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Showing posts by: Leslie Gilbert Elman click to see Leslie Gilbert Elman's profile
Sep 21 2015 10:30am

Arthur & George: Part 3

From the start of Arthur & George, we’ve been bouncing back and forth between fact and fiction. The characters in the story were real people. The premise and circumstances are real as well. How the events surrounding them transpired, well, much of that appears to be pure conjecture in this dramatization.

Let’s take for example the connection between George Edalji  and the nefarious Hayden Price, whom we are told was the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s nefarious Professor Moriarty.

Early in Part 3, George (Arsher Ali) tells Arthur (Martin Clunes) that the two met in prison, where Price saved his life. George understandably feels indebted to Price and despite knowing the type of character he is, George maintains a relationship with him after they both have been released from prison. That’s a swell story, but none of it appears to be based in fact.

So when we finally reach the heart-pounding climax of the miniseries, you can’t be blamed for wondering just how much of this stuff really happened.

[The answer might surprise you. Or it might not...]

Sep 14 2015 10:30am

Arthur & George: Part 2

When we last saw our hero Arthur Conan Doyle (Martin Clunes), he and his faithful friend Alfred “Woodie” Wood (Charles Edwards) were chasing a hooded figure through the trees near the Edalji home. The mysterious individual eluded capture, but led them to a shrine-like arrangement of candles surrounding a doll that had been stolen from Maud Edalji’s room years before. It’s all very woo-woo in keeping with the gaslit, mud-caked, mist-shrouded sensibility of Arthur & George.

Moments later, who should show up but George Edalji (Arsher Ali), wearing mud-spattered boots and trousers? Surely this isn’t a coincidence. As a policeman explains, George is “in common parlance, not a ‘right sort’.” He’s a grown man who shares a bedroom with his father, habitually takes long walks at night to unspecified destinations, and isn’t permitted to have a razor of his own. Not to mention he’s already been tried and convicted, and served prison time, for a string of animal mutilations and murders in his hometown. There’s plenty of reason to consider him questionable.

Yet Arthur believes George is innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. Now he’s determined to exonerate him. “I can still tell a good story from a bad and a fact from a fiction,” Arthur insists, noting that his proof of George’s innocence hangs on “his poor eyesight, his limping gait, and his honest face.”

[Well, as long as you’re certain...]

Sep 10 2015 11:00am

Voilà: Rowan Atkinson as Jules Maigret

To play a convincing Sherlock Holmes you need to be long and lean.

To play a convincing Poirot you need to be... well... David Suchet.

To play Georges Simenon’s great detective Jules Maigret, the requirements aren’t as specific. That’s one of the great things about Maigret. We know he’s a gent who enjoys a pipe and a beer and who possesses finely honed instincts regarding human nature. Beyond that, he’s everyman. Even Simenon admitted that he didn’t have a clear mental picture of Maigret’s face.

Over the years Maigret has been portrayed in French by Jean Gabin and Bruno Crémer, among others. English Maigrets have included Michael Gambon and Richard Harris. (Hmm... What other beloved literary character do they have in common?) There have been Russian, Italian, Dutch, Belgian, German, Czech, and Yugoslavian versions of Maigret. There even was a  Japanese Maigret TV series in the 1970s. It marked a rare onscreen role for Kinya Aikawa, a popular voice actor whose work included the role of Racer X in the 1960s cartoon Speed Racer and dubbing Jack Lemmon’s voice into Japanese for films such as Some Like it Hot and The Apartment. It doesn’t get more “everyman” than that.

Now prepare for a new Maigret as Rowan Atkinson steps into the role for two stand-alone TV movies:  Maigret Sets a Trap and Maigret’s Dead Man. They’re both set in 1950s Paris. Filming started on September 8th in Budapest, which apparently is standing in for the City of Light.

Are we ready for Mr. Bean (or Edmund Blackadder, if you’re hardcore) to take on the role of Simenon’s detective? I think we might be. Atkinson says he’s a fan of Simenon’s Maigret novels (who isn’t?) and he doesn’t seem like the type of guy who would tamper with perfection. This production could warrant further investigation.

Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.

Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.

Sep 7 2015 10:00am

Arthur & George: Part 1

It’s one thing for a writer of detective fiction to dream up cases for his sleuth to solve. It’s quite another for that writer to be called upon to solve a case of his own.

Now imagine said writer was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and said fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. How would the creator of the infallible Holmes fare when faced with a case of his own? What would be the damage to his reputation if it turns out he doesn’t share his creation’s intellect and skill for detection?

This is some of what’s at stake in Arthur & George, a three-part Masterpiece Mystery dramatization of the 2005 novel by Julian Barnes.

Martin Clunes, whom you might know best from the long-running series Doc Martin, stars as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—the Arthur of the title.

Arsher Ali (he’ll turn up in the next series of Doctor Who) is George Edalji, a young solicitor who’s been convicted of a heinous crime.

Although he served his time, George maintains he’s innocent. To continue practicing law he must receive a pardon to clear his name. Arthur is convinced George is telling the truth and dedicates himself to righting this perceived miscarriage of justice. But can we trust Arthur’s judgment? Despite their obvious connection, Arthur Conan Doyle is not Sherlock Holmes.

[He can write books, but can he read people?]

Apr 30 2015 5:30pm

2015’s Edgar Awards: Mystery’s Faithful Gather

Once a year, the mystery writing community reaches critical mass in a place filled with the greatest living purveyors of the genre. The moment occurs at the Edgar Allan Poe Awards Dinner hosted by the Mystery Writers of America. This year, it took place on April 29 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York. (See the bottom of the post for a complete list of winners.)

To say that attending the Edgars is a religious experience isn’t as blasphemous as you might imagine. For, as the great James Ellroy said when accepting his Grand Master Lifetime Achievement Award, “What better place to bow my head in prayer than in a room full of people who worship the book?”

And there was worshiping.

Because, as the Edgars have proven throughout the 69 years of their existence, there are no more devoted mystery fans than the writers themselves. Spending an evening amidst your idols is bound to produce a certain amount of awe and reverence.

[Count us among the faithful...]

Feb 23 2015 11:00am

Grantchester: Season Finale 1.06

One of you is going to make a wonderful priest. Leonard (Al Weaver) and Sidney (James Norton).

An invitation to Amanda’s wedding has arrived, triggering a fresh chorus of the blues for Sidney. He recollects their history together,  starting with a chance meeting four years earlier at the National Gallery, where Amanda works as an art restorer. “I’m never getting married,” she tells him, spiritedly, “I’m going to become wild and eccentric and full of opinion.” She promises to give Sidney veto power over anyone her father chooses to be her husband.

Fast forward to Sidney at the vicarage, Amanda’s wedding invitation in hand. So much for wildness, eccentricity, opinion, and veto power.

For Sidney, Amanda is the one that got away. Never mind if we don’t think that’s much of a loss. Never mind that Sidney has plenty of women ready and waiting to become Mrs. Canon Sidney Chambers. (“They fall at your feet,” Geordie says.)

Sidney is glum.

When Sidney is glum, Sidney drinks.

When Sidney drinks, he doesn’t know when to stop drinking.

When Sidney doesn’t know when to stop drinking, either he embarrasses himself or bad things happen to the people around him. Or both.

[Won’t you PLEASE have a cup of tea, Vicar...]

Feb 16 2015 1:30pm

Grantchester 1.05

A drink, a dance, a dead body. Sidney and Amanda (James Norton and Morven Christie).

Sidney and Geordie are off to the big city for a harmless night out, or at least as harmless as a night in a 1950s jazz club in London can be.

For a clergyman from Cambridgeshire, Canon Sidney Chambers (James Norton) spends shockingly few “harmless” nights. Crime seems to follow him around, and it goes without saying that crime is part of the job for Sidney’s best friend and drinking buddy, Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green). No surprise, then, that their night of jazz and whiskey is upended by murder.

