"MURDER ON THE LINKS" (1996) Review
I have never read Agatha Christie’s 1923 novel called "Murder on the Links". But I have seen the 1996 television adaptation that starred David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. On several occasions.
While on holiday in Deauville, France with his close friend, Captain Arthur Hastings, Hercule Poirot is approached by a wealthy businessman for help. Paul Renauld, whose assets include several South American business interests and the hotel where Poirot and Hastings are staying, claimed that someone – probably from South America – has made threats against his life. He asks Poirot to visit his home for consultation on the following morning. When Poirot meets the appointment, he discovers that Renauld has been kidnapped and Madame Renauld, left tied and gagged in their bedroom. The kidnapping case transforms into murder, when Hastings and his fellow golfers stumble across Renauld’s body on a golf course. Poirot also makes the acquaintance of Monsieur Girand of the Surete, an arrogant police official that views himself as the better detective. This clash of egos leads to a bet between the pair over who would solve the Renauld case first.
The case involves a bevy of suspects that include:
*Madame Eloise Renauld, the victim’s wife
*Jack Renauld, the victim’s stepson, who disliked him
*Marthe Daubreuil, Jack’s fiancée, who was frustrated by the victim’s opposition to the engagement
*Madame Bernadette Daubreuil, Marthe’s mother and the former lover/possible partner-in-crime of the victim
*Bella Duveen, Jack’s former lover, who may have mistaken the victim for him
*Mr. Stonor, the victim’s private secretary, who is in love with Madame Renauld
I would never consider "MURDER ON THE LINKS" as one of the best Christie adaptations I have seen. The movie’s prologue – set ten years earlier – almost made it easy to figure out the murderer’s identity. Second, the plot seemed hampered by one too many red herrings that involved mistaken identities and mistaken assumptions. And these red herrings nearly made the plot rather convoluted. I suspect that screenwriter Anthony Horowitz feared that the movie’s prologue nearly gave away the murderer’s identity and inserted these red herrings to confuse the viewers. Then again . . . I never read the 1923 novel and it is possible that Horowitz was simply following Christie’s original plot. Yet, the red herrings were nothing in compare to the line of reasoning that led Poirot to solve the case. The clues that he followed struck me as vague and slightly contrived.
But despite these flaws, I still manage to enjoy "MURDER ON THE LINKS" whenever I watch it, thanks to Andrew Grieves’ direction. One, I actually enjoyed the movie’s atmosphere and setting in Deauville. It gave the movie a touch of elegance without the series’ hallmark Art Deco style that had become a bit heavy-handed after this movie first aired. Production designer Rob Harris and cinematographer Chris O’Dell managed to capture the elegant mood of mid-1930s France without being too obvious about it. Andrea Galer’s costumes also struck me as near perfect. I especially enjoyed those costumes worn by the female cast members. The production’s pièce de résistance for me was the bicycle race featured two-thirds into the story. It struck me as a perfect blending of Grieves’ direction, editing, photography, production design, costumes and performances – especially by the extras.
Aside from one or two complaints, I thought the cast’s performances were first-rate. David Suchet gave his usual competent performance as the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. But I was especially impressed by Hugh Fraser’s portrayal of Arthur Hastings, Poirot’s close friend. "MURDER ON THE LINKS" provided a strong opportunity for him to shine as a man who falls in love with one of the suspects. Damien Thomas was excellent as the desperate and very complex Paul Renauld. In fact, his character seemed to be the lynch pin of the entire movie – even after his character was killed off twenty minutes into the film. Diane Fletcher seemed remarkably subtle and charming as Renauld’s beloved wife, Eloise. Portraying someone as ambiguous as Jack Renauld must have been a bit tricky, but Ben Pullen did a good job in capturing the character’s amiable, but callow and self-involved personality. Sophie Linfield was solid as Jack’s current love and fiancée, Marthe Daubreuil. However, she did not exactly rock my boat. Neither did Terence Beesley and Bernard Latham, who portrayed Renauld’s private secretary Stonor and Lucien Bex of the police, respectively. I also have to comment on Jacinta Mulcahy’s portrayal of Hasting’s love interest – the beautiful songstress, Bella Duveen. Mulcahy portrayed Bella as an effective minor femme fatale as Jack Renauld’s rejected lover. And she and Fraser made a surprisingly effective romantic pair.
The two performances that left me scratching my head came from Katherine Fahey and Bill Moody. I wish I could say that Fahey’s portrayal of Bernadette Daubreuil – Renauld’s former lover and Marthe’s mother – made an effective femme fatale. But I cannot. I cannot accuse her of hammy acting, but I thought she tried a bit too hard to project the image of a mysterious femme fatale who was blackmailing her former lover and possible partner-in-crime. But the one performance that really disappointed me came from Bill Moody’s portrayal of Monsieur Giraud of the Paris Sûreté and Poirot’s professional rival. I understood that he was supposed to be a boorish and arrogant man. However, I still had a problem with Moody’s performance. His portrayal of a French police detective seemed to border on parody. It was like watching a caricature of the John Bull persona tried to pass off as a Frenchman. It simply rang false to me.
"MURDER ON THE LINKS" was not perfect. Although I found the murder mystery intriguing, Poirot’s solution to the crime and the clues that led him to that solution struck me as slightly vague and improbable. I also had a problem with the performances of two cast members. But Arthur Hasting’s romance with one of the suspects, the elegant setting of Deauville and the performances of David Suchet, Hugh Fraser and Damien Thomas made "MURDER ON THE LINKS" worth watching.