Arts and Culture, Films, Television

Review: Agatha Christie’s ‘The Witness for the Prosecution’

I adore Agatha Christie. Both novels and film alike and very nearly missed catching the BBC adaptation of The Witness for the Prosecution during the festive period – the perils of not watching live TV very often and forsaking buying a TV mag (note to self: perhaps make buying a TV mag a New Years resolution…).

Despite this on a random day when I was a bit bored and perusing I caught both episodes on BBC iplayer, thankfully. I really enjoyed the adaptation of And Then There Were None on the BBC last year, it felt very different from the ITV Agatha Christie, darker, grainier, less flamboyant but very compelling.

This styling certainly continued with the adaptation of The Witness for the Prosecution, perhaps not surprising given it was scripted and cast by the same person (Sarah Phelps), and while this is not necessarily better, as I very much enjoy the ITV style, it certainly offers a different take and I think necessary contrast.

The plot, without giving away spoilers, focuses on Lawrence Vole, a working class soldier of the First World War, who in 1924 appears to be struggling with work, catches the eye of the wealthy Emily French, a woman with a taste for younger men, with whom he becomes involved for payment. Sometime later Emily is murdered and Lawrence is the primary suspect, identified as leaving the house by the creepy and possessive lady’s maid, leading in to the heart of the whole drama, navigated primarily for us the viewer through the eyes of Lawrence’s lawyer Mayhew who believe in Lawrence’s innocence.

Perhaps the most intriguing character was the Austrian Romaine Vole, Lawrence’s wife/lover on whom the defence’s case rests as she initially provides Lawrence his alibi for the evening of the murder, and who subsequently provides the impetus for the unravelling drama with her dramatic about turn to become a witness for the prosecution. Leaving Lawrence’s life and innocence hanging in the balance. Her actions and whole demeanour are hard to read throughout, her reasons for turning on Lawrence, his infidelity? Jealousy? Is she truly this spiteful? For me she was a void, and it was hard to tell if her emotions were her own or she displayed what was expected of her? Still her ambiguous nature makes the  drama interesting to watch, and the final denouement far more sinister.

As well as the drama of the courtroom, we are also introduced to the domestic life of Mayhew and his wife, who have both been ravaged by the war, his wife most acutely by the loss of their son and Mayhew emotionally by his role in his sons death and physically through his weakened lungs. The scenes between Mayhew and his wife were expertly played by both Toby Jones and Hayley Carmichael, the pervading sadness, loss and unrequited feelings all encompassing and stifling even as a viewer. It is through this lens that you can understand Mayhew’s push and drive to prove Lawrence innocent, to save him as he couldn’t his son, his hopeful act of redemption and therefore making the ending altogether sadder and darker.

I don’t want to give too much away regarding the final outcome, but overall this was compelling and watchable, offering a different slice of Christie, certainly far less cosy than other offerings and with a seething dark underbelly in a world still reeling from a devastating, generation altering conflict.

Stars? 4/5

Arts and Culture, Poetry

Wedding Reading – Love lives, John Clare

I don’t think I ever got round to sharing my final wedding reading? I had to scrap my original as they were having it as part of the readings anyway (grrr!), so I had to do another hunt and eventually found this lovely poem by John Clare.

I think it’s beautiful and really echoes the constancy of love and faithfulness beyond death and in life.

Love lives beyond
The tomb, the earth, which fades like dew.
I love the fond,
The faithful, and the true

Love lives in sleep,
The happiness of healthy dreams
Eve’s dews may weep,
But love delightful seems.

‘Tis heard in spring
When light and sunbeams, warm and kind,
On angels’ wing
Bring love and music to the mind.

And where is voice,
So young, so beautiful and sweet
As nature’s choice,
Where Spring and lovers meet?

Love lives beyond
The tomb, the earth, the flowers, and dew.
I love the fond,
The faithful, young and true.

Arts and Culture, General Musings, Photography

Embracing Autumn

I love Autumn and all it’s colours.I really love when nature shows them all together such as this mushroom amongst the leaves and grass. Just gorgeous.

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Mushrooms in Autumn©alittlecornerofme
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Mushrooms in Autumn©alittlecornerofme
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Mushrooms in Autumn©alittlecornerofme
Arts and Culture, Books

Book Review: The Tea Planters Wife – Dinah Jefferies

I admit I was completely suckered in to picking up this book because of the front cover and its promise of far away climes and exotic places. It certainly delivered on the exotic climes with the book entirely set in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and the local cities and plantations in the early 19th Century after WWI.

We are introduced to our lead character, 19 year Gwen early on as she leaves England for Ceylon to marry her widower husband Lawrence who owns a tea plantation. Ceylon is described beautifully, you really feel the heat and humidity but also why Gwen falls in love with the country and her plantation home; it is beautiful. But the simmering tensions of rebellion are also prominent, the problems of class divide and the treatment of labourers all add a cloying atmosphere of the rising tensions of the area. Without this context I don’t think the book would have worked so well, or Gwens’ decisions understood.