More of a surprise, perhaps, is Amanda (Morven Christie) who walks into the club not long after Sidney and Geordie arrive. Very cozy, or very awkward depending on how you look at it. Despite the fact that Amanda is engaged to someone else and Sidney’s taken up with a new gal, Sidney remains smitten with Amanda and she plays him like a violin (or, since we’re being all hip and jazzy, a stand-up bass).

Much drinking and dancing ensue. You can fairly see the stars twinkling in their eyes. Nothing could make this night more exciting except...a murder.

[Let’s remember why we’re here...]

Feb 9 2015 11:30am

Grantchester 1.04

James Norton as Sidney Chambers in Grantchester Episode 4.

Our hero, Canon Sidney Chambers (James Norton) begins this episode by rescuing a woman from a burning building. He does this in his pajamas, thanks to Dickens, his faithful puppy sidekick, waking Sidney from a sound sleep by barking an alarm. All in a day’s work for Clergy-man.

Soon after, while Sidney delivers a sermon about being thankful for blessings large and small, who should saunter in but Hildegard Staunton (Pheline Roggan), the German widow from Episode 1. She’s wearing a fetching expression not quite appropriate for Sunday morning at church, and Sidney suddenly finds he has more to be thankful for.

Then it’s back to the scene of the fire, whose origin is a bit sketchy. The homeowners, Dominic and Marion Taylor, claim it was started by “ashes in the grate.” Sidney suspects there’s more to it than that, and Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green) concurs. How much more, they can’t begin to imagine. And, frankly, neither can we.

[Where there’s smoke, there’s a liar...]

Feb 2 2015 6:00pm

Grantchester 1.03

When your protagonist is a clergyman, you can expect he’ll be wading waist-deep into ethical dilemmas. This week’s episode of Grantchester on Masterpiece Mystery presents just such a case. Based on the story “First, Do No Harm” in Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie, it explores the age-old question of whether it’s ever appropriate to do the wrong thing for the right reason.

At its most benign, the question might apply to the little white lies we tell to protect someone’s feelings or to shield our own. But...

“If one does something wrong for the greater good, isn’t it a slippery slope? Where does one stop?” asks Leonard Finch (Al Weaver) the new curate at Grantchester.

“It’s a gray area, Leonard,” Sidney Chambers replies.

Canon Sidney Chambers (James Norton) wrestles with gray areas every day of his life. As a clergyman, he’s bound to uphold the commandments. Yet, as a soldier during World War II, he killed enemy soldiers. Killing is a pretty big violation of life’s ground rules. How then, do you reconcile killing for a very good reason? And who decides what that “very good reason” might be?

[Talk about your life or death decisions...]

Jan 26 2015 12:00pm

Grantchester 1.02

In Episode 2, Sidney goes to a dinner party with snobs and we begin to depart rather significantly from the stories on which Grantchester is based.

The inspiration for this episode is “A Question of Trust” from the collection called Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie. It wasn’t a murder mystery, but it is now. Sidney didn’t have the beginnings of a drinking problem, but he does now. Sidney’s sister Jennifer wasn’t a victim of mean girl bullying, but she is now.

Dramatic tension is ramping up all around. Emotional conflict is trumping some of the sweetness and subtlety of both the first episode and the original stories. I’m not convinced the shift is necessary, but no one asked me.

Plus, we don’t see nearly enough of Dickens the puppy. That’s something we all can agree needs to be rectified in future episodes.

[You gave me a puppy, now you’re taking him away?]

Jan 19 2015 12:30pm

Grantchester: Series Premiere 1.01

A distraught woman, all red lips and stylish hat, pleads to the clergyman: “I can’t go to the police, but you— the human heart— that’s your responsibility isn’t it? You can ask any question of anyone, however private.”

Yes, thinks the clergyman, I suppose I can. Now how shall I wield this unique power?

And there you have the premise of Grantchester, the enjoyable new series that premiered on Masterpiece Mystery, January 18.

Our clergyman is Canon Sidney Chambers (James Norton), hunky in the Ralph de Bricassart mold and tantalizingly available. He comes with the requisite cassock and bicycle, plus a few predilections we might not expect—a taste for Sidney Bechet, a passion for backgammon, and a dislike of sherry among them.

