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  • Agatha Christie has been one of my favourite authors for such a long time now, since the age of 11 from reading 'And Then There Were None' and watching the David Suchet adaptation of 'Sad Cypress'. Love the twisty mysteries, rich characterisation, meticulous atmosphere, her intelligent use of prose and ingenious final solutions. Her work has mostly been adapted well, the obvious examples being the best of the Joan Hickson Miss Marple and David Suchet Poirot adaptations.

    Serving as essentially a four part pilot to 'Les Petits Meutres D'Agatha Christie', the French series that adapted loosely a lot of Christie's work, 'Petits Meutres En Famille' is like that series. Very fascinating and light-hearted entertainment with an intriguing mystery. It's essentially a loose adaptation of 'Hercule Poirot's Christmas', basically like 'Les Petits Meurtres D'Agatha Christie' a frame-work of her work, a very good read with a clever denouement and one of Christie's most hateful victims, and it's a good one. Anybody expecting a straight up faithful adaptation may need to watch with caution, but there is an awful lot to like on its own merits.

    The pacing could have been more consistent perhaps, most of the time it's perfect but there are moments where it could have been tighter and others where it could have slowed down.

    Likewise with some of the more comedic elements, sometimes in need of a calming down and more subtlety.

    However, 'Petits Meutres En Famille' looks lovely, especially the lavish period detail and scenery to take your breath away. The vibrant but never over-saturated or garish colours, that could be quite atmospheric, and photography complement beautifully. The music matches the light-hearted and at times very atmospheric tone very well. On the most part, the writing is endearing and provides a great deal of entertainment. Yet it doesn't get in the way of telling a good mystery, and the mystery is clever and very sophisticated, with any brutality not being overdone.

    A big part of 'Petits Meutres En Famille's' success is the characterisation, with the rich characterisation still present and a well matched pairing in Larosiere and Lampion, remarkably already very interesting and well settled. The former is the richer character but Lampion the more endearing and rootable one. The direction is competent throughout and cannot fault the acting, with outstanding leads in Antoine Dulery and Marius Colucci.

    On the whole, definitely well worth watching. 7/10 Bethany Cox
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Petits Meurtres En Famille" (or "Agatha Christie's Family Murder Party", as it's known in English) is a wonderfully well-done miniseries, one which I very much enjoyed watching. It appears at first glance to have been a prequel to/pilot for the equally wonderful series "Les Petits Meurtres d'Agatha Christie", but if you are already a fan of that show (as I was) and then go to watch "En Famille", be forewarned: the miniseries turns out to be rather a different ball of wax which confounds expectations. It really takes place in a universe separate from that of the series, and should be viewed accordingly.

    It does, however, feature the same principal characters (Commissaire Jean Larosière and Inspecteur Emile Lampion), played by the same actors (Antoine Duléry and Marius Colucci), from the series' first 1930's-set incarnation. Here we get to see the two French policemen meet for the first time, which is a treat. Young Lampion, newly arriving at Larosière's precinct, is a great admirer of the older detective and has enthusiastically read up on his cases - he is anxious to get his feet wet with some "ac-ti-on" and investigate the local "meurtres", and so is duly disappointed to learn that such crimes are extremely uncommon in the area and that his first big assignment is a lengthy and mundane office task which needs to be completed by the time Larosière takes his vacation trip to Egypt in a couple of weeks.

    Most of the first episode is spent introducing all the various family members and staff who inhabit or are visiting the Le Tescou estate, where the events of the mystery will occur, and establishing their relationships. Early on Larosière is summoned to the chateau for a meeting with wealthy patriarch Simon Le Tescou, a decidedly unpleasant fellow who has unrepentantly succeeded in alienating everyone around him. It's no big surprise that by the end of the episode Simon has been murdered, all elements of the crime scene pointing to the deed having been done by a person or persons in his household. Larosière is, of course, called in to investigate, and rookie Lampion gets to fulfill his wish for more active police work as the Commissaire's assistant on the case.

    The circumstances of this first murder seemed a bit familiar to me, which turned out to be because I had seen the PBS "Poirot" adaptation of "Hercule Poirot's Christmas", the story on which this is based, many years ago. Christie's solution to the mystery is certainly a surprising one, and particularly so in this adaptation, but while it's admittedly very clever, I'm not sure it's entirely feasible. Here I was actually waiting for one more final twist to be revealed, but it never came, leaving me a bit... well, disappointed. Still, for astute viewers, there are clues to the outcome in the writing and direction.

    The six hour running time, split into four 90 minute installments, allows the writers to do an admirable job of fleshing out a wealth of characters and suspects. Although the story is presented seriously, and parts of it are even a bit dark, there are also welcome moments of humor sprinkled throughout. The acting is terrific across the board, with particularly noteworthy performances from Bruno Todeschini, Elsa Zylberstein, Marie Bunel and Leticia Dolera, in addition to the splendid portrayals of the police duo by Messrs. Duléry and Colucci. Edwin Baily's direction is top-notch, with each of the first three installments ending on a well-placed cliffhanger.

    The pacing is mostly handled very well, though the final installment does feel like it loses a little steam. There are some questionable plot points: the motivation for the second murder is somewhat contrived, while that behind a later murder attempt seems rather weak; a suspect under interrogation admits to the killings despite not being guilty, for a not-at-all-convincing reason. Some of the romantic and personal issues get too drawn out and soap opera-ish. And after the culprit is finally unmasked and taken away, there is an overly long coda of scenes addressing the remaining characters' futures. Oddly, the fate of the innocent person who confessed is one that we don't see resolved - a puzzling oversight, since that character had one of the most interesting storylines in the mix.

    But all in all the whole thing is enjoyably engrossing and entertaining, and my criticisms amount to no more than nitpicks. The photography of the Brittany locations is beautiful, as are the period costumes and sets, and Stéphane Moucha's music is great, suggesting jaunty whimsicality, romantic passion or ominous creepiness as called for (the memorable theme music used for the later series makes its debut here, under the dazzling opening credit sequence). And for me, hearing the French language is always a pleasure. I highly recommend catching "Petits Meurtres En Famille" if you get the chance.