The latest McKenzie Marple was They Do it With Mirrors. While there were some good elements and the usual strong cast and handsome production values, this particular adaptation failed in terms of its plot alterations and emotional impact. These two values are often closely linked in both the McEwan and McKenzie Marples, because one fairly consistent thread has been the replacement of money by love as a dominant motive and motif. The immediate problem with this is that to succeed the bar is set much higher in terms of the particular production conveying love in a both a convincing and emotionally satisfying way. Sometimes this has been done very successfully as in the McKenzie production of The Body in the Library. The romantic themes have often been continued by either stressing a romantic sub-plot (as in The Moving Finger) or inventing one (absolutely brilliantly in At Bertram’s Hotel which following some re-viewing is now definitely my favourite of the new Marples which works on every level and is a terrific television film in its own right).

However, in this production the romantic sub-plot, which is present in the book (and therefore likely to be ropier than an invented one, as in general – The Moving Finger might be an exception – Christie was pretty bad at these), is an uninteresting one; nothing that was done with it here altered this ,and the ‘happy ending’ conclusion therefore lacked any emotional force and was ill-judged. They Do It With Mirrors is not one of Christie’s stronger or happier efforts; just to recap (and the following gives the whole plot away) on the book – Lewis Serrocold is a ‘do-gooder’ with a project of reforming criminals by psychiatry (something of which Christie is by now – 1952 – suspicious); to fund his work he turns to fraud on a massive scale by placing some of those he has ‘reformed’ in positions where they will be able to embezzle large sums of money. He is married to Carrie Louise whose first husband was Gulbrandson – a massively wealthy businessman who established a charitable trust which Serrocold has plundered and abused. Serrocold’s financial crimes are uncovered by Gulbrandson’s son (Carrie Louise’s step-son) who turns up to confront Lewis; Lewis executes a brilliantly conceived murder and attempts to throw everyone off the trail by suggesting that Gulbrandson had uncovered a plot to poison Carrie Louise. Also present in the house are Carrie-Louise’s daughter Mildred, the daughter of her adopted daughter Gina, her two stepsons from her second marriage – the Restaricks, her faithful companion Bellever, Gina’s American husband Wally, and a cast of young criminals, including the disturbed Edgar Lawson who claims among other things to be Churchill’s son (in fact he is Serrocold’s son and assistant in the murder – at the climax Lewis dies trying unsuccessfully to save Edgar from drowning). In the adaptation it is Carrie-Louise who is the idealistic philanthropist and Lewis is embezzling because he wants the money to keep her happy; he is intensely jealous and threatened by  Johnny Restarick, the second husband, who here is very much present and pursuing Carrie-Louise. So Lewis’s motive is love (I suppose one could argue that in the original it is not the money in itself but the project which is his motive, but for me this is just one of the endlessly clever disguises for following the money which Christie adopts). The other significant change here is that Gina is made an adopted daughter and her real mother a poisoner who was executed for her crimes.

So what worked and what didn’t? Carrie-Louise as an idealist worked to some extent. Having the names of the various rooms in her Country House being given leftist names –  The Fabian Room, The Keir Hardie Room, The October Room – was a delightful touch. However the idealist (leftist) woman who is a terrible parent is a clichéd slander. It did supply the programme’s only emotional depth in terms of the relationship between Carrie-Louise and Mildred (an excellent performance by Sarah Smart) – on whose reconciliation it would have been far better to end. The rivalry between Mildred and Gina was certainly well-done. There was a very funny short cameo by Alexei Sayle as the wonderfully named Dr Maverick spouting psycho-babble. However the central problem was that Lewis Serrcold’s passion for Carrie-Louise was not really convincing; I am not sure quite why this should have been so given that they were played by those excellent actors Brian Cox and Penelope Wilton. As I have remarked previously if you use the original story (which was pretty closely followed in the Hickson) this does not matter too much as the motive is not love but money (albeit money intended for Serrocold’s private passion); here however we had to believe that he would murder for love – for this to work you have to believe in the love. Again as I previously remarked, this sets the bar higher because you have to create a convincing love which is much harder than a convincing desire for money! When it works it can be wonderful, but when it fails it means the whole enterprise founders, which is what happened here. As I have also previously stated the romantic sub-plot of Gina and Wally was wholly unmemorable, although the idea of Gina being a murdereresses’ daughter should have worked – it is certainly a very Christean sort of idea; this was something of a lost opportunity which could have been better developed.

In respect of McKenzie herself this episode very much continued in the vein that I observed in her first two (see https://mysterymile.wordpress.com/2009/10/12/mackenzie-as-marple-rye-and-murder-is-easy/) with the dominant note being ‘sadness for fallen humanity’. This was apposite here and worked well. However as a whole They Do It With Mirrors, while certainly having some enjoyable and positive aspects, must ultimately be judged a failure because the changes made in the storyline, most essentially to motive, were not adequately or convincingly implemented.

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