ACRIMONY! Agatha and Adaptations


This April theme to which All the Tuesday Night Bloggers Aspire is An Admirable Act. I Attribute it to the Allure of Alliteration. Anyway, As Bev’s Adorable Artwork Alludes, in April, Anything Goes . . . just as long as it begins with the letter A. You can imagine, knowing me as you do, my sense of Alacrity At being Allowed to Aim the conversation toward Agatha.

Last week, I mused about Ms. Christie’s Antipathy toward Actors. I included a quote from her Autobiography that explained her reason for becoming a regular playwright. One sentence really stuck out for me: “It seemed to me that the adaptations of my books to the stage (by other writers) failed mainly because they stuck far too closely to the original book.”


What strikes me is how we purists sound the Alarums about the license screenwriters and producers have taken with Christie’s work, and here the author herself gives her blessing to this very thing! Now, Dame Agatha was referring to both the structural difference between a play and a novel and the need to simplify a plot for theatre audiences. A book can contain charts, maps and the obligatory chapter called “Reflections on the Case” or “Six Salient Points” or “Miss Marple Muses” to help readers keep track of things. Internal rumination is a perfectly acceptable method of moving a mystery novel along. But a play, and by extension, a film, needs to propel itself forward through action, not thought. Characterization comes from the way people behave. A clue, in and of itself, is not necessarily a dramatic thing; the discovery of the clue and the impact it has on the people involved is what grips audiences. That is why the successful puzzle-based film is a rare bird; often it fails in terms of dramatic impact unless the emphasis is shifted from alibis and clues to the crime itself and the emotional reactions of the suspects.

What does this mean for an author whose work largely revolves around the puzzle? This is where Christie’s simple writing style – which some applaud and some decry and nobody can deny it is part of her success – works, I think, to her advantage. People complain about her lack of characterization (I disagree), atmosphere (pretty much true there) and description (that depends on the situation). It makes her novels easy reading, but detractors call them lightweight. I’m not here to tell those folks how wrong they are – they are wrong! – but to suggest that this very quality helps make Christie easier to adapt to the screen than, say, Ellery Queen or John Dickson Carr. Queen has seldom been done right, and Carr has barely been attempted.

At the same time, it makes Christie’s work prey to outrageous miscalculation when it comes time to adapt. The attempts to “modernize” her or make her “relevant” to a younger generation are foolish. All it takes is a careful reading of her work to find all the psychological and social ramifications necessary for a good dramatization. So you can imagine that, when I examine the various film and TV adaptations of Christie that I have seen, I have much to applaud and even more to complain about.


I should probably have waited to write this until after I read Mark Aldrich’s book Agatha Christie on Screen. My buddy Kate over at Cross Examining Crime just reviewed this and even offered a free copy in a random draw. Through some horrific error on Kate’s part, I did not win that random drawing and am therefore ordering the book myself and thus must rely on my own memory of the hundreds of hours of films and TV shows I have watched. (Here’s Kate’s review in case your appetite, like mine, has been whetted.)

I collect books and films, and I own around 1,000 DVDs. A great many of those are crime films, including as many adaptations of Agatha Christie as I could find. Not every adaptation is available, particularly some of the oldest films and some international movies and/or TV shows. (A few of these are available on YouTube, which is a lovely surprise!) I don’t pretend to be an expert on Christie on Film, just a fan, but even a fan gets grumpy when he sees what film studios can do to his favorite author.

Book lovers love to argue that the film industry has no respect for books; complaining about how the movie got the original story wrong has been a popular drinking game for a century now. This certainly includes the mystery genre, which might have to do with a general lack of respect on the part of producers for the intelligence of an audience to follow the twists and turns of a mystery. It doesn’t mean that hundreds of enjoyable films of that genre haven’t been made, many of them immensely clever and, may I say, extremely popular. Yet few of them contain the complexities of a typical Golden Age novel, perhaps understandable given the ninety-or-less minute running time of most of these films. As long as the sense of GAD is present – the closed circle setting, the sense of the importance of ratiocination applied to a vibrant set of suspects and a good murder – we tend to be satisfied.


