Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS" (2010) Review

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"THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS" (2010) Review

Anyone who has read Agatha Christie's 1925 novel, "The Secret of Chimneys", will be disappointed by the 2010 television adaptation that stars Julia McKenzie as Miss Jane Marple. The television movie bears little resemblance to the novel. But that does not mean one should completely dismiss the movie. 

Although a long time fan of Christie's novels, I have never read "The Secret of Chimneys". Familiar with many of the author's novels, I knew that the former was not one that featured Jane Marple. I did not care. I have come across other Miss Marple television movies in which the literary source did not feature her as the main character. However, I was surprised to learn that the 2010 movie bore very little resemblance to the original novel. Then again, I should not have been surprised. The forces behind the adaptations of Christie novels seemed to have a penchant for changing the plots and sometimes, even the murderer's identities, whenever the whim struck them. And this whim certainly went into full gear for"THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS".

Written by Paul Rutman, the plot for "THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS" begins in the 1930s, when an Austrian named Count Ludwig Von Stainach first visited Chimneys, the estate of the 9th Maquis of Caterham to attend a diplomatic ball. During that visit, a famous diamond belonging to Lord Caterham, is stolen; leading to the beginning of the decline of his family's fortunes. Over twenty years later, Jane Marple, who is related to Lord Caterham's family, visits Chimneys for a weekend house party when she learns that it is being considered to become a part of National Trust. Also attending the house party held by Lord Caterham is a local ambitious Member of Parliament (M.P.) named George Lomax, who wants to marry the aristocrat's younger daughter, Lady Virginia Brent; older daughter Lady Eileen "Bundle" Brent, and National Trust advocate Miss Hilda Blenkinsopp. However, the main reason behind the house party proves to be the visiting Count Von Stainach, whom Lomax wants Lord Caterham to entertain in order to sign a deal for iron ore that post-World War II England desperately needs. Unbeknownst to everyone else, Lady Virginia has met and fallen in love with a young man named Anthony Cade, who has decided to crash the party in order to prevent her from marrying Lomax. However, the house party takes a dark turn when someone shoots and kills Count Von Stainach in one of the manor's secret passages. And since Anthony was the first to stumble across the count's body, he becomes "Suspect Number One".

Knowing that "THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS" was not an original Jane Marple mystery, I had no idea on what to expect from this television series. Thankfully, the movie proved to be a surprisingly entertaining film filled with some humor, strong characterizations, plenty of romance - both charming and poignantly sad, and two very puzzling mysteries. Although one mystery surrounded the disappearance of the Brents' diamond and the other featured the murder of Count Von Stainach, both proved to be connected to one another. I have read the synopsis of Christie's 1925 novel. I must admit that it read more like a political thriller than a murder mystery. And a part of me felt somewhat relieved that screenwriter Rutman did not attempt a faithful adaptation of the novel. Some have claimed that Anthony Cade, who was featured as the main investigator in the novel, had been pushed into the background. I cannot agree with this assessment. Instead of the story's main investigator, Cade was used as one half of the movie's main love story and the main suspect of Von Stainach's murder. Rutman did a very good job in utilizing the Cade character, while replacing him with Miss Marple as the main investigator.

There were technical aspects of "THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS" that I certainly enjoyed. Chris Seager's photography struck me as beautiful. The movie's photography displayed its filming locations - Hatfield House for the exterior shots andKnebworth House for the interior shots - with beautifully sharp colors. Miranda Cull contributed to Seager's photography with her art designs for the movie's interiors shot inside Knebworth House. And Sheena Napier did an excellent job of designing costumes for the movie's characters. This is a movie filled with upper-class or aristocratic characters who have seen better times, financial. This means that Napier's costumes had a mid-century elegance that seemed slightly worn, and did not come off as expensively glamourous.

Charlotte Salt, Jonas Armstrong, Ruth Jones and Matthew Horne. Anthony Higgins, whom I have not laid eyes upon in years, gave a charming performance as the elegant, yet extroverted Count Ludwig Von Stainach. But there were performances that really caught my eye. One of them came from Stephen Dillane, who gave a deliciously twisted performance as the slightly eccentric Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Fitch. Another performance that impressed me came from Adam Godley, whom I last saw on USA Network's "SUITS". I thought he perfectly portrayed the ambitious, yet controlling politician George Lomax. I rather liked Dervla Kirwan's portrayal of Lady Eileen "Bundle" Brent, Lord Caterham's older daughter. I felt Kirwan did an excellent job in portraying a woman who is struggling to deal with the possible erosion of a lifestyle she had known all of her life. Edward Fox is another I have not seen in years. But I felt that he, along with Dillane and Julia McKenzie gave the best performances in the movie. Fox's Maquis of Caterham proved to be a skillful portrayal of an elderly, yet sad man whom seemed unable to stop grieving over a recently deceased wife. 

Julia McKenzie has received some criticism for her portrayal of Jane Marple over the past three to four years. Apparently, many fans believe she seemed a bit too robust and young to be portraying the elderly sleuth. McKenzie, who is in her early 70s, is old enough. And quite frankly, I have enjoyed her portrayal just as much as I have Joan Hickson and Geraldine McEwan's. McKenzie simply has a different, slightly less incoherent style in approaching the Miss Marple character. And not only did I enjoyed it in "THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS", but also in her other Miss Marple movies. 

I would not exactly view "THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS" as one of the best Miss Marple mysteries I have seen on television. But thanks to some solid direction from John Strickland, a surprisingly first-rate script written by Paul Rutman and some superb performances from a cast led by Julia McKenzie, I ended enjoying it very much.

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