Death on the Nile

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This coming week my mystery book club was going to meet to discuss Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. I listened to the audio book and watched the movie. The audio book’s narrator David Suchet was terrific and brought the story to life.

While on a vacation in Egypt Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective who’s forever telling people he isn’t French, gets on board a boat and finds his fellow travelers keep getting bumped off. There’s a love triangle consisting of Linnet, a wealthy heiress, Jacqueline her good friend and her Simon new husband, who was in love with the friend. There’s a German doctor, a rich, imperious woman and the young companion who resents her boss. The heiress’ trustee, her London lawyer her maid, and the maid’s married lover round out the cast.

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One eerie element to the story is that Jacqueline’s stalking Linnet. Everywhere they go Jacqueline’s there. Ever jumpy, things get worse when Linette is found dead. Poirot soon suspects everyone. Then the bodies start to pile up. The maid is found dead and then a third murder follows. Poirot finds almost everyone has a motive.

With Peter Ustinov, Mia Farrow, David Niven, Angela Lansberry, Bette Davis, Maggie Smith and Olivia Hussey, the film is chock full of stars. Alas, I found the story in both formats lacking. I wasn’t pulled in to the story as Poirot didn’t use much hard evidence. It seemed that his main talent was supposition and conjecture to find possible motives. He doesn’t draw me in the way Sherlock Holmes does. I was left craving a better plot and more complex characters. I felt Christie just took the idea of Murder on the Orient Express and just made a few small changes.

 

Sanditon

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PBS/BBC’s Masterpiece drama Sanditon just hasn’t grabbed me. Based on an unfinished Jane Austen novel, it actually seems like a phlegmatic version of one of Austen’s masterpieces. The cast features Charlotte, a bright heroine who to me seems like a cross between Lizzy Bennett and her drab sister Mary with a mix of her friend Lydia. There’s an arrogant hero, who I expect will change after learning from the heroine. There’s a strict, rich widow and a fop or two. The only new character is a woman from Antigua who’s Black. There’s a possible injection of orignality, but like the others this character doesn’t do much for me.

The story starts with a couple getting stranded by Charlotte’s house and when this real estate developer invites Charlotte to his seaside development for an unknown period of time, her parents agree even though Charlotte’s father is wary of the wild ways of seaside villages. I couldn’t believe that even if it was the norm to let your young daughter go off with strangers, that this father wouldn’t have. Of course, money’s a big issue and the developer’s out of cash and his business is in peril.

The woman from Antigua, though an heiress, is treated with prejudice by all the social set she encounters. Her family has died and she’s under the supervision on her guardian, but she has a fierce desire to return home.

All in all, I think the story is predictable and I miss Austen’s perfect wit. To me the show doesn’t measure up to Poldark, Victoria, Mr. Selfridge, or The Paradise. I wish they’d add a season to either of those shows than mess around with an unfinished Austen novel.

Henry V

For my Great Books Book Club, I read and watched Shakespeare’s Henry V. I saw the 1989 film directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also adapted the play and starred in it.

Filled with intrigue, camaraderie, betrayal, battles and even wooing, Henry V is compelling. The best speech is this “We few, we happy few” band of brothers speech. It’s right at the climax of the film as the Brits are about to battle the French who far outnumber them. Like many speeches in Shakespeare it’s stirring and wise.

I did fast-forward through much of the battle scenes because they were authentically brutal, but at the same time true to life. While the film doesn’t contain every line from the play, it’s a faithful version and still packs a wallop and ends with a cute flirtation between Henry and the French princess. The end does have a very different tone than the main part of the film. Is that an error?

If so, I’ll forgive it because it gave another facet of Hennry’s personality.

The Upturned Glass (1947)

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Part of a DVD set with three great British thrillers, The Upturned Glass stars James Mason as an ultra serious neurosurgeon who tells a college class about a case of a sane man murdering in cold blood. We soon figure out that Mason’s Dr. Michael Young is the “sane” murderer he believes exists. Dr. Michael Young meets Emma Wright whose daughter has a condition that will lead to blindness unless this talented surgeon can operate right away. As the case progresses and the girl improves, Michael and Emma grow close. Both have spouses far away and they continue seeing each other after the girl’s treatment ends. Of course, they fall in love.

So why the need for murder?

Emma is found dead and Michael attends the inquest. He can’t believe it’s an accident. He notices some strange glances between Emma’s daughter and her jealous, greedy sister-in-law, who learns that Emma has cheated on her brother. The two were never close and this was the sister-in-law’s reason to get even.

This superstar surgeon is soon taking matters into his own hands.

The film had lots of unpredictable turns and kept my attention from the first scene. Hitchcock drew upon it for some of his later films. It’s sure to entertain.

