James Bentley is tried for the murder of Abigail McGinty, the charwoman of Broadhinny who also took in Bentley as her lodger. The evidence is overwhelming, and soon after he is sentenced to hang. Superintendent Spence is not convinced of the man's guilt, and so he visits Poirot, asking him to look into the case. Poirot then heads off to the village, where he becomes the paying guest of Maureen and Major Johnnie Summerhayes. Ariadne Oliver, Poirot's novelist friend, has also come to Broadhinny to collaborate on a stage adaptation of one of her novels with dramatist Robin Upward. With the clue of a bottle of ink purchased by the dead woman shortly before her death, Poirot searches Mrs. McGinty's belongings and finds an edition of The Sunday Comet newspaper, where an article concerning two women connected with famous murders has been cut out. With the story are two photographs of the women. Poirot discovers that Mrs. McGinty had seen one of the photographs before, and knew to whom it ... Written by
James Gordon Bentley, you have been tried for murder. Abigail McGinty was found by the baker on the floor of the sitting-room with extensive wounds to the head. The house in Broadhinny evinced no sign of forced entry. All the police surgeon was able to ascertain was that she'd been hit with a sharp, heavy implement, probably some time the night before. You, Bentley, were suspected from the very beginning. You knew where she kept her money; you had recently lost your employment, and...
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S11E1: Mrs McGinty's Dead: Slow start builds a satisfying mystery and solution, despite some blurry direction
Poirot is approached by Superintendent Spence, who seeks his help in the matter of one James Bentley, who currently sits awaiting execution as he was found guilty of killing his landlady Mrs McGinty, during a petty robbery. The case had been Spence's but it sat uneasy with him. Poirot agrees to look into it and, after meeting with Bentley, travels to the small town of Broadhinny, where he also finds acquaintance Ariadne Oliver is also in residence to work on her latest book (or play). With an open board before him, Poirot decides to start with one simple question if McGinty was not killed due to a robbery, then why was she killed?
With the last episode of the previous season (Taken at the Flood) I had felt that the episode had dropped far too much on the viewer at the end, and that key elements could not be walked backwards by the slower among us to link to things we had been told or hinted at previously; it is quite pleasing then to see that with this episode it delivered more in this regard. I will admit that at first the rather open nature of the mystery did throw my ability to follow it in all scenes; although opening with a murder is not unusual, it is often accompanied by the teller of the tale also then introducing all of the suspects to us in a neat package (as it was in After the Funeral) but not so in this case. Instead we get to meet the village gradually, and although the characters are limited to the usual sized group, the manner of gradual introduction did cause me some little struggles at first.
Gradually I got into the swing of it though, and from there it is a very engaging mystery where the key elements are reasonably clear, but yet also laced with deception, red herrings, and small detail one could not be expected to always see. The key thing is that there is plenty to suspect and think about, and pretty much all of it is brought into sharp focus by Poirot in the conclusion, which I enjoyed. There were some detail of the mystery I didn't think worked as well, but these were minor details on the side, and didn't affect it as a whole. The small comedic moments remain from the previous films adding value without making the films a comedy; in this case the addition of Ariadne Oliver is comedic but also adds to the plot she is played here like a Hastings side-kick, but with a different angle on her.
The cast play well; Suchet is on point as ever with as much control on the comic timing as he has on the portrayal of a sharp mind enjoying the closure of a case. Hope returns from the previous episode, albeit not as well used beyond being the plot device. Wanamaker is fun, while the supporting cast include good work from Rhys, Smart, Cassidy, Stockley and others (with Cassidy and Rhys sticking in the mind the most). The film continues with the usual high standard of production in terms of costumes, props and sets; however in this case the direction seems odd. We have too many shots that are dimly lit and a bit fuzzy, and too many scenes where out- of-focus items are very present and obvious in the background or foreground a particular run of pointing out the side of the front of a frame being a blurry object prompted my partner to ask me to stop pointing it out as she gets it. It is not too distracting, but it is overused and doesn't work as well as some of the cleaner and more creative directors in past films.
All told though, Mrs McGinty's Dead is successful in its neat framing of the mystery around the poor Mrs McGinty of the title, and building into something bigger in order to then come to the main solution. The conclusion works well because it is connected to what we have been watching, and even when miles behind Poirot, it is fun to watch him pull all the bits of the film together in front of our eyes.
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