Oliver, the local police and a retired Spence). The other characters are minor and consequently their removal matters little to the plot. Gatiss adds a couple of new characters, i.e. two grown-up children for Mrs Drake (Edmund and Frances). He makes Mrs Reynolds a step-mother to her children. Also, Mrs Goodbody (the local 'witch') fittingly replaces Elspeth as the local gossip from whom Poirot gets his information on the suspicious deaths (one suspicious death, Charlotte Benfield, is removed). Moreover, the Jane White (Beatrice in the adaptation) death is given a somewhat different backstory (or, perhaps I should say, a more outspoken one). The character of Ambrose is deleted, so Beatrice White is revealed to have been in love with Miss Whittaker (who is a church organist, not a teacher here). Some viewers have reacted to the more upfront display of homosexuality, but I think it's been beautifully done in a very touching scene by the lake where she drowned (as an aside, this is the only Christie novel in which the word 'lesbian' is used). Furthermore, Lesley Ferrier was seeing Frances Drake rather than Nora Ambrose. Also, the reverend gets a more central role, with an au pair scheme to help girls like Olga (making him a potential suspect). Of minor changes, Mrs Oliver is down with a flu for most of the episode (I'm not sure if that's supposed to add comedy to the proceedings or if it was a result of Zoë Wanamaker's availability), Poirot arrives on the train together with Michael Garfield (who has just arrived from Greece), Poirot doesn't stay at a guest house but at Mrs Butler's house, Mrs Drake's husband was killed by what seems like a hit-and-run accident, and several horror and spookiness references are added, e.g. to Edgar Allan Poe and Matthew Hopkins (probably a result of Gatiss being a big horror fan). Poirot, obviously, dislikes the tradition of reading horror stories around Halloween (he prefers remembering the dead).All in all, Gatiss's adaptation works well, and it's a more or less faithful retelling of the novel.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Palmer's direction suits the episode. He has emphasised the darkness and autumn colours of the season. Also, I particularly like the use of the snap-dragon game, which I assume is partly Gatiss's and partly Palmer's idea. This brings to mind other adaptations that revolve around games and rhymes, like One, Two, Buckle My Shoe and 'How Does Your Garden Grow?'. The production design also suits the episode, again with an emphasis on the season. The main location is a private estate in Oxfordshire. The soundtrack works particularly well for the episode. Composer Christian Henson emphasises the snap-dragon game in collaboration with Palmer and Gatiss.

Characters and actors
It's always a joy to see David Suchet and Zoë Wanamaker together as Poirot and Mrs Oliver. They really have excellent screen chemistry. A shame that Mrs Oliver is bedridden for most of the episode, though. Poirot is in investigation mode in this story, even if faced with opposition from the local police. Also, it's good to see George back in the fold, too. Of the other actors, Deborah Findlay and Julian Rhind-Tutt both stand out, but I think particular credit should go to Mary Higgins, who plays Miranda.

13 comments:

  1. The book really rattled on and on with threads that get forgotten not long after they have been introduced, it wouldn’t surprise me if Christie had to bulk up the page numbers to get it to a decent publishing length.
    I really liked this adaptation, all the fat is removed from the book and what is left is a really good little mystery, Unlike elephants can remember, which takes a lot more suspension of disbelief to accept the basic mystery plot. It’s also worth noting that this was the Great Eric Sykes Last Role.

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    1. Yes, it's not one of her best, and I think Gatiss does an excellent job, trimming it down. As to "Elephants", the issue there was that they couldn't avoid the main plot (because otherwise it wouldn't be Agatha Christie), so they had to try and work around it somehow. Oh, I forgot to mention Eric Sykes! Thank you.

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    2. Don't get me wrong, It's an entertaining adaptation, far from being bad, even improving the story in a few areas, but there is only so much you can do when the source material you are taking from isn't very strong. It's a very he said, she said book that even contradicts how long ago the murder happens.