Adaptations of Christie’s work popped up rather infrequently during the first thrity years of film history. Some of them are fine, but they seem to be adapted more from her plays than the original novels or stories. I have never seen the 1931 British film Alibi, based on Michael Morton’s 1929 stage version of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the first such adaptation of a Christie work to the stage. From all I’ve heard, neither Charles Laughton (in the play) nor Austin Trevor (in the film) got Hercule Poirot down correctly. (Trevor sure looks a right fool in that porkpie hat!) Rene Clair’s 1945 version of And Then There Were None is a fine mystery-comedy, just like the 1943 play with which it shares that bizarre “happy” ending. 1957’s Witness for the Prosecution is a top notch Billy Wilder film that expands upon the play, which in turn was an expansion of the original short story. Neither of these films could have used the original twist endings and survived the film censors, but both are beautifully written, directed and acted. Two versions of the short story “Philomel Cottage,” both titled Love From a Stranger, boast fine casts but suffer a bit from emphasizing the melodramatic nature of the tale.


By the 1960’s, things were getting rather bleak for Christie fans: a modern adaptation of The A.B.C. Murders, starring Tony Randall (!?) as Poirot, with Alexander Bonaparte Cust played by . . . the voluptuous Anita Ekburg, a lurid version of Ten Little Indians set atop a German schloss and featuring as spinster Emily Brent . . . the voluptuous Dahlia Lavi, and the enjoyable but misguided Miss Marple films that capitalized on the comic, yet inappropriate charms of the voluptuous . . . Margaret Rutherford. All of these seemed like the death knell for anyone looking for a proper version of a Christie tale.


Rutherford was asked to play Miss Marple in an adaptation of 4:50 From Paddington after plans for a television series about the sleuth fell through. The actress was reluctant, and Christie herself thought the casting was a terrible idea, but other heads prevailed and Murder, She Said (1961) became the first of four Miss Marple films. In a way, this series predicted the horrors that would be visited upon Miss Marple in its latest TV incarnation: Murder at the Gallop (1963) and Murder Most Foul (1964) were loosely adapted from Poirot novels (After the Funeral and Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, respectively), and by the final film, Murder, Ahoy (1964), everyone had given up on Christie and created a totally original story. The whole thing was played for laughs, and no matter how much you may or may not enjoy them, you have to agree – it wasn’t Agatha Christie.

A decade later, things took a turn for the better with Sidney Lumet’s gorgeous Murder on the Orient Express (1974). The script is remarkably faithful to its source, and Lumet assembled a brilliant all-star cast. Best of all, there is an appropriate sense of gravity to the proceedings and a complete lack of camp that I attribute to Lumet’s brilliance and the respect for the material of everyone involved.

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Death on the Nile followed in 1978. It is also a highly enjoyable film, but from the start we see a distinct change in tone in both Anthony Shaffer’s screenplay and the actors’ performances. The casting of Lois Chiles for her looks rather than her talent, turning Linnet into an unalloyed bitch, does not bode well. The actors all chew the scenery a bit, especially the new Poirot, Peter Ustinov, who tends to send up the character as Albert Finney never did in Orient Express. The plot is simplified but essentially faithful to the novel, eliminating suspects and plot strands here, and giving new, more obvious, motives to characters there.


Still, the film was also well received and prompted another adaptation: 1982’s Evil Under the Sun. Shaffer returned to oversee the screenplay, and, by this point, the elements of camp are given full sway. I love the film, but as much as it generally follows Christie’s plot – at least the murder plot – it really ain’t Christie. Diana Rigg is a wonderfully comic Arlena Marshall, but she ignores any elements of pathos in the character. Rosamund Darnley, Arlena’s romantic rival in the novel, is replaced by Maggie Smith’s Daphne Castle (a minor role in the book), and the sniping between the two of them is, of course, a scream . . . but it ain’t Christie. Several of the book’s characters are cut, and new characters are added or totally transformed from the book to focus on Arlena’s theatrical career. Ominously, the film didn’t do that well at the box office, and the next time Ustinov appears as Poirot, he has been relegated to television.

