thu 30/05/2024

Murder Is Easy, BBC One review - was this journey really necessary? | reviews, news & interviews

Murder Is Easy, BBC One review - was this journey really necessary?

Murder Is Easy, BBC One review - was this journey really necessary?

Dame Agatha's tidy thriller gets ideas above its station

Suit you, sir: David Jonsson as Luke Fitzwilliam

Well at least they haven’t changed the identity of the killer this time around, but the BBC’s new version of Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel has been modified in other ways. Screenwriter Siân Ejiwunmi-Le Berre and director Meenu Gaur have opted to move the story into the mid-1950s, introducing themes of racism, class prejudice and capitalist exploitation.

And you thought it was just a tidy little whodunnit.

Labouring under this narrative burden is the protagonist Luke Fitzwilliam, who Christie wrote as a retired colonial policeman. Here, he’s reborn as a regional attache from Nigeria who’s following his boss to London to take up a new job at the Colonial Office in Whitehall. He’s played by David Jonsson (recently seen in the rom-com Rye Lane) with a kind of insouciant charm and unimpeachable dress sense.

But Fitzwilliam’s trip to Whitehall is derailed by a chance encounter on a train with Miss Lavinia Pinkerton (the indefatigable Penelope Wilton, surely the greatest Miss Marple unfilmed). She regales him with a story of how two, and possibly three, people have been murdered in her home village of Wychwood under Ashe. She’s pretty sure there’s more to come, too. “Murder is easy for a certain type of person,” she avers.

Poor Lavinia herself doesn’t last long, since she’s felled by a hit-and-run driver outside Waterloo station, but Fitzwilliam’s appetite is whetted. Soon, he’s found himself lodgings in Wychwood… though not before he’s paid a visit to a West African Dance Centre and been harangued for collaborating with the colonialist oppressors.

Since, in this telling, he isn’t a policeman, it feels a little odd that he’s soon poking and prodding around looking for clues, though naturally there’s plenty for him to be suspicious about. For instance, everyone seems to hate the supercilious Lord Whitfield (Tom Riley), ensconced in the local mansion. Judging from snarky comments by the Reverend Humbleby (Mark Bonnar, pictured above with Douglas Henshall), Whitfield is a wartime profiteer, using his ill-gotten loot to build a whole new town named after himself. Why, rages the Reverend, isn’t he building “some decent, affordable homes?” The ignoble Lord looks all set to marry the winsome Bridget Conway (Morfydd Clark, pictured below with Riley), though she does come on a bit flirty with Fitzwilliam.

Meanwhile bodies are piling up in mounds, and it’s not unusual for a conversation to be interrupted by a muffled nearby scream, announcing the latest fatality. The local cops seem to act as Lord Whitfield’s private bodyguards, and never do any actual police work.

There’s a comical lightbulb moment when Fitzwilliam says “we need to find a connection between the victims!” and Bridget suddenly remembers that they all come from the squalid Ashbottom district (“sort of the other side of the tracks”). Soon, Fitz is quaffing a pint and choking on his pork scratchings in an Ashbottom pub, while the locals vent their class-warfare spleen. Lord Whitfield “climbed the greasy pole to respectability and pulled the ladder up behind him”, while village sawbones Dr Thomas has “only got time for his private patients. Nothing but linctus for us.”

Soon, Fitzwilliam will learn that Dr Thomas (Mathew Baynton) harbours theories about racial purity and the “judicious elimination” of social undesirables that would make Heinrich Himmler look like Justin Welby, and the case starts to look like a slam-dunk. Ha!

Snag is, the added political baggage slackens the focus on the basic plot, and the characters become one-dimensional signifiers of an attitude rather than rounded individuals. A case in point is Major Horton (Douglas Henshall, who needs to sort himself out and get back to Shetland), who huffs and puffs as if he’s in an Ealing comedy. He gets to deliver an anti-imperialist broadside of majestic unsubtlety – he’s sick of “bully-boys in uniform,” and “that’s why Lydia and I got out of the whole dirty game – empire.”

Somewhere in here they’ve hidden a perfectly agreeable murder mystery, even if it isn’t Dame Agatha’s finest. But was this journey really necessary?

  • Part 2 of Murder Is Easy is on BBC One on 28 December and both episodes are available on BBC iPlayer

Comments

The biggest load of rubbish I've ever seen.  Why must we mess with the original just to make a point of something that happened in the rich history of our past.  I'm so fed up with all this wokeness.

We really wonder why they don't write their own original stories and instead of recycling perfectly good stories from Agatha Christie.This instance of "Murder is Easy" is just boring, it's just a succession of vignette. However I have to say Fitzwilliam character is really dapper and the collection of suits is well put together.

Absolutely true, as dull as watching paint dry. Can you believe there's people defending how poor it is by calling people bigots and racists if you didn't enjoy it!  Hypocrites.....

Pork scratchings were not available in the 1950's also in one scene in the village pub the clock showed ten past four,  the pubs were closed at that time of the day , all day opening did not start until 1988!

Nice detective work, Anthony. I think pork scratchings had existed for quite a while, but weren't mass produced until the 1960s. More info here:  https://hairybarsnacks.com/the-history-of-pork-scratchings/

I was also curious about how our hero, Mr Fitzwilliam, got on a train in Liverpool and got off at Waterloo. But before Dr Beeching's axe, perhaps anything was possible...

 

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