Mrs. McGinty’s Dead–Before You See It

magnifying glassAll right.  Before I start my review of this movie, I have to explain a few things.  I am a HUGE Hercule Poirot fan, and I have read every book at least five times (I have them all).  When I first started watching movies on any kind on a regular basis (meaning with the aid of Netflix), I decided to see what was available in the Hercule Poirot oeuvre.  I’ve seen Peter Ustinov as Poirot (not bad), Albert Finney as Poirot (truly horrible), and I even more recently saw Alfred Molina as Poirot (ok, but didn’t fit the role at all).

I despaired of seeing a Poirot that fit–until I saw David Suchet as Poirot.  Now, Suchet first started as Inspector Japp (a Poirot regular), and he was fine in that role, too.  However, he is Hercule Poirot, no question about it.  In fact, when I got an audio tape of Suchet reading an Agatha Christie novel, I was crushed when he began reading in a British accent.  I mean, I know he’s not Belgian or French, but I didn’t realize how thoroughly I associate Suchet with Poirot until I heard his British accent.

Ahem.  That is neither here nor there.

This is the first Poirot movie I’m reviewing on my blog.  I have countless reviews in my personal archives because I have seen every movie and episode possible until the latest season–damn America for showing them a year later–but as this is the first for the blog, I’m going to state a few things you need to know.

First, I am going to review the movie assuming that you’ve read the book.  That means, no spoiler alerts.  If you haven’t read the book, and you want to be surprised watching the movie, then don’t read the review.  Really, though, if you’re not a big Poirot fan, I don’t see why you’d be watching this movie, anyway, except for David Suchet’s excellent performance.  Consider yourself warned.

Secondly, I will dispense with the fact that the music is overdrawn and imposing.  This is a given.  I find it ridiculous, but I am used to it.  I will also ignore the fact that the cast of characters has been drastically reduced.  This happens in every movie, and it’s not really avoidable.  In addition, I will overlook the attempts to spice up the movie with additional sexy scenes, words, implications, etc., and the use of swearing.  Oddly enough, there was very little sexing up of the movie, for which I am truly grateful.  One added sexy intrigue, but it’s of little note.  In addition, the movies always make it seem like everyone is a suspect when that’s clearly not the case in the books.

Finally, I will try to overlook how the writer tries to twist the ending because it’s as inevitable as it’s infuriating.  No matter how Christie ends a book, the writers of the movie feel the need to tweak it.  Usually, it’s to make the ending more exciting or suspenseful, but they always fall flat.  My biggest gripe about all the movies is that I wish they would just have faith in Dame Christie’s work to be as engaging now as it was when they were written.

With that out of the way, I begin.

Mrs. McGinty’s Dead is one of my least-favorite Poirot books.  This is an asset when I’m watching the movie because it means that I won’t be as nitpicky when the movie takes liberties with the plot, the characters, the ending, etc.  When I saw that this movie was going to be on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery! mystery tonight, I was thrilled.

The movie starts out with Superintendent Spence (Richard Hope) seeing a man he arrested found guilty of murder.  Spence should be happy, but he’s not.  He doesn’t think the man, James Bentley (Joe Absolom) did it.  However, Spence is moved on to his next case, so he asks Poirot (the incomparable David Suchet) to re-investigate.  Poirot accepts.

The movie condenses quite a bit of the plot, so if you haven’t read the book, you’ll be a bit confused as to what’s happening.  The bottom line is, Mrs. McGinty, a charwoman (maid) is murdered.  It looks like her boarder, Bentley, did it.  Poirot goes to the village to investigate.  He runs into his old friend, Ariadne Oliver (Zoë Wanamaker, who is soo sexy, by the way), who is a wacky novelist with a firm belief in women’s intuition and a rabid hatred for her popular detective*.  Oliver is in the village to collaborate with the playwright, Robin Upward (Paul Rhys) on a stage adaptation of one of her novels.  Poirot instructs Ariadne to go around gabbing about him so he can start the gossip flowing.

The plot.  In the Sunday paper, there’s an article written about past female murderers and where are they now.  In the book, there are four.  In the movie, there are two.  The article includes pictures of the two murderers from back in the day.  Mrs. McGinty saw one of those photos in one of the houses for which she cleans.  She’s a bit down on her luck, so she approaches the person who has the photo, hoping for a small present to keep her tongue.  Instead, she is murdered.

One of the past female murderers was a governess who had an affair with the father of the girl she was governing.  Either she (the governess) or the hubby offed the wife, but he took the rap.  The governess fled while pregnant with her lover’s child.  The other murderer was a girl who was taken in by her aunt and then killed her aunt when her aunt wouldn’t let her go to the movies.

The newspaper mentions that the first murderer had a daughter, so of course, all the suspicion is on the women who are the same age as the daughter would be.

I watched this movie with enormous enjoyment.  It’s been about a year (or more) since I’ve seen a new Poirot movie, and David Suchet is exquisite as Hercule Poirot.  In addition, the annoying Hugh Fraser as Hastings is not in the movie, nor is Pauline Moran in the grotesque caricature of the efficient Miss Lemon, Poirot’s secretary.  Alas, Philip Jackson as the dour Inspector Japp is not in it, but as he is not in the book, either, I can accept it.

I love the period with the marcelled hair, heavily-applied makeup and long-stem cigarette holders.  Even though I would not want to dress that way, it is a sight to behold.  That’s one thing I appreciate about the Poirot movies–they try to get the feel of the story right.  Alas, if they would only adhere to the plots with the same rigor….

In this case, the movie sticks quite closely to the book.  I find the movie whizzing by to a breathtaking finale.  Well, ok, not breathtaking as most of Poirot’s finales consist of Poirot describing how he brilliant deduces who the culprit is.  Oddly enough, this is one book in which there is a bit of dramatic flair at the end, which the movie chooses to bypass.  Instead, it goes for a more wrenching denouement, and it is carried off with panache.

The acting is better in this movie than in most Poirot movies.  That is to say, it is uniformly good.  Wanamaker and Suchet are a cut above the rest, but that is only to be expected.  I wasn’t at all bothered by the minor plot changes or the extra swear words that were tossed in just for the hell of it.  In fact, this is the best Poirot movie I have seen yet.  If you are a Poirot fan and/or a David Suchet fan, put this movie at the head of your Netflix Queue.  Hell, if you like genteel mysteries and/or period pieces, give it a whirl as well.  It comes out July 7th.

*Agatha Christie grew to loathe Hercule Poirot, so her way of dealing with it was to create Ariadne Oliver as an alter ego who is constantly griping about her detective, Sven Hjerson.

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