Saturday, 25 January 2014

Ariadne Oliver: Agatha's alter ego?

Was Ariadne Oliver created as an alter ego for Agatha Christie herself or is it just pure coincidence? 

Agatha Christie remains the world's best selling novelist, outsold only by The Bible and Shakespeare. Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles came out nearly 100 years ago, in 1920 and her last book was published just after her death in 1976. She wrote over 80 novels, short stories and plays.

Ariadne Oliver is the fictional detective fiction write who appears in 7 novels and 2 short stories, often helping the famous character Hercule Poirot. She is a prominent author, writing around 50 novels.

So what parallels can we draw, mes amis? Firstly, Agatha wrote most famously about a little Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, a bold move as she knew nothing about Belgium at all. She was inspired by some of the Belgian refugees she saw in WWI and drew on the character of Poirot from there. She went on the write 33 novels, over 50 short stories and 1 play starring the fictional detective, and her career was firmly based on writing about the persnickety little man. Due to the public demand for more and more Poirot stories, Agatha had to keep on writing about the man, and she soon got sick of him. She once admitted to saying "There are times when I ask myself, why did I invent this detestable, bombastic, tiresome little creature?"

Similarly, Ariadne Oliver created a Finnish detective called Sven Hjerson, who is a vegetarian with some peculiar mannerisms. Like Agatha, Ariadne wrote about a character who came from a place she had never had anything much to do with: Finland. In Mrs McGinty's Dead, Ariadne says "Why a Finn when I know nothing about Finland? Why a vegetarian? Why all these idiotic mannerisms he's got? These things just happen. Yo try something - and people seem to like it - and then you go on - and before you know where you are, you've got someone like that maddening Sven Hjerson tied to you for life." 

Both Agatha Christie and Ariadne Oliver loathed public speeches. Agatha Christie rarely gave interview, partly because of all the unwanted publicity and partly because her disappearance in 1926 caused a huge stir in the press. Mrs Oliver too despised doing long and arduous speeches about her books. Ariadne said in Cards on the Table "I can't make speeches. I get all worried and nervy and I should probably stammer or say the same thing twice."

Agatha Christie never once saw a decent adaptation of Hercule Poirot on the screen or stage. In fact, she got so tired of people mucking about with her character that when she adapted some of her Poirot novels for the stage, she removed the character. Examples of this are Murder on the Nile and Go Back For Murder.

Ariadne Oliver was just the same in the books. In Mrs McGinty's Dead, one of her Sven Hjerson books was being adapted for the stage by a playwright called Robin Upwood, who wants to turn her character into a younger Norwigian resistance fighter!
"But darling, if he's sixty, you can't have the tension between him and the girl - what's her name? Ingrid. I mean, it would make him just a nasty old man" to which Mrs Oliver replies "It certainly would."

This happened to Christie when The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was adapted for the stage. The playwright turned Caroline Shepherd, the middle aged spinster into a younger girl for eye candy!

So did Agatha Christie purposely draw parallels between herself and Ariadne Oliver to reflect on her own writing? I'll let your little grey cells deduce for themselves.

All of my Ariadne Oliver quotes come from Anne Hart's brilliant book The Life and Time of Hercule Poirot. With thanks to JC Bernthal for the Agatha Christie quote. 

Monday, 20 January 2014

REVIEW Marple Endless Night (S6.E3)

The latest episode of Marple to date was broadcast on 29th December 2013 and was adapted by Kevin Elyot, who is no stranger to Christie adaptions and produced and directed by David Moore.


Whilst visiting her recently widowed friend Marjorie (Wendy Craig), Miss Marple meets charming young chauffeur Mike Rogers (Tom Hughes) who dreams to build a house on a local beauty spot Gypsy's Acre. After a run in with the local gypsy Mrs Lee (Janet Henfrey), Mike discovers the land is cursed, but when he meets and falls in love with the rich American heiress Ellie Goodman (Joanna Vanderham), he is more determined than ever to for fill his dreams. However, tragedy strikes when Ellie is killed, forcing Miss Marple to investigate, but in doing so she is putting her own life in danger.

Although the original novel doesn't feature the character of Miss Marple, Kevin Elyot cleverly slips her into the proceedings. As in the book, the film is narrated by Mike (cleverly played by Tom Hughes) and therefore includes the surprise ending. Miss Marple doesn't get as much to do as usual, but she still makes a good few appearances.

