"MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA" (2001) Review
One can categorize the "AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT" television movies into two categories. The ones made between 1989 and 2001, featured the supporting characters Captain Arthur Hasting, Miss Lemon (Hercule Poirot), and Chief Inspector Japp. The ones made post-2001 sporadically featured the mystery writer, Adriande Oliver. The very last television movie that featured Poirot's close friend, Hastings, turned out to be 2001's "MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA".
Based upon Agatha Christie's 1936 novel, "MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA" told of Hercule Poirot's investigation into the murder of Louise Leidner, the wife of an American archeologist named Dr. Leidner. The story began with Poirot's arrival in Iraq, who is there to not only visit his friend Captain Arthur Hastings, but also meet with a Russian countess of a past acquaintance. Hastings, who is having marital problems, is there to visit his nephew Bill Coleman, one of Dr. Leidner's assistants. Upon his arrival at the dig, Poirot notices the tension between Mrs. Leidner and the other members of her husband's dig - especially with Richard Carey and Anne Johnson, Dr. Leidner's longtime colleagues.
Both Poirot and Hastings learn about the series of sightings that have frightening Mrs. Leidner. The latter eventually reveals that she was previously married to a young U.S. State Department diplomat during World War I named Frederick Bosner, who turned out to be a spy for the Germans. Mrs. Leidner had betrayed Bosner to the American government before he was arrested and sentenced to die. But Bosner managed to escape, while he was being transported to prison. Unfortunately, a train accident killed him. Fifteen years passed before Louise eventually married Dr. Leidner. Not long after Poirot learned about the lady's past, someone killed her with a deadly blow to her head with a blunt instrument.
Many Christie fans claim that the 1989-2001 movies were superior to the later ones, because these movies were faithful to the novels. I have seen nearly every "POIROT" television movie in existence. Trust me, only a small handful of the 1989-2001 movies were faithful. And "MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA" was not one of them. First of all, Arthur Hastings was not in the 1936 novel. Which meant that Bill Coleman's was not Hasting's nephew. Poirot's assistant in Christie's novel was Louise Leidner's personal nurse, Amy Leatheran. In the 2001 movie, she was among the main suspects. There were other changes. Dr. Leidner's nationality changed from Swedish to American. Several characters from the novel were eliminated.
I only had a few quibbles about "MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA". One, I found Clive Exton's addition of Captain Hastings unnecessary. I realize that the movie aired during the last season that featured Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp and Miss Lemon. But what was the point in including Hastings to the story? His presence merely served as a last touch of nostalgia for many fans of the series and as an impediment to the Amy Leatheran character, whose presence was reduced from Poirot's assistant to minor supporting character. Two, I wish that the movie's running time had been longer. The story featured too many supporting characters and one too many subplots. A running time of And if I must be brutally honest, the solution to Louise Leidner's murder struck me as inconceivable. One has to blame Agatha Christie for this flaw, instead of screenwriter Clive Exton. I could explain how implausible the murderer's identity was, but to do so would give away the mystery.
But I still enjoyed "MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA". Clive Exton did the best he could with a story slightly marred by what I feel were a few mistakes. First of all, I was impressed by the production's use of Tunisia as a stand-in for 1933-36 Iraq. Rob Hinds and his team did an excellent job in re-creating both the setting and era for the movie. They were ably assisted by Kevin Rowley's photography, Chris Wimble's editing and the art direction team - Paul Booth, Nigel Evans and Henry Jaworski. I was especially impressed by Charlotte Holdich's costume designs that perfectly recaptured both the 1930s decade and the movie's setting in the Middle East.
David Suchet gave his usual top-notch performance as Hercule Poirot. I am also happy to include that he managed to avoid some of his occasional flashes of hammy acting during Poirot's revelation scene. Hugh Fraser gave his last on-screen performance as Arthur Hastings (so far). And although I was not thrilled by the addition of the Hastings character in the movie, I cannot deny that Fraser was first rate. Five other performances really impressed me. Ron Berglas was perfectly subtle as the quiet and scholarly Dr. Leidner, who also happened to be in love with his wife. Barbara Barnes wisely kept control of her portrayal of Louise Leidner, a character that could have easily veered into caricature in the hands of a less able actress. I also enjoyed Dinah Stabb's intelligent portrayal of Anne Johnson, one of Dr. Leidner's colleagues who happened to be in love with him. Christopher Bowen did an excellent job of keeping audiences in the dark regarding his character's (Richard Mason) true feelings for Mrs. Leidner. And Georgina Sowerby injected as much energy as possible into the role of Amy Leatharan, a character reduced by Exton's screenplay.
"MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA" was marred by a running time I found too short and an implausible solution to its murder mystery. But it possessed enough virtues, including an excellent performance by a cast led by David Suchet, an interesting story and a first-rate production team; for me to consider it a very entertaining movie and one I would not hesitate to watch over again.