As we edge swiftly towards the New Year, I am proud to present my thoughts on the Christmas Agatha Christie adaptation and the controversy surrounding the changes that the writers made to the plot and the protagonist’s backstory. Apologies for the lack of posts over the past week, I’ve been off celebrating the holidays. I hope you had a lovely Christmas and I’m very pleased to be back writing after my awesome trip back to Dorset!
During my stay with my family we were all united in wanting to watch this year’s BBC adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel, which is unusual as normally we only agree to watch children’s films together (not because we’re weird, but because children’s films are favoured by both my parents. My father, who is in his late fifties, adores Toy Story and got over excited when Monster’s University came on, but can’t stand any of my ‘grizzly nonsense’).
Agreed on something for a change, we all settled down happily to watch The ABC Murders, the first of the BBC’s adaptations to feature one of Christie’s established and renowned detectives, in this case her beloved Belgium sleuth, Hercule Poirot. However, it quickly transpired that, unlike the twee gentility of the novel, this show was to have a grimy, dark undertone, with deceit and dastardly dealings at its heart.
Personally, I have long advocated that Poirot is becoming a little overdone in the modern literary and cinematic spaces, and should be left in peace; this opinion was overridden this year, however, by my adoration of the Christmas Christies, which bring the chance to check out one of my favourite author’s works in a new light. In the end, I rather liked Sarah Phelps’ adaptation of this Christie classic, and found it an enjoyable and memorable addition to the various adaptations that the corporation has produced during the Christmas period.
Thanks to their quality and exceptional source material, over the years watching an Agatha Christie adaptation has become a festive tradition over recent years, and if a BBC option is not available there is usually something, such as the excellent Crooked House we were treated to last year. I have come to view as a necessity at Christmas, rather like receiving a Terry’s Chocolate Orange or having a fight with pieces of wrapping paper!
My favourite by far was the utterly stupendous And Then There Were None in 2015, which was shown on the BBC and featured Charles Dance in what was, undoubtedly, the best performance of the entirety of his illustrious career. This adaptation was not without its detractors, and many believed it to be too dark, with the key issue many critics took was its deviation from its source material.
This is the case this year, and also in previous years. Although it missed the Christmas slot thanks to Ed Westwick’s sexual assault allegations, Ordeal by Innocence was another adaptation which proved divisive when the BBC aired it at the beginning of the year because the ending was completely changing from the original novel. In the case of The ABC Murders, the changes to the source text were less obvious and overriding, however they involved key elements of Poirot’s backstory, such as the idea that, instead of being a former policeman as he is in the novels, he is instead portrayed as a Priest, who fled to England when German soldiers burnt his church, in which a number of children were hiding, to the ground.
Despite this fundamental change, I personally feel that this is in no way disrespectful to the author, and it enhances rather than detracts from her legacy. These adaptations are allowing a whole new generation to experience Christie’s work, and although her novels were often twee and genteel, at their heart was the human experience and the cruel, vile side to humanity that lurks within even the most respectable and revered members of any community. Embracing this darker side to Christie’s work does not detract from it, and going a little off-piste to make your own mark on a book is nothing to be ashamed of, at least not in my book.
After all, the changes did not make the adaptation any less watchable, and John Malkovich’s performance as an ageing, withered Poirot was as mesmerizing as we all knew it was going to be the moment his casting was announced. Nursing a pain he keeps secret from even his closet friend, this version of the character is multi-dimensional and truly fascinating. Whilst he is not entirely canonical, he is certainly more so than many, such as Kenneth Branagh’s unique yet ultimately un-Poirotish portrayal, which sees the actor strutting about like a peacock rather than actually doing any thinking.
That being said, I am hopeful that Malkovich will resist the urge to return as Poirot. Let it remain in our memories as an excellent performance, as opposed to dragging it out until we hate it. Also, I rather like seeing new actors perform Christie each year, and whilst Malkovich and Rupert Grint, who starred as his reluctant link to officialdom as Inspector Crome, were both truly brilliant, it would be great to see someone new take on a role in 2019.
At the end of the day, if you’re a Christie fan that hasn’t already checked out the BBC’s version of The ABC Murders then please don’t let the negative reviews and publicity about the changes to the source material put you off. This is a magnificent reimagining of a classic Poirot story, and although it is not an exact replica of the novel, that’s for the best. The world would be awfully boring if filmmakers and TV producers were made to replicate novels word-for-word with no creative input of their own, and this version enhances the book and the Christie cannon far better than some imitations of other works, such as the latest Sherlock Holmes film, which has literally had viewers walking out of the cinema. Bring on next year’s BBC Christie is all I have to say!