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Crime fiction on TV and film


Loved LUTHER and I'm very sad it's over. Idris Elba gave Luther just the soulful, sad, borderline personality a good detective needs. I'm also into the American version of HOUSE OF CARDS (binge watched it in two days)...

Libby, at your recommendation, my daughter and I enjoyed the first two seasons of LUTHER. I was aware of Idris Elba when he received a Golden Globe for the first season of a British detective in LUTHER... And although I didn't see the Nelson Mandela film, pulled for an Oscar for him in this role, too!
He is nominated for a 2014 Emmy award for the latest season.

As for the American version of HOUSE OF CARDS, I binged twice on Season One. But I'm hearing Season Two is dark and threatening...and several of main characters are killed off.... Guess we'll watch it after we finish Season Two of ORPHAN BLACK. I would suggest you start that BBC series on Friday of a long rainy weekend. It's binge material....and the time will fly by....absolutely the most amazing and unusual series....
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And just in case you don't follow Libby on Goodreads or on her blog...here's her brilliant review of ORPHAN BLACK!

I lost another weekend… this time to an incredible binge-watchable series called Orphan Black. Many of you already know it, but I tend to be late to the party. Thankfully, though, I made it. If you haven’t yet seen it, you really NEED to.
Why? Because the story, the filmmaking, and most of all, the acting are superb. Possibly better than Madmen and Homeland, my other binge-watchable addictions.
Orphan Black is part corporate conspiracy, part sci-fi, part romance, and all-around suspense thriller. Its premise centers on a youngish female grifter, Sarah Manning, who assumes the identity of a look-alike cop who has committed suicide. It turns out Sarah has bumped into a scientific experiment with clones, of which she is one of nine—and possibly more. Actress Tatiana Maslany plays all the clones, and that’s where the magic begins.

Maslany is terrific. Not only does she imbue each character with their own personality, but her accents, physicial mannerisms, and facial expressions are unique to each character. She does this with such ease and professionalism that I never once got the feeling she was “impersonating” a character. Each of the women are nuanced individuals. Whether she’s scientist Cosima, soccer mom Alison, or crazy Helena, Maslany invests herself totally in each role. I had no trouble knowing and believing in the credibility of each character. That’s how good she is.
And when they’re talking to each other in the same scene—well, that’s when the technical wizardry of the film-makers comes in. Never once did I see a clumsy double pasted into a scene. The superimpositions were done seamlessly which shows (at least to me) a mastery of form and craft. And, btw, the opening titles are visually magnificent.


The story is quite dark, and often violent, but just when you think you might need a break, comic relief appears, usually through Sarah’s foster brother, Felix, who is superbly played by Canadian Jordan Gavaris (In fact, most of the actors are Canadian)… and Alison, the perfect soccer mom, who has a hilariously noirish edge.

BBC America produces the series, which is shot in Canada, and Season 1 is free on Amazon, if you’re in Prime. Season 2 is only $12.99. For season 3, you’ll have to wait until next spring.

Now for the most important question. Who is your favorite?

There’s Sarah, of course, always dark and brooding; Cosima, the brainy scientist with dreadlocks and a perpetual smiles; Helena, childlike but mentally deranged and dangerous; Alison, the suburban soccer Mom; Rachel, the Machiavellian corporate executive; even a cross-gender clone, Tony.

I’ll tell you mine, if you tell me yours…


And now for DEATH IN PEMBERLEY, the television miniseries that we will in the fall on PBS MASTERPIECE MYSTERY!

Death Comes to Pemberley (BBC) Review Date: 14th February 2014 Reviewed By: Marina Cano-Lopez, Edinburgh Napier University/University of St Andrews

This is the successful adaptation of a not so successful novel. The television series Death Comes to Pemberley is closely based on P.D. James’s novel (published in 2011), which narrates events six years after the closing of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813): Captain Denny, a minor character in the original novel, is mysteriously murdered in the woods of Pemberley, and Wickham is charged with the crime. The main plot concerns the murder investigation and subsequent trial of Austen’s villain. Instances in which a screen adaptation visibly surpasses its source are scarce – I would cite Sharon Maguire’s adaptation of Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) as another example, one that is quite a propos in its Austenian connection. Like Maguire’s dramatization, Daniel Percival’s brings the novel to life by supplying the momentum that is missing from the text. One of the problems of P.D. James’s novel is the abuse of flashbacks, which are intended to remind the reader (especially the non-Janeite) of events in Pride and Prejudice. The result is a slow-moving narrative, where the plot advances only with difficulty, a problem that Percival solves by shortening and selecting some flashbacks only.

