The Mystery of the Blue Train (TV)
From A Book of Quotations
I approached this TV adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel (a very good, even though not truly outstanding novel, see my review of the book) with trepidation, seeing as the TV movie was only 94 minutes long. I believe that a full-fledged Agatha Christie murder mystery novel needs more than 94 minutes to get transferred to film or TV properly; this is one of the reasons why I thought the Peter Ustinov version of _Evil Under the Sun_ superb, optimal -- while I found Suchet's _Evil Under the Sun_ lacking, to a large degree due to the fewer minutes available for the film-makers to tell the story. Unfortunately, this is the case of _The Mystery of the Blue Train_, also; at best, it can be called a superficial rendering of Agatha Christie's novel -- it *rushes* through the story, obliterating all the finely drawn characterization points as present in Christie's novel.
For example, Katherine Grey is the prototype of Agatha Christie's heroine in the book; a woman who is no longer very young, and neither is she attractive at first glance; despite that, she manages to win everyone's admiration, including that of the handsomest men, through the force of her personality, "and the grey eyes", as the book says. Now comparing that to the film, Katherine Grey is simply a flustered, nervous character; she is neither a strong personality in the TV version (rather the opposite!), nor is she a memorable character. She is also miscast, the actress playing her being too young; also, the actress playing her *is* attractive even at first glance, which Katherine Grey should *not* be; hers is supposed to be the inconspicuous kind of beauty, one that gradually grows on you. However, this TV movie rushes along at such terrific speed that there is simply no time whatsoever to describe Katherine properly; whereas she is the main character in the book, along with Poirot, she seems to be just another character in the TV film.
And just as Katherine Grey is portrayed superficially in the TV film, so are the other characters. That even includes Poirot himself; as one imdb.com reviewer aptly commented, "Poirot seems like an insane diviner rather than a brilliant analyst of facts". Moreover, the film is marred by the catastrophic miscasting of several key characters. Nicholas Farrell, being too old, is absolutely unsuitable to play Major Knighton; in the book, being much younger, the Major falls in love with Katherine, and that is made thoroughly believable; in the TV film, this notion is ludicrous.
One of the greatest disappointments of the TV film is that the glamorous French dancer Mirelle from the book, who should probably resemble Natalie Portman at her sexiest and most seductive, is turned into a tall, cold (instead of ludicrously and irrationally pationate!), haughty (and incidentally also black!) young woman who is not remarkable or interesting in any way. (But rather seems to be a cliched character in her pseudo-philosophic complaints about life in general.)
Equally miscast is Lindsay Duncan as Lady Tamplin; sorry, but Lady Tamplin was supposed to be both truly glamorous (astonishingly beautiful for a woman in her 40s!) and silly (plus rapactious) -- the Lady Tamplin we get to see in the film is merely silly (plus rapacious). This may, again, be attributed to the movie's great speed -- there is no time to draw the characters properly.
Lady Tamplin's daughter Lenox, as played by Alice Eve, is also a failure; this should have been a troubled, unattractive teenager, actually bordering hate towards her mother -- instead, the TV film presents a giggling, silly, essentially trouble-free teenager; any real tension between the mother and daughter is gone. In fact, viewers can hardly distinguish between Katherine and Lenox in terms of their psychologies; they seem like two former classmates, whereas in the novel, there is the significant age gap between them that is getting closed slowly as the very young and the not-so-young woman get to know each other better as the novel's action progresses.
On the other hand, other actors, especially male ones, are suitably chosen. Elliot Gould gives a superb performance as Rufus Van Aldin, and is thoroughly convincing. So is Tom Harper as Lady Tamplin's silly young husband. The two rivalling men in Ruth Kettering's life, James D'Arcy as Derek Kettering and Oliver Milburn as Count De La Roche, also play their roles competently. So do Jaime Murray as Ruth Kettering and Bronagh Gallagher as her maid. As to David Suchet, he is a consummate actor; he does not truly resemble the Hercule Poirot of the books physically -- Suchet being too tall, rotund and dignified, while Poirot is supposed to be of small frame, with an egg-shaped head, and ludicrous moustaches, making him look ridiculous rather than dignified or ominous. Yet David Suchet is close to Hercule Poirot in spirit and, after all, that -- rather than the externals -- is what matters most in an actor's performance. Thus, Suchet's performance even in this mediocre TV adaptation confirms that typologically, he is the best actor to have played Poirot so far on the big screen or TV. Suchet's enunciation, French accent and mimicry are priceless, virtually perfect.
This TV adaptation introduces some changes to the plot and characters of the book that seem unnecessary. In particular, the closing scenes, as if trying to replicate the closing scenes of Hitchcock's _Shadow of a Doubt_, seem especially uncalled for. The miscarried opening chapters of Christie's novel are wisely omitted in the film version, but towards the end it is as if the film makers were not confident with having told a good mystery tale (and, sadly, they probably did not), and so they slap on a sensational, thriller-like ending to the movie, one not present in the book at all. Agatha Christie, although she hated this book for personal reasons, could afford to close it on a quiet note -- there was no need for a sensational ending in the book, as there was enough food for the readers in all the foregoing chapters. There were moments of wisdom, great dialogue and humour in the book, but almost none of them seem to have survived in the TV version. The Suchet adaptations sometimes introduce humour where the books have none (such as forcibly inserting Miss Lemon and Hasting in stories where they don't belong, to inject some comic relief) -- yet here, in _The Mystery of the Blue Train_, we observe the reverse process, equally inappropriate: the book has quite a lot of humour, yet this failed to get transferred to the TV version; for example, the character of Poirot's valet George is not present in the film.
Finally, with the story being partially set at the French Riviera, the movie-makers could have made more of and shown us more of the spectacular scenery of the location. Again, this TV film moves so fast we don't get to relish the beauty of the scenery -- contrast that with the mesmerizing Hollywood production of _Evil Under the Sun_ (directed by Guy Hamilton), and you'll appreciate all the opportunities missed by the makers of this film. We did not necessarily expect _The Mystery of the Blue Train_ to be as visually spectacular as Hitchcock's _To Catch a Thief_ set in the same location (the French Riviera); however, there is a brief car chase in this Christie novel, too, and so it's sad to see that it was, likewise, left out of the film entirely.
To sum up, this is a mediocre Agatha Christie film adaptation. No Poirot die-hard fan will resist the temptation to watch David Suchet board the Blue Train; casual viewers, though, won't be deprived of much if they never watch this particular installment of the long-running TV series.
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