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Review of Murder Is Easy - offers a fresh perspective on the beloved Agatha Christie novel.
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Review of Murder Is Easy – offers a fresh perspective on the beloved Agatha Christie novel.

I wonder if the best call an actor can get from their agent is the offer of a part in an Agatha Christie adaptation. The opening credits for Murder Is Easy offer a tantalising roll call of big TV names, including Penelope Wilton, Mark Bonnar, Mathew Baynton and Jon Pointing, but the thing about a murder mystery in which the murderer has a rather long hitlist is that most of them appear for only a scene or two. It seems as if it could be one of the easiest gigs in town.

The most active among them is David Jonsson from Industry, who plays the role of Luke Fitzwilliam, a Nigerian diplomat who has recently arrived in the UK to work at Whitehall. The story has been updated to 1953, with some alterations to characters and plot points. Screenwriter Siân Ejiwunmi-Le Berre’s changes offer a fresh and imaginative interpretation of the original 1939 novel. The first half takes more creative liberties and is the strongest, showcasing Fitzwilliam’s internal struggles as a member of the ruling class and a colonized subject on the brink of independence. His discussions with Nigerian friends in London about pride, duty, and responsibility add to the intrigue of his arrival in a predominantly white village in the mid-20th century.

However, the initial excitement quickly fades into the background as Murder Is Easy becomes a typical BBC adaptation of a Christie novel. Fitzwilliam encounters a woman named Lavinia Pinkerton (played by Wilton) on a train. Pinky, as she is known, informs him that she is headed to report a murder – although it is unclear how many she plans to report – and involves him in a guessing game where he takes on the role of the lead detective, albeit in an amateur capacity. Pinky’s usually quiet village has experienced too many deaths for it to be mere coincidence, and she is on the brink of connecting the dots and revealing the culprit.

Fitzwilliam is drawn in by the bait that Pinkerton has set out for him and decides to journey to the village to conduct his investigation. Along the way, he encounters the typical ensemble of characters found in a murder-mystery, such as the vicar, doctor, and lord of the manor. However, the story also delves into themes of class conflict, as the nearby village where the lower class resides becomes increasingly agitated by the mistreatment they receive from the wealthy, particularly in regards to a new town being developed that is causing turmoil within a 20-mile radius.

The story introduces a touch of feminism as Bridget Conway, a self-proclaimed average secretary, joins forces with Fitzwilliam to use her above-average powers of observation to help catch the killer. As a woman, she is able to notice details such as hat color and heels that others might miss. Fitzwilliam himself becomes an intriguing new presence in the village, both accepted as part of the establishment and reminded of his outsider status when a villager’s private library on eugenics is discovered. The story also briefly examines the ethics of collecting historical objects from colonial nations, but ultimately focuses more on observation than making a statement.

The plot of Murder Is Easy becomes overwhelmed as it attempts to tackle too many themes. By the second episode, the story loses its focus and the subtle humor is lost. The show both overexplains and underexplains the events, depending on the scene. Fitzwilliam discusses power dynamics and their significance, while other characters reveal the societal undervaluation of women. As the story progresses, it begins to lose momentum and ends abruptly. It also seems out of place for a Christmas-themed Christie story to take place in the middle of summer, perhaps resembling a game of tennis in white attire.

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Adaptations of old novels should be free to do whatever they want to the source material. In this case, the choices made shine a different light on the story, and these choices don’t force it into a new shape, but instead suggest taking another look at it, from an angle that might not have seemed obvious until now. It works perfectly well, though in the end, this becomes more of a routine whodunnit than it first suggests.

Source: theguardian.com