Witness for the Prosecution, Rillington Place and the mystery of the Green Murk

Witness for the Prosecution (2016) missed the mark for me – too determined to be edgy, too much sex, swearing and coughing which felt a million miles away from Christie’s original text, and, without wishing to sound too prudish, a tad awkward to watch with the family on Boxing Day….

Crucially what I found difficult, and this is as someone who likes art cinema, it unbearable to watch because of the murky muse en scene, which, whilst I appreciate is a stylistic choice is only effective used sparingly. I found the consistent murk combined with slow motion not only unnecessary and detracting from the performance of the actors (who were fantastic -especially David Haig and Toby Jones) and from the story. I could barely tell you what happened because I simply didn’t care.

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Rillington Place (2016) used the same technique, arguably slightly more effectively; the murk wasn’t quite as pervading and there were moments of much-needed clarity both in and on the screen. Witness for the Prosecution overdid the atmosphere so much that the seaside scenes at the end felt quite jarring, which may have been the intended effect but it felt strange watching it and because of that I could never fully absorb into the story.

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A quick twitter search will show that the pervading feeling from the programme was the ‘green murk’, a particular favourite of mine was the comparison to the Olympic Swimming Pool debacle earlier in the year. My own feeling was that it felt like there was a smudge on the screen the whole way through. Not what you want to be thinking when watching something as it is distracting. And it is a shame because these colouring and editing techniques can be really beneficial when used well and can truly help a spectator engage with the mood of the film or programme, but you have to give the spectator room to react to it rather than making it too obvious and if the mise-en-scene is too obvious, it removes the need for a spectator at all.

So what is the deal with this trend of murky art television? I think that with the success of programmes such as Sherlock (2010 -) and Doctor Who (2005 –) who used editing the great success in a way that complimented the pace and plot (think of Sherlock’s mind palace and the use of text and animation) there does seem to be more room for experimental TV, but push it too much and people will either switch over or switch off. It’s a fine line to walk.

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Does experimental art cinema belong only in the cinema? Can art TV work or is it too difficult to view on small screens, in well-lit rooms with patchy resolution? In terms of a ‘Christmas Christie’, I preferred the cinematic qualities of And Then There Were None (2015) in terms of the murky trend, I’m not convinced of its place on television just yet.

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