The whole plot works well, it's more suspenseful and impending than some, as the murder happens about two-thirds of the way through, but Elyot manages to give us enough entertainment up until that point.

The ending denouement is very well written, in fact we as the audience know who the killer is just before Marple reveals all, even if the characters don't. Miss Marple certainly shines in the last few moments, with her words making an impact on Mike. Despite complaints by fans about Miss Marple being inserted into the story, I think it's very cleverly written and one of  the best so far.

Direction, location, soundtrack

David Moore directed this film, his previous credits include The Blue Geranium and Poirot: Sad Cypress. I think he has been the best directer so far, Endless Night is skillfully directed. It feels very dark and ominous, very much like some of the later episodes of Poirot, not like previous Marple films at all. It's dark from start to finish, with the ending denouement really showing of the darkness.

Cast and characters 

Julia McKenzie as always plays Miss Marple with great dexterity. In this we see a new, more darker element to Miss Marple, especially in the ending scenes, where she takes it upon herself to confront the killer with no aid of the police, resulting in her having to run through the woods and being nearly throttled. I like the way that once she's discovered the murderer's identity, she will stop at nothing to bring them to justice, and in this film she very nearly is killed herself.

Apart from Julia, Tom Hughes is the star of the show, he really gives us a powerful three dimensional performance as Mike Rogers. it's a difficult part to play but he does so skillfully, managing to give a great depth to the character.

The rest of the cast are up to their usual standards: Aneurin Barnard is brilliant as the dying young architecht Robbie Heyman, his character really sends a chill down one's spine.  Janet Henfrey is suitably creepy as the foreboding gypsy Mrs Lee, Joanna Vanderham is great as the rather vulnerable young American Ellie Goodman and Glynis Barber is excellent as Cora Van Stuyvesant, with the right balance of manipulative and cold.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Future of Agatha Christie's Marple

UPDATE FEBRUARY 2014: There will not be another series of Marple

The sixth series of Agatha Christie's Marple ended in December and there has still been no official confirmation on whether there will be anymore films starring Julia McKenzie as  the title role. The series started back in 2004, when Geraldine McEwan played the role, but after she retired, Julia McKenzie took over. McKenzie has played Miss Marple in 11 film, since 2009, but will she get the chance to do anymore?

For me, Julia McKenzie is the best Miss Marple, she has really made the role her own. So it would be a great shame if she were to stop now. I read somwhere that she had a contract for three lots of films, and she has now done this. So if Marple were to return, she would have to sign a new contract. It's really make it or break it time, but I hope that as there will be no more Poirot films, the production company will want to keep going with Marple for a bit longer.

The following are some ideas of what ITV could do, should there be a seventh series.

All of the original Miss Marple novels have either been filmed with Geraldine McEwan or Julia McKenzie. However, I think that the best way forward would be to class  the McEwan stories and McKenzie stories as entirely different series', like the BBC Joan Hickson series. That way, they could go back and film some of the earlier Marple novels like The Body in the Library. This would be good because back in 2004 when the series first began, ITV picked the best and most famous Marple novels to film first, so Julia  has missed out on some of the great ones and got stuck with the short straw. Also, some of the past adaptions have been so awful, like Nemesis, so if they were re-filmed properly nobody would notice anyway. Nemesis should also be filmed again because they have only recently done the prequel novel A Caribbean Mystery, so it would make more sense to do it again in chronological order.

My choices
Short Stories

There are still plenty of Miss Marple short stories left and past episodes based on them have proved they make good adaptions. They could always combine two stories into one 90 minute film or do a Poirot style  50 minute episodes on all of them individually. Sanctuary would work well, as would the Tape Measure Murder and The Idol House of Astarte. This could be a good way of getting some recurring characters together, like Joanna Lumley as Dolly Bantry and Donald Sinden as Sir Henry Clithering, and we could have Raymond as well.

Non - Marple novels

There are still some non-Marple novels still left unfilmed, but I think that filming these as Marple films should be a last resort. Some of the past films where Miss Marple has been inserted have worked quite well, like The Pale Horse and Endless Night, but others not, like Why Didn't They Ask Evans.  Sparkling Cyanide could work well.

My List for Series 7

If I could decide the line-up for series 7, these would be the stories I would have:

  • They Came to Baghdad 
  • Sparkling Cyanide 
  • Nemesis 

If you have any ideas, post yours in the comments section or tweet me at @AChristieWeb. I will post your ideas.

