Category: Telefilm Review

Telefilm Review: Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

***Spoilers Ahead***

Sometimes, the simplest story is the best story. This is something that Stephen Moffat will never quite get. He’s a clever writer and loves clever twists and tricking the audience. Sometimes, the tricks are genuinely clever and delight the viewer, and sometimes they undermine everything viewers have been through and make them feel cheated.. This was true in Doctor Who Series 6, and it’s certainly true of The Abominable Bride. 

The premise of the Abominable Bride as advertised is that it’s Sherlock Holmes done properly. Sherlock set in the Victorian era. And for the first hour, that’s what we got as Sherlock Holmes investigated the case of a woman dressed as a bride who shoots herself in the head is taken to the morgue. Then she shoots her husband and goes on a killing spree across London.

It’s a bizarre story but certainly intriguing fodder for Sherlock Holmes and it goes along along nicely for an hour. We have some good moments, some great humor, and an intriguing mystery. You had all the cast dressed in fine Victorian fashion and Mark Gatiss (playing Mycroft) dressed in a fat suit to match the enormous character described in the book.

However, I saw a problem.  There were so many moments that didn’t ring true to the Victorian era. Why bother doing this story if it wasn’t go to be of the era? But there was an explanation.

***Spoilers Ahead***

And that explanation was?

***Last warning before Spoilers***

It was all a dream. A narcotics-induced dream by the modern Sherlock. We learn that an hour in. We’re told he was extremely hooked on multiple drugs at the end of, “His Last Vow,” in Series 3 however he showed no signs of being high because he’s Sherlock and he’s an addict and you can never tell when a drug addict is so high that they’re going to induce a Victorian dream world. Or the writers just needed him to be high in order to make their vision of the story work.

But it’s not just a dream world, it’s dream worlds within dream worlds.In the first dream world, Sherlock tells us that the crime he’s solving is real and he’s hoping by solving it with an imaginary 19th century investigation to get clues into how Moriarity came back even though he had no way of knowing when he got on the plane that Moriarty was back. However, by the end we’re not even sure of that. Though, we do get back to the investigation eventually and we learn who was behind it.

Militant suffragettes. We’re treated to a speech in which Sherlock explains how a group of militant suffragettes committed the murders and were justified in doing so because men were awful and in the end (for what it’s worth as we don’t know if what’s going on is real), Sherlock lets them go and agrees to have them marked as a failure.

It’s ironic the great big speech about how men are evil oppressors keeping women down was delivered by a man in a room full of silent women serving as a backdrop. While militant suffragettes were a thing in Great Britain, they didn’t really go in for mass murder, more for arson and bombings, though this was mostly during the First World War. Given the state of the world, it’s incredibly socially irresponsible about having Sherlock (and Doctor Watson) giving a tacit wink and a nod to terrorism as a legitimate way of achieving social change.

Certainly, the status of women and their plight in Victorian times could serve a legitimate purpose or point in a Sherlock Holmes story if handled right, but here it’s overbearing and stifles the rest of the Victorian plot.

Of course, the biggest problem is that nothing we see is even real within the context of the story. I guess that makes it a triumph of post-modern storytelling where nothing really has to make sense or have any cohesion as long as you’re deconstructing stuff. The only thing we’re sure is  real is the final scene where modern Sherlock lands, gets off the plane, and has a conversation with his brother. The rest of it is dreams within dreams for a contrived character journey ending with a psychological meeting with Moriarty (Andrew Scott) who was killed off in Series 2. The only good news is that people can skip this episode and miss nothing in terms of future series.

What’s disappointing about this is, unlike most other television series, is this is Sherlock and this is the first episode in nearly two years and it will be more than a year until the next series of episodes.

The main actors are still good, or at least as good as their material will allow them to be, but the material was pretty awful.

At the end of the day, Stephen Moffat should have hired George Mann or Jonathan Barnes (who have both shown they can write proper Sherlock Holmes for Big Finish), or someone of their talent to write a straightforward Sherlock Holmes story set in the Victorian era and had the cast do it in that style. Instead, we get a confused story that borrows from the plot of Moffat’s 2014 Doctor Who Christmas Special “Last Christmas” to produce something far less compelling.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.0

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Telefilm Review: The Brazilian Connection

In the 1980s, the Saint returned to television with a series of TV movies starring Simon Dutton. “The Brazilian Connection” originally aired in 1989. In it, the Saint takes a hand to investigate when a baby is kidnapped in broad daylight.

The best thing about this updated Saint story is that Simon Dutton isn’t Val Kilmer. The second best thing about it is everything that doesn’t have much to do with the main mystery. There’s the early scene which has the Saint robbing a couple of criminals and getting away in style and then busting up an art fraud ring. Inspector Teal’s got a new boss who believes the Saint needs to be brought to heel, despite Teel’s support of Templar.

There’s lovely location shooting in London as well as some nice effects.

As a leading man, Dutton isn’t in the same league as the great Saint Actors: George Sanders, Roger Moore, or Vincent Price. He’s more like Hugh Sinclair, who played the role in two films in the 1940s. He’s certainly adequate, looks up to the part, and can be charming when the script lets him be. The problem is, far too often, the script doesn’t.

While this is better than the 1996 movie by a country mile, it seems the creative team doesn’t really understand the Saint and thus we’re given a story that could feature any 1980s Detective/Action hero.

The big failing of, “The Brazilian Connection” is it’s mystery story. It’s told with little style or real intrigue, and it’s hard to buy into the plot.

You could applaud the story for being years ahead of its time by its discussion of human trafficking, but the way the movie addresses the issue is unbelievable.

I’m not spoiling anything to explain the couple who kidnapped the baby in London worked for a black market baby ring that kidnapped babies from Brazil, particularly rural areas, taking advantage of local corruption to kidnap babies and smuggle them out of the country. The mystery is who the boss is.

So these kidnappers who have this Brazilian deal set up where due to their connections, they can easily smuggle babies out of the countries. So they are walking down the street, see a stroller, and do an impromptu kidnapping in the middle of London where they have none of the advantages they do in Brazil. Why? They figured they could pick up some extra bucks.

The story also does a disservice to adoptive parents who are concerned with overly strict regulations that made it difficult for them to adopt by tying people who support their cause to a baby smuggling ring.

Overall, the story isn’t awful, but it’s not great, either, and it didn’t leave me at all curious to see future episodes of this incarnation of the Saint.

Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0

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Telefilm Review: Curtain

Curtain is a story many don’t want to read and don’t want to see. It’s Poirot’s last tale, the story in which Poirot meets his final end.

Poirot returns to Styles, where he solved his first great English case decades before. This is a different Poirot as far as we can tell, an invalid with a new valet whose days are numbered. Yet, he’s got one more case to solve and he turns (with reluctance) to his oldest and dearest friend, Captain Hastings.

David Suchet turns in a superb performance as this much older, ailing, and far less sunny Poirot. He’s more grumpy and snaps at Captain Hastings, who he has no choice but to depend on. Despite his inability to observe as he once did, it’s clear the little gray cells are still working.

Hugh Frasier delivers a great performance as Captain Hastings, no longer the dim-witted sidekick, he’s charged with grief over the death of his wife, with concern for Poirot, and with his daughter’s coldness and involvement with an amoral man. Hasting is driven to his limit and Frasier plays this beautifully, taking advantage of a script that makes Hastings a far juicier part than the typical comic sidekick.

The mystery itself is unusual. It’s hard to follow or to even figure out if there’s a pattern to what’s going on until we get the solution. Then the nature of the evil Poirot faces is exposed, and we’re brought face to face with the shocking choice to make at the end of his days.

Poirot’s final scene is beautifully done, as he’s a man dying hoping only for forgiveness. It’s only later that we learn what for.

Curtain is a solid production, and probably the best of the season.

