Saturday 10 August 2013
Episode-by-episode: Murder in Mesopotamia
This episode was based on the novel Murder in Mesopotamia, first published in 1936. It was adapted for television by Clive Exton (in his final Poirot outing!) and directed by Tom Clegg.
Script versus novel
Exton stays more or less faithful to the source material, with some exceptions. Let me tackle the two major ones first. For one, Hastings is added (a massive strain of credibility, if you ask me, but there it is). He becomes Bill Coleman's uncle (!). This, of course, significantly reduces the role of Nurse Leatheran - the narrator of the novel. Much like in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, her main function becomes that of a further suspect. Moreover, Poirot visits the area not because he is on holiday, but because Countess Vera Rossakoff asked him to. Now, if adding Hastings doesn't stretch credibility, then this certainly does. I could agree that Poirot would go to extremes to help the Countess, but would he really go all the way to Mesopotamia just because she says she needs his help? I can't really see that happening. It gets worse, because the resolution of the matter is that she has fled the scene and he is left paying her hotel bill! It's all very strange... Anyway, let's go back to the changes. Exton adds an opening scene in which Mr. Mercado kills an Arab drug dealer (later scenes will link up to this, too). Dr. Riley, Mr. Reiter and Mr. Emmot are removed; the first, due to the fact that Nurse Leatheran's role is reduced and the others because they didn't really serve any purpose other than provide potential candidates for Bosner's brother. Consequently, the key 'Bosner suspects' become Father Lavingny, Mr. Carey and Bill Coleman. Moreover, all the interviews are somewhat shortened, but that's only to be expected with the time constraints that a television episode demands. A somewhat more significant change is that Mercado commits suicide at Poirot's hotel in Baghdad (he couldn't stand the guilt of having killed the drug dealer). Finally, there's a lovely bit of behavioural comedy with Poirot and a mosquito at the camp site. All in all, though, the minor changes make sense (I won't mention the two big ones), and the faithfulness isn't half bad, if you can get past the two changes I mentioned initially.
Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Clegg makes great use of the exotic location in this episode. In real life, the dig is an archaeological site in Tunisia, called Oudhna. Gunning's soundtrack goes brilliantly with the direction and the location, and I do wish the score had been released at some point.
Characters and actors
To see Poirot out of his element, so to speak, in an exotic location, is always a joy. Also, as much as I dislike the additions of Hastings and the Countess, they do provide some bits for Poirot's character development. As an aside, I'd also like to point out that Exton underlines the fact that Coleman is Hastings's adopted nephew - a plot point that might come in handy in Curtain, if my suspicions concerning Judith Hastings (see the chronology blog) turn out to be true. Of the guest actors, there are no real standouts, but they all portray their characters accurately and seem more or less suited to their roles.
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