The time is November 1953. We know this from a mention of a fateful soccer match that England lost to Hungary. Said game resides in the collective consciousness of U.K. soccer fans the way Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world” resonates with American baseball fans.

The place is Grantchester, a real village near Cambridge that’s been immortalized in a Pink Floyd song and in the mystery novels by James Runcie on which the TV series is based.

The situation is the apparent suicide of a lawyer that could very well have been murder.

[Brew yourself a cuppa and let’s get started...]

Nov 17 2014 3:00pm

Salting the Battlefield: Worricker’s Conclusion

Johnny Worricker is always well-dressed, as seen in Salting the Battlefield on Masterpiece Contemporary.

Worricker (Bill Nighy) is on the run, now in Germany with ex-spy, ex-love Margot (Helena Bonham Carter) by his side. They’re stirring the embers of their faded romance and recalling all the quirks and peccadilloes they once found so endearing. (He doesn’t wash the lettuce properly! How adorable is that?) They live out of suitcases, yet seem to wind up nattily attired in some snazzy digs. It’s all a lark, really.

Still, Margot longs to return to England. And Worricker’s daughter (Felicity Jones) is due to give birth any moment, which gives him a reason to pine for home as well. This poses a dilemma. Going home would place them in the way of Prime Minister Alec Beasley (Ralph Fiennes), whom Worricker has embarrassed with accusations of financial and ethical impropriety.

Meanwhile, Worricker’s old colleague in the spy game Jill Tankard (Judy Davis) is performing all sorts of machinations that confirm the primary thesis of the Worricker series: The intelligence services run everything.

[Actually, a little intelligence would be welcome...]

Nov 10 2014 3:30pm

Turks & Caicos: The Return of Worricker

“I used to be able to open the bonnet, take out a wrench and fix my car. Now I need a degree in electronics. Even easy things are difficult now,” a character tells Johnny Worricker in Turks & Caicos, which airs on Masterpiece Contemporary this week.

Difficult or intentionally incomprehensible? I say it’s more the latter.

Writer-director David Hare is back with Part 2 of a trilogy that began with Page Eight in 2011. Our erstwhile hero is Johnny Worricker (Bill Nighy), ex-gentleman spy. After doing something to annoy the British prime minister in Page Eight, Johnny’s now living in forced retirement in Turks and Caicos, a cluster of islands about 650 miles from Miami. He’s relaxing after a fashion: sitting on the beach in a long-sleeved black shirt and slacks, introducing a local kid to what looks suspiciously like a Maine lobster, and reading an aged copy of A Farewell to Arms.

Enter Curtis Pelissier (Christopher Walken), a peculiar American who invites Worricker for drinks and introduces him to a group of nefarious businessmen from New Jersey (Gasp!). They’re all involved in some sort of difficult/intentionally incomprehensible money scheme tied to various governments and intelligence agencies all of which are corrupt.

[It only gets more complicated from here...]

Nov 3 2014 3:00pm

Death Comes to Pemberley: Part 2

George Wickham is in jail facing trial for the murder of his best friend, Captain Denny. He says he didn’t do it and we believe him, but without a more likely perpetrator Wickham will swing for the crime.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth is distraught believing that Darcy will blame her for bringing Wickham back into their lives. She’s fretful. He’s distant. They bicker unkindly over the betrothal of Darcy’s sister Georgiana to Colonel Fitzwilliam or Henry Alveston. They are not behaving like the Elizabeth and Darcy everyone loves to love.

All around them, things are most confusing and un-Austen-like, making Part 2 of Death Comes to Pemberley a bit of a muddle.

[Where are their manners?]

Oct 27 2014 1:30pm

Death Comes to Pemberley: Part 1

Elizabeth Bennet married Fitzwilliam Darcy and lived happily ever after...

...at least until a dead soldier was found on the grounds of their estate at Pemberley.

Jane Austen didn’t foresee things working out quite this way in 1813 when she brought together Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

P.D. James had a different vision when she continued their tale in her 2011 bestseller Death Comes to Pemberley.

Thus we open in a most Austen-like way, with Elizabeth and Darcy preparing to host Lady Anne’s Ball, a tradition begun by Darcy’s late mother and now regarded as the county’s most important social event of the year. They’re in love, they dote on their rambunctious son “Master Fitzwilliam,” and they live in splendor. (Castle Howard was used for the interior scenes at Pemberley and Chatsworth House for the exteriors.)

It’s all just too perfect. And you know P.D. James can’t have that.

[Enter, the bloody corpse...]

Oct 20 2014 3:15pm

Inspector Lewis: “Beyond Good and Evil”

Was Inspector Lewis responsible for sending an innocent man to prison thirteen years ago?

Of course not. This is Lewis we’re talking about. He would never. (And no one really believes he did.)

Yet doubts are raised when it’s revealed that the forensic lab contaminated DNA from the original case. Now the convicted murderer—who’s protested his innocence all along—could go free. And Lewis is left to explain why and how the murders could have started up again if the right man is behind bars.

[I blame Nietzsche...]

Oct 14 2014 9:30am

Inspector Lewis: “Lions of Nemea”

It’s all Greek to me, and to you, in this episode as we dust off Sophocles and Euripides for tales of hubris, and vengeance, and murder.

We know virtually nothing about Felix Garwood (John Light), he’s barely said a word (it’s still the opening credits, after all), yet we’re already aware that he’s an embodiment of hubris. He’s talking on his cell while cycling through Oxford, ignoring traffic laws and common courtesy, and generally being a entitled jerk. So, when he’s deliberately sideswiped by a car, it’s easy to figure he’d probably done something to deserve it. Chalk one up for vengeance.

Next stop, murder. But whose?

[Time will explain it all...]

Oct 6 2014 4:00pm

Inspector Lewis: “Entry Wounds”

“What are your plans for the rest of the day?” Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent (Rebecca Front) inquires.

“I’m going to the hardware store,” retired Detective Inspector Lewis (Kevin Whately) replies. “I need some waterproof glue.”

“Exciting,” she says, unconvincingly. “Alternatively, you could figure out why a neurosurgeon has a bullet in his head.”

And just like that, Lewis is back in the fold.

[And there is much rejoicing...]

Sep 30 2014 8:00am

Coming (Sort of) Soon: Tommy and Tuppence

We’ve seen the last of Miss Marple for a while and David Suchet has given us a complete catalog of Poirot (would that we could see them all on TV).

Must we go Agatha Christie-less into the future? Perish the thought!

Production is in progress on Partners in Crime, a new series based on Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence Beresford stories. Says Radio Times:

The crime-solving husband and wife appeared in four of Christie’s books and one collection of short stories. Set in the 1950s, the six-part BBC series will follow the couple’s involvement in murder cases, Cold War conspiracy and the world of undercover agents.

The series stars David Walliams (Little Britain) and Jessica Raine (Jenny from Call the Midwife). Two stories will be dramatized—N or M and The Secret Adversary. They’re set to air in the U.K. next year, in time for the 125th anniversary of Agatha Christie’s birth. It seems likely that Tommy and Tuppence will make their way to the U.S., too.

Sep 29 2014 3:15pm

Miss Marple: “Endless Night”

Miss Marple raises lots of questions. The most pertinent right now is: What is she doing in this story?

Endless Night is a real suspense tale, told from the point of view of an opportunistic young man. Published in 1967, the novel was a hit with readers, not least because it was such a departure from Agatha Christie’s familiar style. Said The Observer at the time, “...the suspense is kept up all the way and Miss Christie's new demi-tough, streamlined style really does come off. She'll be wearing black leather pants next, if she isn't already.”

Does that sound Marple-y to you?

Agatha Christie didn’t put Miss Marple into Endless Night, quite rightly, as she doesn’t belong there. The story works beautifully on its own.

[But she’s such a nice lady and hardly takes up any room...]