Novel and television series share an apparent fidelity to Austen’s times and works. The novel imitates Austen’s style and diction, including her irony and grammatical structures. The TV series attempts to reproduce the Regency country house visually: the kitchen, the victuals for the ball (white soup, wild goose, Prince of Wales biscuits), the furniture (period tables, sofas, clocks, paintings), and so on. This is Jane Austen and yet not Jane Austen: P.D. James and Daniel Percival transform Pride and Prejudice, Austen’s comedy par excellence, into a thriller with little room for laughter. Death Comes to Pemberley, unlike Austen’s novel, is full of blood, corpses and superstition – for instance, we see the dead bodies of Denny and Mrs. Yonge. The adaptation also conveys a sense of gothic horror through the forest. The long, low-angle shots (where the trees are filmed upward) contribute to this sense of awe by depicting the forest as a haunted place where murders take place and ghosts wander at ease.

The series is successful at creating this sense of place, and mostly (though not always) in its casting. Writing a sequel to Austen’s best-loved novel is a risky enterprise, but taking this sequel to the screen can be even more so: these are highly inhabited characters, and comparisons with earlier adaptations become unavoidable. In my case (and I suppose in that of many viewers), the inescapable point of comparison was Simon Langton’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for the BBC in 1995. The characterisation of Anna Maxwell and (especially) Matthew Rhys as Elizabeth and Darcy echoes that of Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth – Rhys’s hairstyle, for instance, is clearly reminiscent of Firth’s, and indeed most post-1995 adaptations recall the Firthian Darcy. The casting of Maxwell and Rhys, with their track record in literary dramatisations and biopics, adds an extra layer of meaning to Death Comes to Pemberley. Maxwell interpreted the role of Cassandra Austen (Austen’s sister) in Becoming Jane (2007), and Esther Summerson in Bleak House (2005); Rhys was John Jasper in the recent completion and adaptation of Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012). This baggage that actors bring to a film or television adaptation, perhaps not always intentionally, is what I have examined elsewhere as “filmic intertextuality,”1 a practice that certainly complicates our “reading” of Percival’s film by adding extra layers of meaning for the devoted audience.

If Maxwell and Rhys – as Elizabeth and Darcy – partly recall Ehle and Firth, what is new or different? The main problem here lies with Maxwell’s Elizabeth, who for me is not on a par with Ehle’s. Elizabeth Darcy, as performed by Maxwell, lacks the vitality and the mischievous smile that distinguished Ehle’s character, and also Austen’s. The BBC Pride and Prejudice frequently dwells on Ehle’s eyes, thereby emphasising her naughtiness and also the game of gazes in which the lovers engage. But the new Elizabeth is the mature mistress of Pemberley, not the lively wit of Longbourn. This accusation may be unfair: such, one could argue, is the logical development after six years as mistress of Pemberley, or the consequence of dressing Austen in the garments of crime fiction. But for me it unavoidably came as a disappointment. Another disappointment is the lack of chemistry between Maxwell and Rhys, which is especially noticeable when contrasted with the rapport between Ehle and Firth. Despite a similar physique, Rhys’s Darcy is very different from Firth’s. This is Darcy the New Man: he is a more sensitive character, who asks Georgiana to forgive him with tears in his eyes (he had pressed her to accept Colonel Fitzwilliam’s hand). Rhys’s Darcy is also an affectionate father, who frequently plays with his son and tries to divert his attention on the morning of the murder.

I cannot finish this review without applauding what for me is a definite improvement: the Wickhams. Played by Jenna Coleman, Lydia Wickham is more superficial, flirtatious and vain than ever – though we also have a brief insight into her character by the end of the series. But Matthew Goode’s George Wickham carries the day: his physique makes him more suitable for this role of Don Juan than some earlier actors (such as Adrian Lukis, BBC 1995). Most importantly, his performance during the trial is praiseworthy: on receiving his death sentence for Denny’s murder, this Wickham struggles for composure; as the verdict is being passed, we are offered a close-up of his face, where muscular tension becomes palpable, showing his inner struggle between despair and self-control.

