Thursday, May 22, 2014

Alan Beechey's "This Private Plot"

Alan Beechey was born in England and grew up in London. He moved to Manhattan in his twenties and now lives with his three sons and his rescue mutt, Leila, in Rye, New York.

Here Beechey dreamcasts an adaptation of This Private Plot – the third title featuring children’s book author and amateur sleuth Oliver Swithin and his girlfriend, Scotland Yard detective Effie Strongitharm:
My mystery series features a trio of crime-solvers: Oliver Swithin, an author of children’s books; his girlfriend Effie Strongitharm, a detective sergeant at Scotland Yard; and his uncle, Tim Mallard, who’s a detective superintendent and also Effie’s boss.

Oliver’s appearance is partly based on a real actor, Robert Longden, as he looked in a 1980 TV adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?—blond floppy hair, not the firmest features, and (a quote from This Private Plot) “looking as if he had just removed his glasses, even while he was still wearing them.” A more recent choice? See the way James Spader was groomed in 1994’s Stargate.

Effie is the hardest to cast. She looks like a much-loved girlfriend from my teenage years, especially her amazing display of naturally curly hair. Nancy Allen in 1980’s Dressed to Kill has an uncanny resemblance. Keri Russell with her Felicity locks gets close. So does Frieda from the Peanuts cartoons. But if we want to cast an English actress, I think Julie Sawalha (Saffron in Absolutely Fabulous) would have nailed it.

But that’s the trouble with characters in their early twenties – at the risk of sounding ungallant, everyone I can think of is a little too mature for the roles, and I don’t know the new generation of English actors, unless they’ve played wizards. (Sorry, Emma, but no.) Fortunately, Superintendent Mallard is easier. He’s a man close to sixty, with white hair and a rakish moustache, also based on someone I knew. I want Gary Oldman. He can do Commissioner Gordon, but using his own London accent.

Oliver is also part of another group – he’s one of four co-habitants of a townhouse in London’s Holland Park, who met at University. And this leads us to the issue of directorship.

I heard a BBC radio program just last week celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Four Weddings and a Funeral. Either writer Richard Curtis or director Mike Newell (can’t remember which) said the movie was not about love or marriage or death; it was primarily a celebration of the enduring friendship among the disparate group of characters who lurched from wedding to wedding. That’s exactly the feel I was going for in An Embarrassment of Corpses – that enviable mix of teasing, rudeness, frankness, camaraderie, humor, and sheer love that builds among a bunch of devoted friends and makes readers want to enter the story just to be one of them. So Mike, you can have the directing job. (Richard is welcome to tweak the screenplay, but I want first crack at writing it.)

I was very pleased when one generous review of my book mentioned a Four Weddings ambiance. (Embarrassment was completed long before I saw the movie, even though it wasn’t published until after the movie’s release.) However, in creating the chaotic home life of Oliver and his friends, I admit to being slightly influenced by another film, a poorly received 1961 British comedy called Raising the Wind (Roommates in the U.S.). Only later did I discover that this was the only original screenplay written by the film composer Bruce Montgomery.

Oh, Bruce Montgomery is the real name of the author Edmund Crispin, who wrote the classic Gervase Fen mystery novels. With its combination of bewilderment and humor, the Fen series was one of my biggest inspirations when I started the Swithin saga.
Visit Alan Beechey's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: This Private Plot.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Alan Beechey & Leila.

--Marshal Zeringue