As promised, here are some of your ideas for a Marple Series 7: 

Kevin Lam 

  • The Tape Measure Murder 
  • Witness For The Prosecution 
  • At Bertram's Hotel 
  • Crooked House 

REVIEW: Marple Greenshaw's Folly (S6.E2)

Greenshaw's Folly was first broadcast on 23rd June 2013 and was adapted by Tim Whitnall and directed by Sarah Harding.


Miss Marple helps out her young friend Louisa Oxley and her son Archie when they are in need of a home and protection, so the sleuth takes them to stay at Greenshaw's Folly, the ancestral home of the Greenshaw family. Louisa meets the last remaining Greenshaw, Katheine, an eccentric botanist who agrees to take Louisa on a her secretary. However, after their arrival, strange events occur ending in the brutal murder of the lady of the house.

This adaption is based on two short stories: Greenshaw's Folly and The Thumb Mark of St Peter, both Miss Marple stories. Tim Whitnall cleverly combines them into an hour and a half film by padding out the story. Firstly, he adds some more characters, like Father Brophy, Cecily Beauclerk and Walter Craken to create a wider range of suspects, he also removes the character of Marple's nephew Raymond West. He also removes the whole will scenario and makes Horace Bindler a murder victim to add more excitement. The way the story The Thumb Mark of St Peter is added is very clever indeed. (SPOILERS WILL PROCEED) Miss Greenshaw poisoned with atropine as is the main character in St Peter, and she calls St Faith's Orphanage to tell Miss Marple to get her pilocarpine, the antidote, but she speaks to Grace Ritchie, who thinks she said "A mound of cod, or a pile of carp, or a heap of haddock.". A well written and entertaining script.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Robert Powell is Hercule Poirot in Black Coffee

Bill Kenwright Productions
It has been anounced that Robert Powell will play the famous Belgian sleuth in Black Coffee, the only one of Agatha Christie's plays to feature Poirot. It is a production of the Agatha Christie Theatre Company and Bill Kenwright Productions, and will go on tour throughout the UK in 2014. 

Powell (pictured, left) will be joined by a stellar cast including Liza Goddard, Gary Mavers and Ben Nealon. He has some pretty big shoes to fill, following in the footsteps of  David Suchet, who recently played the role for the last time on television in Curtain back in November. He has played Poirot for 25 years appearing in every single story, but not Black Coffee. However, he did perform a rehearsed reading of the play in 2012.

Matthew Pritchard, Agatha Christie's grandson said "I am so pleased that Robert Powell has agreed to play Poirot in the Agatha Christie Theatre Company's production of Black Coffee. He will be the latest in a long line of distinguished actors to play the role, and a real treat lies in stall in 2014 for all those around the country who will go to see the play."

Saturday, 11 January 2014

REVIEW: Marple A Caribbean Mystery (S6.E1)

A Caribbean was the first episode of series 6 and was first broadcast on the 16th June 2013. It was adapted by Charlie Higson and directed by Charles Palmer. 


Miss Marple travels to the fictional Caribbean island of St Honore in need of a holiday and to recover from a bout of pneumonia. Whilst there, an elderly major (Oliver Ford Davies) tells her lots of boring tales, including one about a murderer. So when he is found dead the next day, from apparent natural causes., Miss Marple is suspicious. Her suspicions are confirmed when two more brutal murders are committed. 

This is one of my favourite Agatha Christie novels, I love the fact we see Miss Marple in unfamiliar territory. Charlie Higson has certainly made a brilliant adaption. His script is funny, action packed and filled with clues. Of course, as with any TV adaption, there have to be changes, and there are a few minor ones here, but they add to the story rather than take away from it. Firstly, some characters are removed , including Dr Graham, Senora de Caspearo and Miss Prescott.  The characters of Ian Fleming, James Bond and Mama Zogbe are added. Mama Zogbe in particular helps to add  to the whole voodoo set up.

Talking of voodoo, Higson adds an element of the supernatural 'voodoo' into the plot. This is a great addition to the plot as it adds to the scenery and helps to set the scene and bring out the Caribbean feel. One thing that I know has annoyed some fans is the inclusion of Ian Fleming and American ornithologist James Bond.  However, I think it's a great addition, it also helps to keep the period feels and gives us a time scale by including real historical characters.