The TV series Death Comes to Pemberley has been the excellent culmination of a year of Austenian celebrations. It was broadcast in December 2013, the year that marked the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. This is one of the many adaptations, sequels, rewritings and continuations of Austen’s novels that have been filling our shelves, cinemas and television channels for, at least, the last decades. It was also one of the manifold ways Pride and Prejudice was celebrated last year – others include the launch of Harper Collins’s new modernisation of the six novels and Paula Byrne’s new Austen biography. Yet, as at the time of writing, we are awaiting the next three Austen anniversaries: Mansfield Park (2014), Emma (2016), and Persuasion and Northanger Abbey (2018). There may still be further murders on the agenda, but Austen is certainly still very much alive.

Death Comes to Pemberley was first broadcast on BBC One in December 2013.
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A review of GONE GIRL, the film.

Gillian Flynn’s novel, “Gone Girl” was published by Random House’s Crown Publishing Company in June 2012. It was her third novel and, according to the publisher, has sold more than two million copies in print and digital format.
A few days ago, on October 3, 2014, “Gone Girl,” an American mystery thriller film based on the novel, was released: Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay and David Fincher directed. The film starts without much of a backstory: On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck, “Argo”) reports that his beautiful wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike, “Reacher”), has gone missing. Under pressure from the police and a growing media frenzy, Nick's portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble. Soon his lies, deceits and strange behavior have everyone asking the same dark question: Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?
Although the film starts rather mildly, it soon erupts into an hour or so of violence, explicit sex, and foul language.
The best-selling novel (six weeks as No. 1 on the New York Times list and remaining on the list for nearly a year) starts at the beginning of the relationship. Nick and Amy meet at a cocktail party in New York City. Nick is a small town Missouri fellow who moved to the Big Apple to write for a city magazine. Amy is the darling daughter of parents who tell her story as ‘Amazing Amy’ in a series of successful children’s books; she currently writes quizzes for women’s magazines.
Their early marital bliss is disrupted when they both lose their jobs. Nick and Amy move to North Carthage, Missouri, when his mother is diagnosed with cancer. Using her trust fund from the children’s books, Amy complains about the move but rents one of those empty “McMansions” in middle America as a home and buys a bar for Nick and his twin sister. By the time of the their fifth anniversary, the marriage has disintegrated.
The film has been described as a “he said, she said” story much in the manner of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe,” one of Flynn’s favorite plays. But today’s economy and reality television with its aggressive media in the manner of one Nancy Grace-like reporter makes the Dunne marriage a media circus.
I suppose Flynn was not aware of the lurid visual and auditory aspects of her story when she wrote the screenplay. Although she is renowned for writing her female characters as villains not victims, I read her novels as dark but clever figments of a pretty Chicago housewife’s imagination. I am particularly fond of “Dark Places,” her second novel.
“Dark Places” is a horror tale, a fictionalized true crime enactment of the Day family massacre. Libby Day, a 7 year- old child sends her brother to prison for life for killing her mother and two sisters. At the time of the story she is nearly 32 years old and has spent most of a trust fund created to help her survive the loss of her family.
After I finished reading “Dark Places,” I read the author’s acknowledgments. She doesn’t explain her characters’ macabre actions, but she does thank her “brilliant, funny, giant-hearted, super-hot husband… What do I say to a man who knows how I think and still sleeps next to me with the lights off?”
I can’t help you with the answer to that question, Gillian Flynn, but I do know what to say to an author who’s penned such stories. Give me a few weeks to recover from the film of “Gone Girl” to anticipate the upcoming film of your second book.
Charlize Theron is playing Amy Day in the film of “Dark Places.” (Amy Day is your female protag who eats chunks of Velveeta cheese with mustard on white bread and who sleeps on unwashed sheets.) Theron will win another Oscar for this portrayal.
“Dark Places,” the film, is scheduled for theatrical release by the end of 2014.