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  2. Not my favourite episode. I agree, it's too bad that Mrs Oliver is ill. I didn't remember that fact in the book... Sophie Thompson and her mother Phyllida Law (very short role) are also in the cast :-)

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    1. True. Both Sophie Thompson and Phyllida Law (in a cameo) suit their characters perfectly!

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  3. I, too, thought this adaptation probably flowed a little better than the book did. One of the suspicious deaths is eliminated, one is NOT murder but is scandalous in a different way, and the rest really are connected.

    I'm sorry to say it took someone commenting on Youtube to make me think of this, but Miranda's naivete about "sacrifices" is a little hard to believe. As is her complete lack of emotion over Joyce's death. Did they really do that good a job of conditioning everybody to keep a "stiff upper lip" in that era - even female children? Mrs. Reynolds is permitted to cry over Joyce dying, as ar other women. Miranda is supposed to be Joyce's friend.

    The elimination of Nicholas and Desmond leads to a rare instance of Poirot himself engaging in some physical heroics - to save Miranda. I actually cannot recall any other adaptation where Poirot takes that kind of physical action (which is a reason I have trouble with the premise of Curtain.)

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    1. I too was puzzled by Miranda's gullibility. Christie doesn't usually write young girls as brainless. It almost seems that Michael Garfield has a kind of irresistible hypnotic power over females. I haven't read the book - or if I ever did, it was too long ago to remember it -- but if the novel was set in the sixties and involved LSD and other drugs, perhaps Garfield was meant to be a sort of Manson character.

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  4. It is not explained in this adaptation why, if there was a real will leaving everything to Olga, Michael Garfield didn't just marry/seduce Olga (whose looks he undoubtedly would have liked better, anyway.) There is a kind of explanation in the book - I think it's thin - but even that explanation is not in the adaptation.

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    1. Stuart Farquhar14 June 2015 at 21:48

      The will was only altered in Olga's favour when she exposed Michael's affair with Rowena, so I suppose it's unlikely she'd have married him. Plus, there's an implication in the adaptation that Rowena's murder of Olga was spur of the moment.

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  5. Given that Christie's second husband, Max Mallowan, was 14 years younger than her, and she was 40 and he 26 when they married, it is perhaps not surprising that she did so many middle-aged-or-older woman / younger man pairings - EXCEPT, by all accounts her marriage to Max was a success, but most of the fictional middle-aged-or-older woman / younger man pairings end tragically for the woman, even if, and perhaps especially if, she controls the money: the man only wants the money and/or turns out to be a criminal.

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  6. Stuart Farquhar5 June 2015 at 00:44

    Mrs Drake's husband being killed in a hit-and-run accident isn't a change; it's in the novel.

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  7. another stinker. and it stinks because of the original story, and not due to any faults of adaptation. if anything adaptation improves, though not by much. adaptation certainly makes it a bit scary (and entertaining) using common place horror movie tricks.

    basic storyline as revealed at end is extremely stupid. cristie obviously liked convoluted contrived plots but this is plain silly. to take the most obvious absurdity, why would murderers be in a clumsy hurry to kill in the middle of a party, in order to cover up a vague indefinite story that was not believed, when they wait and try other means with other witnesses/collaborators for days and months?

    as usual poirot pontificates, but fails to show any new evidence, he has discovered that would result in conviction. miranda's testimony about disposal of a buried body (which is withheld by her for no apparent reason even after her friend's death) and her own attempted murder, would certainly convict garfield. but even garfield's testimony (who is kept alive, unlike in novel, by adapters probably for this very purpose) would not be enough to convict rowena drake. all she and lawyers have to do is to transfer what poirot/prosecution says about her to miranda's mother. given he was a lover of miranda's mother, with possible interest to cover her, his testimony implicating drake becomes worthless. after all, on one side there is only the quip that "she protests too much", on the other there is a love child. other evidence, if one can call it such, such as drenching of her dress, will not amount to anything in court.

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  8. Presumably as the 'forged' codicil is proved to be real, the property should have passed to Olga Seminoff and, after her murder, to her dear old parents back in Czechoslovakia ... And the setting (Beckley Park near Oxford) is a real beauty.

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