Friday, December 26, 2014

Strong Poison (TV series)

When did the BBC replace their cardboard set with actual walls and furniture?  Somewhere between Murder Must Advertise's questionable staircase (its apparent flimsiness makes the fatal fall that occurs on it very believable) and Pride and Prejudice's elegant sitting rooms, the BBC transitioned between bare theatrical sets and staging to movies for the small screen.  1987's Strong Poison is not quite half-way between the two.  The sets are still sparse but more of the set dressing appears real rather than painted on, and the actors occasionally break from the all-facing-the-audience staginess.  For me, anyway, the producers' attempts to make the show less "stagey"backfired.  They added in just enough realism to make the cheapness of the sets and minimization of extras and supporting characters more apparent.

I enjoyed the adaptation (it's mostly faithful to the book), and Harriet Walter was well-cast as Harriet Vane.  She and Edward Petherbridge, as Lord Peter Wimsey, have good chemistry (although I prefer Ian Charmichael's take on the character, playing the fool and forcing others to underestimate him).  I was less satisfied with how the other supporting characters - Bunter, Inspector Charles Parker, and Miss Climpson - were portrayed.  Bunter was too subservient - the literary (and cardboard-set) Bunter is Lord Peter's friend and crime-solving partner, not "just" his manservant, and Charles was reduced to cameo status.  The real disappointment, though was Miss Climpson.  Sayers wrote her as an elderly spinster, apparently fluffy and twittering but very sharp-minded.  Here, she's not even in late middle-age and not convincingly dithery.

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