Television would ultimately be a very good thing for Agatha Christie, since it permits a greater leisure at storytelling than the cinema. Still, it took a while for adaptors to discover this. In 1985-86, Peter Ustinov made three TV films based on Lord Edgware Dies (using the American title, Thirteen at Dinner), Dead Man’s Folly, and Three-Act Tragedy (again using the U.S. title, Murder in Three Acts.) Right away, we become aware of the financial limitations of television: all three films are moved from their original periods to the present day. Most of the casts are comprised of successful TV actors: Jean Stapleton, fresh from her success as Edith Bunker on All in the Family, plays Mrs. Oliver in Folly, and she’s not very good because she’s simply not right for the role. A few big stars show up, like Faye Dunaway as Jane Wilkinson or Tony Curtis as Sir Charles Cartwright (another casting mistake). Murder in Three Acts is set in Acapulco for no discernible reason.

I watched these films on TV when they aired and, starved as I was, I ate them up. But even this teenager could feel the – well, the cheapness of these adaptations and the lack of sparkle to the screenplays and performances. It didn’t help to have commercial breaks disturb the proceedings, creating the need for an artificial cliffhanger every nine minutes. And the modern setting was, at best a distraction. (To really see how one can ruin Christie by updating it, please watch the 2001 TV-film version of Murder on the Orient Express starring Alfred Molina as Hercule Poirot, action figure. Or, better yet, don’t bother.) Ustinov made one final appearance as Poirot in 1988 on the big screen in the remarkably desultory Appointment With Death – very much not fun – and then then it was all over for Poirot . . . until somebody got smart in 1989. More about that anon.


When, in 1980, director Guy Hamilton (who would later go on to direct Evil Under the Sun) helmed an adaptation of The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (the title shortened to The Mirror Crack’d) with an all-star cast led by Elizabeth Taylor as Marina Gregg, Rock Hudson as Jason Rudd, Kim Novak, Tony Curtis, Geraldine Fitzgerald, and, as Miss Marple, Angela Lansbury, it began to look like nobody could avoid the whole tongue in cheek style when it came to Jane Marple. U.S. television got into the act by adapting A Caribbean Mystery and They Do It With Mirrors (called by its U.S. title, Murder with Mirrors) in 1983-85 starring Helen Hayes as Miss Marple and set in modern day with largely American actors. Fans rightfully despaired, and it looked like Agatha Christie on screen had run her course on TV.

And then something of a miracle happened. From 1984 to 1992, the BBC made twelve films, each an adaptation of the twelve Miss Marple novels Christie wrote. For their leading lady, producers chose an octogenarian actress whom Dame Agatha herself had once spotted in a 1946 stage production of Appointment with Death and sent back a note saying, “I hope one day you will play my dear Miss Marple.”

Joan Hickson had appeared in the first Rutherford Marple movie as a maid. There was nothing tongue in cheek about Hickson. She knew this character: her steely resolve for justice and her ace detective mind wrapped up in a warm woolly exterior. In addition, the care taken with the adaptations from page to screen was extraordinary. Being a series, certain liberties were taken, such as reducing the number of policemen Miss Marple came in contact to semi-regulars Inspectors Slack and Dermot Craddock. The sleuth’s involvement was beefed up in those adventures where, in the books, she is less seen, as in The Moving Finger. But, by and large, the adaptations were more than respectful to the original source: they were lavish in period details, beautifully cast, and allowed the length to present the tales pretty much in their entirety. And when they ran out of Miss Marple novels, they were done, and the creators had the satisfaction of knowing they had got it right. Just compare Hickson with Claire Bloom as Marina Gregg to Lanbury and Taylor in their respective The Mirror Crack’d. ‘Nuff said!


