31 December 2014 | dmayo-911-597432
Forget Miss Marple and savor a darker Christie
As another reviewer has suggested, it's best to watch the productions in this series simply as pieces of television, not as adaptations of the Miss Marple stories. As soon as one makes that shift, "Endless Night" begins to reward attention.
The Wikipedia article on the original story tells us that it was a critical success and one of Christie's own favorites among her works. It adds that the Marple adaptation for television was fairly faithful to the original. The dark, unsentimental, humorless tone of the TV production seems consistent with that view, even as it dashes the expectations raised by the rest of the Marple series.
If the story seems to move slowly, that's because it moves at the pace of serious drama, accumulating moral mass and developing character in a degree that Christie's light mystery puzzles lack. It does not leave us amused with murder. If anything, it leaves us thirsting for entertainment that will take away the bitter taste of a more honest response.
No attempt will be made here to summarize the plot or introduce the characters, with the exception of Miss Marple herself. Her insertion into this non-Marple story can be counted as two faults and two virtues. On the negative side, it slights the main character of the series and disturbs the mood of this particular story. On the positive side, it enabled the staff assembled for the Marple project to do the story in the first place. No Miss Marple, no production. It also has the interesting effect of casting a new light on Julia McKenzie's running performance in the series. The performance itself is consistent. But whereas McKenzie's earnest Jane Marple usually seems to represent genuine humanity among the denizens of a cartoon world, here she seems an allegorical figure coming and going in the real world: a Fury in human form or a Good Witch out of a fairy tale. The acting techniques that have always produced a refreshingly realistic effect now suggest the pat pseudo-realism of a dream. Instead of being a rock of sanity, Miss Marple becomes a rising tide of maddening truth.
However, the greatest virtue of this production is its visual quality. It achieves an unusually convincing period look and sometimes, especially in the interior shots of people interacting, recalls the plausible 1950s atmosphere of George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck (2005). At all events, it's a visual treat: comprehensively designed, directed, and photographed with superb taste. Many High Definition TV dramas, including latter-day Marple and Poirot productions, aggressively appeal to the eyes like animated coffee-table books. In contrast, "Endless Night" shuns gratuitously stunning tableaux in favor of a more deliberate, selective artistry in the use of color and tone. Yes, these images are often suitable for framing, but they function first of all as an appropriate narrative medium.
If you're willing to endure the unrelieved moral gloom of the story more than once, "Endless Night" does reward multiple viewings.