Despite the evident distaste of possibly the most celebrated mystery novelists of the past 80 years (PD James and Georges Simenon), there can be no doubt that the public continues to love the amateur sleuth. People can’t get enough of Holmes (any incarnation), Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, which seems sufficient grounds for the recent production (Amazon Prime Originals) of Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders, a Poirot mystery from the 1936 book.
Is the adaptation any good? I suppose that depends on how much fidelity to Christie one demands. The series, like the novel, remains a mid-1930s affair about a killer who goes about the business of murdering people following the letters of the alphabet: a Mrs Asher killed in Andover, Betty Barnard dispatched in Bexhill, Sir Carmichael Clarke brained in Churston. Poirot, a recipient of letters signed “ABC” that forecast each crime, must find the killer before he institutes a reign of terror or, as he writes, releases “the wrath of God”.
Intriguing stuff and generally what Dame Agatha plotted. I say generally quite intentionally. Writer Sarah Phelps and director Alex Gabassi chose to depart from the novel on some points that seem inexplicable. Captain Hastings, Poirot’s Watson and most famous colleague, narrates the novel, but he’s nowhere to be seen. Almost the same goes for Inspector Japp (Kevin McNally) who rather unceremoniously keels over dead in the first minutes. Rupert Grint’s Inspector Crome fits Christie’s mold well, and happily, he’s not Ron Weasley.
One may accept, as the series does, that Poirot is more Catholic than Christie painted him; indeed, David Suchet’s Poirot exhibited the detective’s faith more openly as London Weekend Television’s long-running Poirot advanced into its later years. But would you believe Poirot was once a priest? I don’t, and for a good reason: he wasn’t – he was a former Belgian policeman. Not so in The ABC Murders. A priest he was, and the only kind the entertainment world likes nowadays: a lapsed one.
John Malkovich’s elderly, almost-spent Poirot (pictured) lacks the élan of real character, is surely not 5ft 4in tall, and seems to have forgotten his love of art deco furniture. Nevertheless, Malkovich realises the part with dignity, which makes viewing satisfying enough. But if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Poirot fan as Christie wrote him, look elsewhere.
Dr Carl C Curtis III is a contributing editor at The Christian Review and professor of English at Liberty University in Lynchburg. He teaches Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Homer, Virgil, Dante and cinema studies