In conclusion, a great script that makes it a fantastic episode. I hope that if there is another series of Marple, which has still not been confirmed, Charlie Higson will be asked to write some more, maybe he could do Nemesis as it't a sequel to A Caribbean Mystery?


Saturday, 4 January 2014

REVIEW: Marple The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side (S5.E4)

The series five finale was first broadcast on 2nd January 2011 and was adapted by Kevin Elyot and directed by Tom Shankland.


Miss Marple's best friend Dolly Bantry (Joanna Lumley) had recently sold her home Gossington Hall to American movie star Marina Gregg (Lindsey Duncan) and her younger director husband Jason Rudd (Nigel Harmon). When she moves in, Marina decides to host a party for all the villagers of St Mary Mead, but on the day of  the even, local busybody Heather Badcock drinks a poisoned martini and dies...

This is probably the strongest story ever adapted with Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple, rather than some of the short stories etc, and Kevin Elyot pulls it off marvelously. The script is entertaining from start to finish. Of course, there are a few minor changes, like the exclusion of Mr Badcock, Miss Knight and Giuseppe and exchanging Inspector Craddock for Inspector Hewish. Ardwyck Fenn is renamed to Vincent Hogg and Ella Zeilinsky is renamed Ella Blunt. However, the plot, murders and motive are all the same making at a very faithful adaption.

Direction, locations, soundtrack

Tom Shankland's direction fits the setting of the film: a cosy English village so it isn't very dark. However, this works well with the story. It also has a classy edge, and the parts where they are at the film studio are excellent. The areas of St Mary Mead, including Danemead, Miss Marple's house, were shot in Bledlow, Buckinghamshire. The soundtrack hasn't been released, but can be heard in part in A Caribbean Mystery.

Cast and characters 

In this episode, we get to see more of Miss Marple's home life, as it's set almost entirely in St Mary Mead. I think it's a great shame the character of Miss Knight was omitted because she's such a fun character. I could imagine Julie Walters playing her well.

Joanna Lumley, who previously played Dolly Bantry in the Geraldine McEwan film The Body in the Library returns to play the role opposite Julia McKenzie, and she's absolutely fabulous (forgive the pun). Lumley and McKenzie have such a great relationship, it's so believable. You can see that they are having the time of their lives. I really hope we get to see Dolly Bantry again, she's one of my favourite of Miss Marple's companions.

Of the guest cast, Lindsey Duncan stands out as Marina Gregg, as well as Nigel Harmon and Jason Rudd. Hugh Bonneville makes an excellent Inspector Hewish and Caroline Quentin was great as Miss Badcock.

Just a bit of continuity, Vincent Hogg and Lola Bruster stay at Bertram's Hotel when they are in London, when we see the outside of their hotel it's the same location and it says Bertram's Hotel on the sign.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

REVIEW: Marple The Blue Geranium (S5.E3)


Julia McKenzie stars as Miss Marple in the first film to be adapted from a short story, this one based on the short story of the same name published in the Thirteen Problems (1930). It was adapted by Stewart Harcourt and directed by David Moore and was first broadcast on 29th December 2010.


Miss Marple comes forward with new information that could save an innocent man from the gallows, but as nobody will listen to her, she must rely on her old friend Sir Henry Clithering, who was the commissioner of Scotland Yard some years ago. The information concerns the 'blue geranium' murder case that happened six months ago whilst Jane was visiting friends in the picturesque village of Little Ambrose. But will her evidence save George Pritchard in time?

As the source text was a short story with few characters and not very detailed, but the program still had to last the usual length of 90 minutes, Stewart Harcourt clearly had to embellish the plot a bit, adding characters and adding red herrings to liven it all up. He keeps the base characters of George and Mary Pritchard and Nurse Copling, but gives George a brother Lewis and Mary a sister called Phillipa who are married. This doesn't make any difference to the plot at all, except we have more motives and suspects. More characters are added such as Hazel, Rev Dermot, Dr Frane and Eddie Seward. Eddie Seward is the first to die, adding more deaths and more action to the plot but his death isn't linked: he committed suicide.

One important point is that it's all told from Miss Marple's perspective as she recalls the murder to Sir Henry, very much in the style of the Thirteen Problems. Although it's a shame that there wasn't the whole Tuesday Night Club set up, which could have had Dolly Bantry and Raymond in it, it's more interesting to have Miss Marple trying to save George Pritchard from the gallows. It's a very good script and proves to us that a short story can be filmed for a hour and a half TV film.