Agatha Christie’s Spider’s Web

Today I finally got around to watching my copy of this 1982 TV adaptation of Christie’s Spider’s Web, a play which premiered in the West End in 1954. Not quite getting on with current Christie interpretations, shall we say, I have been drawn to these earlier adaptations. I was also quite keen on watching this one in particular as it stars Penelope Keith, who plays the female lead, Clarissa.

For those unfamiliar with the plot this is the synopsis given on the back:

‘Clarissa Hailsham-Brown, wife of a Foreign Office Diplomat, is inconvenienced by finding a corpse in her drawing-room. Expecting her husband home with an important foreign politician, the only thing to do is hide the body and persuade her three house guests to become accessories and accomplices. To complicate matters, as Clarissa starts her search for the motive and murderer, she must convince a police inspector who has shown up, that there is no murder at all.’

Overall Thoughts

Having skimmed this synopsis, certain expectations began to develop for me. Yet I found a few of these were not to be. Not that this was necessarily a bad thing, but I think the synopsis perhaps over emphasises certain aspects in order to avoid giving away spoilers. So you might get a little disconcerted at the beginning, but I found it easy to adjust.

In terms of tone this is quite a complex piece for it straddles both the comic and the tragic, lightness and darkness. The light comic nature of the story is evident in the synopsis alone, but if you haven’t quite cottoned on to it then the jaunty opening and closing period music should give you a strong hint. Indeed the opening scenes confirm this style. The dialogue in particular has a bright young thing ring to it such as in this excerpt:

Jeremy Warrender: Clarissa do you ever speak the truth?

Clarissa: Of course I do. Sometimes. But when I am speaking the truth, nobody ever seems to believe me.

I was almost wondering why the DVD had this label on the front: ‘Agatha Christie’s Dark and Gripping Thriller.’ Yet a certain darkness does begin to pervade the tale, centring round Clarissa’s step daughter Pippa. These two juxtaposing tones did make odd bedfellows at times but I think the adaptors get away with it. Although sometimes I felt the emotions or lack of emotions portrayed by the actors came across as false; the transitions from darkness to lightness not being quite so smooth or as natural as they should have been.

However in the main I would say this is a vintage mystery romp. Clarissa’s inability to be believed, due to the number of porky pies she tells for other’s amusement, definitely gets her in a pickle and in the run up to the dead body we have all those comments you really shouldn’t make before finding a dead body in your home. One should not forget the secret recess into the library, (‘It’s the sort of place for putting a dead body in,) as well as the now dead owner of Clarissa’s home with a dubious past in antiques. Of course despite it being the servants’ night off they come back early, there’s the gardener who always manages to pop up at the wrong moment and who did phone the police about the murder? It is described as a thriller, but I still think this concoction of intriguing elements gives the puzzle fiend something to be pondering about. I did spot the culprit but it was a lot of fun seeing how Clarissa would get herself out of the mess she is in. Penelope Keith is good in the lead role in the main, though what the costume/makeup department thought when they planned her hair and makeup I do not know!

But all in all it was good fun and I’d recommend picking up a copy if you can.

3 comments

  1. There’s a 1960 version too, with Glynis Johns and John Justin; I have it somewhere but haven’t watched it. (It’s on YouTube, I’ve just noticed.) If I pick up the 1982 version I’ll try to remember to watch them both back-to-back to see how they compare.

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  2. I appreciate a lot of the modern adaptations because they make me realize how weak my memory for the original often is. How little I understood what I was reading! So much sado masochism and lesbianism I didn’t even notice!

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