Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Hercule Poirot’

Knives Out *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th November, 2019

KO_07197.dngWhodunnits are an important genre of popular fiction, perhaps best typified by the prolific output of that West Country mistress of mystery, Agatha Christie. Many of her books were turned into films or television specials; one thinks particularly of Murder on the Orient Express and the long-running TV series, Poirot. Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, which has just been released in the UK, is in many ways a tribute act to Christie, with the setting moved to New England. The celebrated private detective, who is able to deduce what the more plodding law enforcement officers cannot, is an ill-shaven southerner with an outrageous drawl, Benoit Blanc (improbably but entertainingly played by Daniel Craig). Most of the action takes place within an ugly, gloomy mansion, its interior eclectically stuffed full of weird objects and books reflecting the unconventional character of its octogenarian owner, a hugely successful crime writer (Christopher Plummer). He summons all of his dysfunctional family for his 85th birthday party, where jealousies and feuds bubble under the surface, periodically bursting out like molten lava. Each of the family members has glaring faults and is clearly waiting for the old man to die so they can inherit. The only sympathetic character is a young Latin American nurse-companion, whose nationality the snobbish family constantly misremembers. When the writer’s body is found up in his garret study the following morning, with its throat cut, the assumption is that he has committed suicide, until Benoit Blanc (anonymously commissioned to look into the matter via an envelope stuffed with money) suspects foul play.

Knives Out Daniel Craig As in a Christie novel, everyone seems to have a motive for such a killing, but the plot of Knives Out veers off in an unexpected direction, more than once, so it really is only at the end that Blanc is able to tie up the loose ends in front of the astonished family assembly. In the meantime, the movie has walked a tightrope between detective story and black comedy, in which there are indeed many laugh-out-loud moments. There are infinite nods not only to Agatha Christie but also to other popular crime writers; at one moment, the Latin American nurse comes home to find her mother watching Angela Lansbury in Murder She Wrote on TV, dubbed in Spanish. The actors playing the writer’s family members in Knives Out clearly have a lot of fun personifying nastiness — from a chillingly calculating Jamie Lee Curtis as one of the daughters to a creepy young Jaeden Lieberher as a nerdy grandson with alt-right tendencies. Rian Johnson wrote the screenplay as well as directing the film and the dialogue is a triumph of social observation as well as literary referencing. This may not be the most suspenseful whodunnit you will see this season, let alone the most significant piece of cinema, but as pure entertainment it is hard to think it will be beaten.

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Murder Most Foul

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 6th September, 2008

Why are the British so addicted to murder mysteries? I confess that I am as hooked as the rest. At school, I devoured the entire oeuvre of Agatha Christie, alongside the more acceptable blood and guts of William Shakespeare. Having an appalling memory for plot, I can still watch a Hercule Poirot as if the story were totally fresh. And Midsomer Murders is the one TV programme I watch regularly, besides Newsnight and Have I Got News for You.

This evening, for the first time, I attended a Murder Mystery Evening, courtesy of Beckenham Liberal Democrats. The murder story’s title was ‘The Victim in the Vestry’, and the location for the event was most appropriately the Parish Rooms in Bromley. The Master of Ceremonies was Michael Chuter, who is a dab hand at these evenings. I admit I failed to work out the villain of the piece, despite several clever clues (and not a few red herrings). I know I would go back for more. And I’m still no nearer understanding why what in reality is a horrible crime is in imaginative terms so utterly entrancing.

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