Britain’s ITV got into the act in 1989 when it began a 24-year long odyssey into the life and career of M. Hercule Poirot. The first successful element was the casting: an actor who had appeared as Inspector Japp in the Ustinov TV-movie, Thirteen at Dinner, was tapped to play Poirot. For David Suchet, it was a labor of love, and his vow to complete the Poirot canon had a lot to do with the series enduring for 13 seasons. At first, the focus was on the short stories, but here and there an adaptation of a novel was inserted, beginning with Peril at End House in Season 2. By Season 4, the focus was on the novels. At first, the story adaptations were nearly as faithful to the source as Suchet’s depiction of Poirot. However, as the series progressed, and Suchet himself took on a producer credit, the adaptations began to darken, and Christie purists began to grumble and then to groan.

It is one thing to explore the subtext of a Christie novel and expand on an idea. I can get behind an interpretation of Philip Blake as harboring desire for Amyas Crale in Five Little Pigs. Making Dr. Roberts gay in Cards on the Table is more of a lark, having no real foundation in the novel, but giving a lesbian overtone to the relationship between Anne Meredith and Rhoda Dawes is outright ridiculous. And then flipping the moral fiber of both girls is insulting to the memory of an author whose plot needed no such “improvement” and to fans who had embraced the series.

The later adaptations began to go off the rails even more. It almost feels like Death on the Nile and Appointment with Death were written to fly in the face of the big screen versions. At least Nile basically followed the story, although it switched out suspects who had been cut from the earlier film. Emily Blunt (one of my favorite actresses) maintained the simplification of Linnet Doyle’s character into a totally unsympathetic socialite. But the reconstitution of Appointment with Death is unforgivable, since it is a fine mystery in and of itself. Lesser novels like The Clocks, Elephants Can Remember and The Big Four suffered the same fate. One can imagine a team of writers convinced that they could “fix” mediocre Christie – they were wrong.

This sense that Christie needed to be “improved” for modern audiences was given full force in the most recent series based on Miss Marple. The rampant injection of displays of sexuality and overt violence is one thing. Changing the solutions outright or inserting Miss Marple into a non-Marple story reek of out and out greed overwhelming and finally drowning any sense of respect for the author. (But tell us what you really think, Bradley!) I will say no more about what this series did to the likes of Murder Is Easy, By the Pricking of My Thumbs, and Sleeping Murder, to name a few.

Which brings us to the present day and a whole new incarnation of Christie adaptations. So far, the scorecard is alternately grim and hopeful. In the U.S., there is talk of transporting Miss Marple – as a young woman – to the Wild West! In the U.K., the BBC has been given the reins by the Christie estate and is moving in a dark direction. The recent mini-series And Then There Were None may have benefited from this moodiness; it embraced the madness on Soldier Island most stylishly. On the other hand, the Tommy and Tuppence mini-series was pure garbage, badly miscast and downright dismissive of the original source material. I have not seen Witness for the Prosecution, but word of mouth has been mixed. Meanwhile, Christie is about to reappear on the big screen: an unnecessary remake of Murder on the Orient Express (Kenneth Branagh directs and plays Poirot; Mr. Ratchett is portrayed by . . . Johnny Depp?!?) is questionable, but I am looking forward to the first-ever adaptation of Crooked House. This book is very, very special, and I can imagine an audience of Christie fans staring at the screen as the lights go down, muttering in joined prayer, “Please . . . don’t . . . screw . . . it . . . up!”


Next week, I’m going to continue this discussion by offering an in-depth analysis of a Christie adaptation I have never seen. It is perhaps the longest version of a single Christie novel ever presented, and I’ll admit that the odds are stacked against it. But you never can tell. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and will be sitting in front of my computer, muttering under my breath: “Please . . . don’t . . . screw . . . it . . . up!”

See you next week!

42 thoughts on “ACRIMONY! Agatha and Adaptations

  1. What an interesting, thorough, and informative discussion, Brad. One of the well-taken points that you make is that television, film and stage are different media to books and shorter stories. Well-made adaptations need to take that into account, and I agree that Christie knew that. She herself, as you know, did different adaptions of her stories for full-length novel, the stage and so on. So she knew what’s involved. She even dedicated The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side to Margaret Rutherford.

    But, as you say, there’s a difference between adaptations that don’t change the original spirit, intent, and etc., of a story, and adaptations that completely change it. In the end, that plea to ‘not screw it up’ is an important one. I think that’s why I like both Hickson and Suchet so much in their respective roles.

    Liked by 3 people

    • This brings me back to your lively discussion about how publishers treat authors! I can only imagine that an author whose work is being adapted to the screen must hold her/his breath. This vanished plot point, that questionable casting decision . . . all must bring some stress to mitigate the initial joy of knowing your work will be seen by millions. Still, if watching a movie brings even a handful of people back to try out the books, then it must all be worth it!

      Liked by 2 people

      • There’s definitely that, Brad. You know, I’ve always admired Australian author Kerry Greenwood for holding firm to her decision to be deeply involved in the show, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries that’s been adapted from her Phryne Fisher series. She made choices about casting, story lines, the whole thing. I see why. Now, admittedly, she was already ‘somebody’ when this happened, but still…

        Liked by 1 person

    • Welcome, Alex! I love Rutherford, too! I just don’t love the wacky humor, the boyfriend, or the havoc the writers play with the source material. It is no knock on what an exceptional character actress she was that I believe MR was all wrong for Miss Marple.

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  2. Looking forward to next week’s post, as I am curious as to what adaptation you will be looking at.
    I am also hugely impressed by your DVD collection – 1000!! I bet movie nights at yours are great.
    As to Witness for the Prosecution, having read the original story it is based on, I was rather disappointed by this modern production, but I’ll save my grumbles until you’ve had a chance to watch it yourself.

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  3. Well you know what a purist I am. Rutherford movies need to be taken as comedies and really not-Christie except for the lead character name.

    The Alphabet Murders was awful.

    1974s MOTOE was a breakthrough and as great as Suchet was as Poirot, I always preferred Albert Finney. I loved the movie which completely satisfied in every way.

    The 1980s Miss Marple series is THE definitive Marple collection. The only thing I disliked about it was the musical scoring. Apart from that, I thought it was perfect.

    I have mixed feelings about the Ustinov films. On the one hand, he was physically wrong for the part. On the other hand he is a great actor and pulled it off, more convincingly than not.

    Death on the Nile was a mixed bag imho. Notably in both the Suchet and Ustinov versions, the silly side-story of maid Marie and her boyfriend woes was wisely excised. I thought Doyle was a bitch, so I didn’t mind Childs. However, Mia Farrow as Jacqueline was the miscasting of the century imho. Other than that it was a fairly credible version. I actually prefer overall the Suchet version, although making Tim Allerton gay and his mother (the most charming, adored person on the cruise) a dragon was a misstep.

    Evil Under the Sun – an amusing vehicle for its stars, mostly true to the tale, if not Christie’s characterizations. Again, I thought the Suchet version superior, although I didn’t understand how Linda became Lionel, or, why.

    The television productions featuring Ustinov were passable and are good entertainment. Agree with you about miscasting, but again, that’s how you sell advertising eh?

    The Suchet Poirot series did many, many things right. First, it did only stories in which Poirot was featured. Second, of the 70 films I only found a handful of clunkers, largely spoiled by unnecessary rewriting. These include, in no particular order: Cards on the Table (one of her best stories, butchered for no reason at all); The Mystery of the Blue Train (what a dog’s breakfast they made out of this story plus miscasting Knighton and Mason); MOTOE (ugh, too dark, religious and punishing for me); Appointment With Death; (unnecessary and bad rewrite); Taken at the Flood (talk about completely missing the point…).

    Among the best: Peril At End House; Sad Cypress; Five Little Pigs (completely agree about Phillip — it actually made more sense that he pined for Amyus and not Caroline); After the Funeral (Philomena McDonough proves that you can rewrite Christie without butchering her); The ABC Murders; Mrs. McGinty’s Dead and a guilty favorite Cat Among the PIdgeons however, I wasn’t wild about inserting Poirot into the story from the beginning.

    I recently watched Orient Kyuukou Satisjin Jiken, a Japanese adaptation of MOTOE. Faithful and in many ways, imitative of Lumet’s 1974 version, the only significant change is the name of the lead detective (Hercule Poirot is a no-go for Asian tongues). What is particularly interesting about this version is, after the denouement, there is another two hour film that tells the backstory of how the murder was planned. Creative, moving and high production values made this a delight. You can watch it here

    Thanks again Brad for this blog. It’s like candy to me…


    • Among the best: Peril At End House; Sad Cypress; Five Little Pigs (completely agree about Phillip — it actually made more sense that he pined for Amyus and not Caroline); After the Funeral (Philomena McDonough proves that you can rewrite Christie without butchering her); The ABC Murders; Mrs. McGinty’s Dead and a guilty favorite Cat Among the PIdgeons however, I wasn’t wild about inserting Poirot into the story from the beginning.

      Marblex, I agree with your picks as to the best of the David Suchet Poirot films. I would also add The Hollow to the list because that was another episode demonstrating that you can excise some material from the book yet keep the story and characters as written. The only thing about Cat Among the Pigeons that I didn’t care for was the use of a javelin for one of the victims. It didn’t feel very Christie to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. >or inserting Miss Marple into a non-Marple story

    I think this worked surprisingly well in Towards Zero. First, because they followed the original plot otherwise. And second because the way Battle solved the crime in the book was similar to Miss Marple, with one of the suspects reminding him of another person.

    The recent adaption of And then there were none was very good, but the drug party almost ruined it for me. Not because I think that drugs don’t belong into an Agatha Christie adaption, she had drug addicts and dealers in several of her books, after all (including this one). But the characters wanted to stay alive and were very careful, so why should they suddenly take cocaine and party.


  5. Such a relief to hear someone say that the Blue Train adaptation was dreadful, and the Tommy and Tuppence series garbage, and that early adaptations were hampered by camp. The Hickson series, and the early Suchets – just copy the way they did it. Even expanding roles for Hastings and Miss Lemon helped. I enjoyed the modern Ustinov Poirots, for all their faults. I even liked the Helen Hayes adaptations, in some aspects more than the Hickson versions of those stories.

    But Evil Under the Sun is horrible and unfunny, while Death on the Nile is a masterpiece. (OK, some of the attempts at humour could be cut.)

    And there is no need to make Christie characters gay. Why not adapt the stories that had gay characters in them? (And is there really no subtext in the relationship between Anne and Rhoda?)


    • I’m not sure there is, since the two women quickly become rivals for the Major’s affections. What is worse to me is the baseless decision to make Anne the good girl and Rhoda an evil murderess.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I remember when I first watched Cards On The Table and remembered that boat scene and when I saw that the adaptation really plummetted and got worse from there. I don’t understand the need to change the scene when there was no necessary reason to do it. Question, did you feel that the actor who played Mr. Shaitana portrayed him the way you saw him from the book?

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  6. Brad, I’m wondering which Christie adaptation you’re going to watch and offer an analysis to next week. Longest version of a single Christie novel ever? I’m thinking of the 80s version of “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?” which clocks in a little over 3 hours.


  7. I agree about the new Tommy & Tuppence adaptations. The only one I watched was The Secret Adversary and how awful it was! It made me want to go back and see the original one from the 80s. Why, oh why, did David Walliams make Tommy into a bumbling idiot?!?! I believe the change to Tommy’s character was made to fit the many stereotypes of men today who are often portrayed as brainless, stupid, idiotic and child-like. The Tommy I saw was vapid and annoying which was a far cry from how Christie wrote him. Tommy Beresford is intelligent, not silly. He fought in the war and James Warwick had the look of someone who fought in the war. With Walliams, it’s just unbelievable. He’s a mouse and very weak–I can’t see him fighting in any war. James Warwick and Francesa Annis played T&T as they should be — as husband and wife. I had the feeling while watching the new adaptation that Tuppence (played by Jessica Raine) was more motherly to Tommy than a wife. I wish Warwick and Annis would return to the role and finish the last 3 books in the series. It’s about time.


  8. The actor who played Shaitana was younger and more handsome than I had pictured. But since they were playing up/making up a sexual aspect of the story, it was understandable, I guess. Shaitana was always presented as decadent, and even in the book it never made much sense that these four would hang out with him or go to his parties. The Major hated his type, Mrs. Lorrimer was too respectable, and the Anne in the film had no reason – except his allure. Only the newly gay doctor might have a reason! 🙂 Was he blackmailing them? I don’t remember, and I don’t presently have the time or inclination to watch it again.


  9. I don’t have much hope for the future of Agatha Christie adaptations. If the latest adaptations are a taste of what is to come, they will get worse and worse before ever getting better.


  10. I am very intrigued as to what next week’s topic will be! Great analysis, I loved reading this, very fair comment all round. Now I want to re-watch a few of them. I made a decision a while back to completely separate my reactions to Christie-the-book from my reactions to vaguely-related-to-Christie-TV – and this has worked well in allowing me to enjoy some of the outrageous versions in their own way.
    My all-time favourite adaptation is Five LIttle Pigs, which changed the plot somewhat (though as you imply, in a reasonable way) but I thought did an incredible job visually, had perfect casting, and brought out the melancholy and regret of the book.

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  11. It’s a shame that Joan Hickson never did the short stories but I’m satisfied knowing that she completed all of the Miss Marple novels and that she was faithful to the characters while the adaptations were respectful to the stories. I love all of them but my favorite one was A Murder Is Announced — perfect cast, faithful to the story, and it was a perfect length to present one of Christie’s well-known mysteries. There was an ITV version of it years ago with Geraldine McEwan but it was nothing like the Hickson version. In my mind, the Hickson version of AMIA is the definitive one and I don’t think another version can get as faithful as the one we have.

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  13. I was surprised that you don’t have a post on the recent adaptation of Crooked House. This is the closest post I could find, so I’ll stick my comments here.

    I was really looking forward to Crooked House and dragged some friends kicking and screaming into watching it.
    1. I absolutely loved the sets – they captured the grandeur of the times perfectly.
    2. For some reason they changed every little element of the story except for the core of the characters. I just don’t get it. I feel like some overly critical fanboy, but why change all of the details, such as Charles Hayward’s relation to the case? It didn’t make the story any more riveting. If anything, it made some parts make less sense, such as why Hayward was even in the house in the first place (a question my friends kept asking).
    3. In reading the book, I latched onto the killer immediately and had my suspicions strengthened with each scene. In the movie, you really have no chance to clue into the murderer. It’s only in the last 10 minutes, when the director practically adds subtitles to the scenes proclaiming “this is the killer”, that a viewer has any reason to be suspicious.

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    • I haven’t commented on the film adaptation of Crooked House because it won’t open in the States until 12/22. Since I thought you lived in the states, Ben, I don’t see how you took friends to see it! Believe me, I will be commenting on the film after I watch it! Meanwhile I’ve been working for days on a post about the novel itself. That should be coming out soon.


  14. Another friend rented it on iTunes. I’ll have to decide if I want to do that! Meanwhile, I really discourage folks from going to illegal resources if they can help it! 🙂


  15. I watched Five Little Pigs last night and really enjoyed it. The sets are excellent and they did a nice job showing what the inlet between the houses would have looked like. Plus, it stars Little Finger from Game of Thrones!!!!
    I really enjoyed watching the movie so soon after reading the book – there were such nice details that were played out, and seeing them with the knowledge of what is to come was thoroughly satisfying.
    Light spoilers follow
    For the most part the film captured the story completely faithfully – I can understand why they cut down to only the in-person interviews, rather than following up with written accounts. Yet, it did cause some clues to be introduced out of sequence. For example, my wife immediately caught when the actual poison was delivered, because it was shown so early in the movie.
    It’s funny how they always have to change some small details in the film adaptation. Like, why did they have the murder occur 14 years in the past instead of 16? It’s like they changed it just to change it. That didn’t bother me at all, but it is curious.
    As much as I loved the film, they left out the key thing that I wanted to see – the painting!!! How could they leave out the painting??? That’s the whole beauty of the end of the book!!! I was so looking forward to the painting being shown at Meredith’s house midway through the movie, and I’d sit there smirking to myself smugly. And then I could practically see how the movie would end – with the camera panning closer and closer to the painting while frantic violins swirled. Why was I robbed of this?!