Poldark, Final Season, Ep. 6

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Last week’s Poldark began with lots of romance, but then ended with tragedy. As the story opens, Morwenna’s in bed with Drake having gotten past all her rotten feelings about sex, caused by that lecherous first husband Ossie. Drake’s brother Sam is now wooing a pretty blond named Rosina. Yet treacherous Tess, whom I wish would disappear, is flirting with godly Sam, trying to tempt him with religion. How’s that for irony?

Ned’s in prison and Kitty’s been giving the guards bribe money to keep him safe. When Ned’s trial begins things don’t look good. Plenty of paid witnesses are lying on the stand. Ross is called to speak and gives a passionate testimony, but he went too far and sounded so rebellious that he probably did more harm than good. Dwight was urged to speak and now that he’s helped George and maybe one other person overcome mental illness, he’s an expert. He states that he’s sure that Ned’s mentally ill and didn’t mean to almost kill the King. What? Dwight, you must realize that an asylum for the mentally ill is arguably worse than death in 1800.

My biggest criticism of the episode and the one prior is how George is suddenly well. He has no more hallucinations or mental problems whatsoever. It doesn’t seem possible.

Ned Despard is a real historical figure. So the show can’t go to far from the truth. Ned did govern the British Hondura after his time fighting in the American Revolution. The real Ned Despard plotted to overturn the government and kill King George III. In the show Ned seems innocent, while history says he wasn’t. So the show departed from history and I can see that the highest punishment would be meted out for treason.

Cecily’s father arranges for her to marry George as soon as possible. George can never love any woman as much as he did Elizabeth, but he’s practical and a lady in the house would help with the kids as well as bring more into the world. Cecily and Geoffrey Charles must elope and they do run away, but are caught.

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Ross plans to break Ned out of jail with the help of Dwight, whose wife Caroline insists he goes along. Caroline usually pines for Dwight to stay home with her or to take her to London, but she also has high principles.

Cecily and George’s grim wedding begins. There’s to be no party and the guests present are her father, George’s Uncle Cary, Valentine and a lady who must work at the church. Geoffrey Charles burst in and almost stops the wedding. He’s carried out, but before he leaves, Cecily lies and says that she was intimate with Geoffrey Charles, who then tells George that he’ll never know if his first born is really his or Geoffrey Charles’ child. That ends the wedding. (Though George is pretty cold hearted and could wait to make sure, so this plot twist could have been better.)

After risking everything Ned tells Ross he’s not going to escape. This is an odd turn of events and weakened the plot for me. Ned has to be executed since that’s the history, but then just have him go off to his sentence rather than add this part.

While I do wonder what’s next for Ross and Demelza, I’m very curious to know what will happen to Cecily and Geoffrey Charles. My guess is her father will kick her out and they’ll elope, but you never know.

The episode had lots of change and action, but there is something about this season that seems off. I suppose I can’t get past the difference between Winston Graham’s stories and the original ones written this year by Deborah Hosfield, who’s a wonderful writer, but there’s a difference between adapting and creating.

 

Alfie

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I’ve seen the 1966 Alfie before, but that was long ago and the film was well worth re-watching. Michael Caine plays a confirmed philanderer Alfie Elston, who shares his rather silly views on women and life directly with the audience throughout the film. The humor comes from Alfie’s preposterous ideas about women. Because he’s so daft, I felt sorry for him even though he left a train of pain in his wake.

It’s hard to keep track of all of Alfie’s liaisons, but his first main girlfriend was a cute, but mousy girl who decides to have his baby and raise it on her own. In spite of his cavalier philosophy, Alfie forms a bond with little boy. When the girlfriend decides to marry her dull, but reliable suitor to better her lot, Alfie’s soon forgotten. He’s surprised how much that hurts.

Yet he continues on with his womanizing. Women let him. He’d run from any commitment. He takes up with a sexy older woman played by Shelley Winters.

Though he’s so selfish and immature, there are times when Alfie’s rather kind — in his way. When he gets a spot on his lung and is confined to a sanitarium, he befriends his roommate and generously shares his useless advice. As only Alfie could do, he manages to seduce his roommate’s wife and still have the audience like him.

Yet there are consequences and Alfie meets his comeuppance, which gives the film its moral message.

I liked Alfie’s asides to the audience, which were both witty and foolish. I thought the film entertained while showing the real consequences of poor decisions. The film was remade on 2004, but I doubt I’d find it as charming as this version.

 

 

 

On Maggie Smith’s Zingers

Three of the Downton Abbey cast members, Michele Dockery, Laura Carmichael and Allen Leech, review Maggie Smith’s best lines from the TV series.