Initially Gwen is a sweet and naive girl who wants to do well as a housewife and fit in with the local ex-pat community in Ceylon, however she is not a placid girl and is used to being useful, wishing to understand the running of the plantation, though she struggles with being undermined and pushed out by the plantation manager though is successful in the house. Despite this Gwen throughout the novel showed that she was not a push over and had strong beliefs and moral fibre, that she does not accept the inherent racism prevalent in Ceylon and will help others from the lower classes, however ironically ‘racism’ plays a huge motivating role in what happens to her.

For me it is this early naivete that allows the central tragedy of the book to take place, with Gwen still so young, new to the role and not fully understanding of her husband and the secrets that still surround him and his previous wife’s death, and being generally without support, apart from the absolutely lovely housekeeper Naveena who solidly supports her throughout. I found how she dealt and persevered with her choices extraordinarily brave, despite her pain and it was the real turning point in seeing Gwen grow as a character coming out of her 2 dimensional paradigms as a heroine, showing the early promises of character strength she had displayed in the novel.

Gwen really held the story together and her turmoil and desperation to keep her world together despite the emotional cost on her, but I enjoyed the other characters from the complex broody Lawrence, to the loyal Naveena, impish Fran, the mysterious Savi and temptress Caroline. They all added a depth to the storyline and added rather than detracted from it as a whole.  Verity, as the clingy antagonistic younger sister also played a major contributing factor to the storyline and while, like Gwen, I never warmed up to her, I wavered between pity, exasperation and downright annoyance and by the end of the novel couldn’t see a happy future for Verity. But then I don’t think Verity could either.

Overall I very much enjoyed this book, it was a slow starter but then picked up the pace about a quarter to a third in, with me eager to know what would happen to Gwen and her family. While the conclusion of Gwen’s story was bitter-sweet, only emphasising the need for honesty and communication, it was ultimately satisfying and I left feeling hopeful for Gwen despite the uncertainty of the future for her and Lawrence.

4 stars from me – now I just need to go look up other novels by Dinah Jefferies!

 

Arts and Culture, Books

Book Review: No Place For a Lady – Gill Paul

I have a bit of a soft spot for fiction set during, around or inspired by the period of the Crimean War, one of my favourite books is The Street Philosopher by Matthew Plampin and I adore the Charge of the Light Brigade poem so this book automatically peaked my interest when I saw it.

Overall I enjoyed the book, it’s characters, the setting and pace. While it was definitely a romance, at it’s heart I felt was the relationship between the two sisters although they were barely together in the novel, I felt without that it would have been another generic novel of romance, war and despair.But that sisterly relationship gave another element and helped drive the plot forward.

I liked both of the sisters immensely although they were clearly very different people, I perhaps identified with Dorothea the most (being an older sister myself perhaps?) but I understood Lucy too and could understand her motivations and perspective. It was interesting to see the war from the different perspectives of soldiers wife and nurse that the sisters took, seeing the conditions, bloodshed and chaos from both sides did allow for very different insights and to see how the war changed both of them.

I do have to agree with other reviews I have read that Lucy, despite all her trials, also had some very fortuitous circumstances come her way but overall I didn’t feel this detracted from the book, or made it less believable overall and when you consider Lucy’s personality type it perhaps make sense that those circumstances came her way. Although Lucy was very young, and this was clear, I liked her and was rooting for her throughout the book, she certainly had a lot happen to her, but despite this showed great spirit and resolve. I was personally far more invested in her secondary relationship, than the one she had with Charlie which I felt was flawed from the start, though I could tell they loved each other, but I far more enjoyed what happened to Lucy post Charlie and her subsequent relationships and felt immensely sorry at the way it panned out for Lucy.

Dorothea had, if not an easier path, a more straight forward one in the book. I liked her resolve and determination to be useful and to make a difference in the war, despite her worry and fear for Lucy. I felt one incident that occurred to Dorothea was a little unnecessary, I didn’t see what it added to her storyline but it was minor and while traumatic for her didn’t deter her resolve. I really enjoyed how through Dorothea we met Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole, two fascinating historical figures but also considering all the other nurses, doctors and staff who went to the war through Dorothea you see that perspective of those who weren’t recognised for their efforts, they just did their job. I was pleased about how her story panned out, and though it wasn’t her intention her at all she got her own happy ending as I really felt she deserved it after her years nursing her mother, being a dutiful daughter to her father and trying to be an example to her sister that she deserved happiness – and I really liked who she ended up with. Yes it wasn’t some raging fire of desire or heat of the moment (like Lucy’s love affairs) but more slow, steady and based on knowing each other.

Overall, as a read to immerse yourself, forget for a little while and just to enjoy being swept away it was solid and enjoyable, and not too sickly sweet with the romance and would appeal to Historical Fiction fans. I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars.