Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Changing Agatha

I’m heading to Malice Domestic next week so my thoughts turned to Agatha Christie and the new version of “The ABC Murders” available on Amazon. I usually jump at the chance to watch every new screen version of an Agatha Christie story, but I wasn’t too sure about this one. I’d heard things.

I finally decided I needed to check it out myself and come to my own conclusions. I liked it much better than I thought I would.

From the beginning it seems un-Christie-like. Everything’s darker, everything seems more extreme from the portrayal of English society to Poirot and some of the other characters. Then there’s the scenes with sexual overtones that don’t exist in the books and add nothing to the story, at least as far as I’m concerned.

In the book (you know I reread the book right after I saw the screen version, right?), Poirot is at the top of his game, enjoying his “retirement”, still working cases and working with Scotland Yard. Hastings is there and so is Japp, though the main Scotland Yard detective on the case is a younger man, Crome, who isn’t all that enamored with Poirot.

In this new version, Poirot has been disgraced. Japp is no longer at Scotland Yard. Hastings is nowhere to be found. The Yard no longer considers Poirot an asset and the public basically hates him. Crome is there, but his character is more amped up. He’s very very anti-Poirot.

Both stories are set in the 1930s, though in slightly different years. In the screen version, England is definitely anti-immigration. People protest about immigrants, there are posters on the wall denouncing them and people wear pins indicating they dislike foreigners. In none of Dame Agatha’s books, as least as far as I can remember, was anti-foreigner sentiment so much in the foreground. Someone might comment on Poirot being a foreigner, but it’s so slight it’s nothing.

And then there’s the portrayal of Poirot himself. John Malkovich does a fine job, but it's not the Poirot I'm used to. He’s taller, more melancholy and less fussy. He also seems a little lost and friendless. One of the subplots delves into Poirot’s background before he came to England in 1914, something which I don’t remember Christie talking about much. What’s revealed in the story is quite different than anything I expected. At least they didn’t change whodunit. The basic story line is also similar though some characters have been changed and scenes both added and deleted.

I don’t expect screen versions to always adhere to every detail of a story. Sometimes, what works for a book doesn’t work for a movie/TV show and vice versa. I’ve even liked some screen versions better. But, when it comes to Christie, I really prefer them to stay as close as possible to her story.

That’s why I prefer the David Suchet version, which is pretty close to the book, though not in every detail. Still, I think this new version is worth watching.

That brings me to today’s question: What do you think about screen versions that change characters and storylines from the original book? Yay? Nay? Depends? I’m in the depends camp.


Susan D said...

I cannot begin to understand why anyone would take a character and book, change absolutely everything about it, but still paste on the original labels, just to cash in on The Name.

Okay, I guess I answered my own question: to cash in on it.

Pay no attention to those who think they can improve on the author's immensely popular original. Like CBC's remount of Anne of Green Gables. Oh please.

Sybil Johnson said...

I've heard bad things about that Anne of Green Gables version. I remember loving the books when I was growing up. Don't think I've seen a TV version of it. Money is definitely a factor, I think.

Donna S said...

John Malkovich as Poirot? Cannot even imagine it and Peter Ustinov was not much better. The actor that portrayed him on the original movie - Murder on the Orient Express - was pretty good - only because they stuck close to the script and did not change A.Christie's story too much. But, in my opinion, the worst mistakes made by movie and tv directors are the Holmes stories and characters. Jeremy Brett was the ultimate Holmes and I do not even want to consider another.

Sybil Johnson said...

Jeremy Brett was very good as Holmes. Albert Finney was good as Poirot in that movie. I really like David Suchet as Poirot though. Malkovich's version is definitely a different take on the character.

Aline Templeton said...

I hated this version - as Susan D said, it's all about capitalizing on the name to make money. Why don't they write their own brilliant book, if they think they can improve Agatha Christie?

Rick Blechta said...

It's all about producing something for which there is a known audience. That's why we see so many movies "remade" or TV shows turned into movies (and vice versa), or worse yet, toys turned into movies. They want to minimize the financial risks. Based on what I'm reading here, I think I'll skip this version.