I’ve enjoyed the entire series, and mystery fans own a large debt of gratitude to David Suchet, who didn’t come to Poirot of remaking him, rather Suchet has said that he understood his job as an actor was to serve the writer (and in the case of the Poirot stories, his creator) by bringing the character to life as they intended it. His job was to truly to be Agatha Christie’s Poirot. While there are quite a few adaptations (particularly in Series 9 and 10) where the story was often very different from Christie’s vision, in all of these tales, Suchet remained superb and succeeded in being Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Telefilm Review: The Labours of Hercules

A few years back
The first thing to understand about the ITV telefilm, The Labours of Hercules is that it really couldn’t be faithful to the book as a whole the way it was produced.

The Labours of Hercules wasn’t really an Agatha Christie novel (see my review here.). It was a short story collection with an overarching theme. Where Poirot, prior to retirement, sought out to cap his career by re-enacting the Labours of Hercules. In truth, this should have been adapted as another season of hour-long adventures, as that’s how previous Christie short stories were handled.

But instead we have a ninty minute telefilm that must be evaluated on its own merits. After failing to catch a jewel thief who also commits murders for the sheer pleasure of it, Poirot is not well. He’d promised a young woman she’d been safe, but instead she’d fallen victim to the jewel thief along with a man who had been attending the same party.

Poirot is depressed, but decides to do something positive by helping his hired driver find his true love, and goes to Switzerland to do so and finds himself in the same hotel as the thief and murderer who defeated him in London. Poirot seeks to catch the killer, but finds more than his usual share of red herrings as the hotel is full of people hiding things and mysteries. In the book, Poirot solves these mysteries across Great Britain and the Continent, but the production is pretty clever in putting as many of these cases from the as possible, literally “under one roof.”

The direction in the film is fantastic, and the Chateau setting is gorgeous and atmospheric. It’s a very well-told and engaging mystery that borrows from the book, but has its own tale to tell.

The one thing that bothers me about is the tonal shift from the book. As a book, The Labours of Hercules is a fun collection of tales about Poirot deciding to cap his amazing career by replicating the original Labors of Hercules. It’s eccentric and light reading. This telefilm  is much darker, and it’s about Poirot’s failure and his struggle for redemption and the fact that his life can often be quite lonely. In many ways, this film serves sets the tone for the final story, Curtain.

Overall, even though this isn’t the Labours of Hercules as I’d really like to have it made (and I doubt, given the increasingly dark tone of our entertainment, such a production will ever be made), it’s good for what it is: an atmospheric mystery that sets up the series finale and Poirot’s last case.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Telefilm Review: Elephants Can Remember

A few years back, I listened to the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Elephants Can Remember when it was first released several back. Their version was quite enjoyable as Poirot undertakes solving a twenty-year-old murder mystery so a bride to be can be married without worry and to answer the attacks of her would-be Mother-in-Law. BBC Radio 4 managed to tell a story that was emotionally engaging and involving. Still, it didn’t quite seem to be a good story for television because of its pace and the fact it involved interviewing older people about what they did in their life.

I was curious to see what ITV’s Poirot did with Elephants Can Remember. Their solution was to make the original mystery a secondary story. As a main story, we have the murder of a psychiatrist and a brand new murder created out of whole cloth.

The problems with this are two fold. First, by having Poriot be dismissive to the cold case at first, it changes his overall character. Second, the telefilm’s new main murder isn’t all that good. Nick Dear’s plot is like a bad imitation of a Christie murder, with a lot of the tropes but none of talent for details and depth of character that made Christie’s work so fantastic.

This production takes a lesser Christie novel and turns it into a lesser television episode. This is the weakest adaptation since Series 10. There’s still some decent performances and good atmosphere, but not a whole lot to recommend this as a whole.

For a good adaptation of the story, I highly recommend the BBC Radio 4 version. As for the telefilm, to borrow a quote from the book, “Elephants can remember, but we are human beings and mercifully human beings can forget.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.0

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