  16. Pingback: Murder in Retrospect – Agatha Christie (1942) – The Green Capsule

  17. I have all the books and have read and re-read them many times over the years – and also seen some of the films, especially those with Joan Hickson, whom I loved as Jane Marple. However, over the years, the TV adaptations of her books have got more ridiculous and unbelievable, so much so that I no longer watch them, as the mysteries have been completely ruined for me. Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, for example,are too rich and fashionable, especially at the beginning of their detective lives. Although Tuppence was a smart woman, Tommy was a red-head and supposed to be slightly ugly – not like fashion models portrayed on the TV!! The Agatha Christie’s estate and family should be ashamed for allowing so much license to be taken – some of the characters are unrecognisable, some removed completely and some also added who were not in the original story. Why don’t they show some of the stories with Superintendant Battle – I loved him, and there are several with him in them. I can imagine someone similar to the late George Baker playing the part (but don’t choose a slim good-looking youth!) for a change. And try to stay faithful to the script or don’t call it by Agatha Christie’s title! Agatha Christie’s novels were popular because the story lines matched the period when they were written – not any longer (smut, sex, drugs and gays abound these days instead!)


    • I was with you, J.C., until you grouped “smut, sex, drugs and gays” together at the end. There was plenty of sex and drugs in Christie. People got pregnant, had affairs, had secret babies (so many of whom grew up to be killers that we know what Christie thought of “being born out of wedlock!”) People got drunk, snorted coke, bought and sold drugs, which they hid in rucksacks or in lovely jeweled boxes. And let’s skip over your use of the word “gays” as a noun, lumped in as a pejorative: there was even homosexuality in Christie. Some of it was offensive to modern tastes, but you have some positive renditions of it as well.

      I obviously agree that the wholesale changes made by modern producers/writers are often horrific, particularly when it destroys the original plot. Does it bother me that the Suchet version of Five Little Pigs suggests that Philip Blake hated Carolyn Crale because he was in love with Amyas rather than Caroline? Not really, because I think it’s a strong possibility, although I concede Christie didn’t mean it to be taken that way. Does it make me mad that the killers in The Body in the Library are flipped around so that we can have a murderous lesbian couple? It sure does because it’s pointless and sensationalistic. So are all the inclusions of incest in one adaptation after another. It’s stupid, and if it makes some viewer decide to read Christie as a result, that new reader is going to be awfully disappointed. I understand why Miss Marple was included in certain adaptations when she wasn’t in the book: there were only twelve Marple novels, and if they hadn’t done this, we wouldn’t have any adaptations of certain stand-alone titles. But they’re a mixed bag, ranging from the fairly faithful (Towards Zero) to the egregious (most of the others, but I’ll give special mention to The Sittaford Mystery and Murder Is Easy, which are unrecognizable and horrific.)

      Still, I have to say – and this is because I’m both a realist and no longer a fifteen-year-old boy, the major target of most film producers – that these updated and twisted adaptations are made to appeal to younger audiences than you or me. We’re two out of ten people on the planet who want to see a series of mysteries featuring Superintendent Battle. I know for a fact that the idea of televising Miss Marple as a young sleuth in the old Wild West has been floating around for a while now and may still see the light of day. Christie’s great-grandson has every legal right to make a fortune off her name while eviscerating her memory, just as the BBC has every right to hire Sarah Phelps to imbue her adaptations with venereal disease and drugged-out orgies and then embarrass herself by telling the world she doesn’t give a f**k about the old fans, that she’s “channelling the kinds of books Christie wished she could have written.” It’s all B.S., and we have the right to complain . . . or to turn the TV off.


    • It does appear that they’re appealing to a younger audience, even by casting actors/actresses to play characters that counteract against their ages from the books.


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