Sunday, 29 June 2014

Miss Marple: On Stage and Screen

We take a look at the different actresses that have portrayed Agatha Christie's famous elderly sleuth over the years, from Gracie Fields to Julia McKenzie. 

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Adapting Christie: An overview

(c) Agatha Christie Archive Trust 
There have been many different adaptations of Agatha Christie's stories on film and television over the last decade. Some have been successful, and some have not. 

Prior to the 1980s, Agatha Christie never allowed television or movie companies to adapt her work for the screen, as she had seen what they could do to her works. Take Margaret Rutherford, for example. Christie, although being great friends with Ms Rutherford, never made a secret of her dislike towards her portrayal as Miss Marple. But after Christie's death in 1976, her daughter was more open to letting TV companies film her mother's works. So in 1980, producer and writer Pat Sandys (mother to actress Samantha Bond) had permission to adapt to of Christie's novels: Why Didn't They Ask Evans and The Seven Dials Mystery. Both were successful adaptions because of one main reason: they were faithful to the source materials. These two television films created the birth of adaptions of Christie's work. There were already feature length movies starring Peter Ustinov on the big screen, but these television adaptions heralded a new age for Agatha Christie. Three years later, Pat Sandys filmed the ten part series Partners In Crime (1983-4) starring James Warwick and Francesca Annis as Tommy and Tuppence. Then, the next year, the BBC struck gold by starting a new series based on the Miss Marple series of novels, starring Joan Hickson as the sleuth. Finally, a mere five years later, ITV created the best series imaginable, Agatha Christie's Poirot, starring the incredibly talented David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. This monumental series would span twenty five years.

As I stated before, some of the best adaptations of Agatha Christie's novels and short stories come from scripts that stay close to the original story. I mean, surely it's not hard to make a good story from the original and best selling novels of the Queen of Crime? The Poirot series generally sticks close to the novels, generally because of the intervention of David Suchet, especially as he is an Executive Producer of some of the later films. Some of the best adaptions are Death on the Nile (2004), Dead Man's Folly (2013), Five Little Pigs (2003) and After the Funeral (2006) as they are all faithful to Christie's work. Yes, there are some minor changes like removing certain unnecessary characters for length and budget purposes and making it shorter to make them fit ITV's 89 minute broadcast time, but they still closely resemble the novels they come from. Some of the adaptions that fall a little far from faithful are Halloween Party (2012) and Cards on the Table (2006) to name just two. The difference between the two is that the former makes sensible changes that improve the adaption and make it better for television. The latter however makes changes to the killer's motive that don't really fit in well with Christie's works. And why would you change the killer's motive? Surely Agatha Christie knew better when it comes to constructing the perfect crime?

©ITV - Julia McKenzie (right) as Miss Marple, with Wendy Craig
Two Poirot adaptions that don't seem to be anything to do with the original novels are The Big Four (2013) and Appointment with Death (2008). The latter makes outrageous changes to the novel by changing the setting, motive and killers, as well as changing the method of murder and the adding and removing suspects. One of the killers in the TV version is innocent in the novel! Although it is well directed and well acted (there are some great performances from Cheryl Campbell and Elizabeth McGovern), it has a poor script. However, even though The Big Four suffered from the curse of changes to the novel, the changes helped improve the novel. Most fans know (including Mark Gatiss and Ian Hallard, who adapted it) that The Big Four is an odd novel, which would be better suited to James Bond than Hercule Poirot. The changes turned it into a more believable Poirot mystery, and I think that Gatiss and Halldard did a fine job.

The recent ITV Marple series starring Geraldine McEwan (2004-2008) and Julia McKenzie (2009-2013) is notorius for its radical changes to the plots. Take the very first episode, The Body in the Library (2004), which changes the killers! But that's one of the more faithful of adaptions, as Nemesis (2008) and Sleeping Murder (2006) seem miles away from the novels they originated from. The episodes starring Julia McKenzie seem to have fared better, as A Pocketful of Rye (2009), The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side (2011) and A Caribbean Mystery (2013) are all very faithful and brilliant adaptions. ITV have also made the decision to insert Miss Marple into novels she didn't originally appear in, as there are not enough Marple books to make the series long-lasting. Some of these episodes are brilliant, like Endless Night (2013), Murder Is Easy (2009) and The Pale Horse (2010), but there are some where Miss Marple just feels out of place, like Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (2011). Incidentally, the script for Evans? is a far cry from the original adaptation, and the novel.

So, to conclude, the general trend is that the best TV adaptions of Agatha Christie's work are ones that stick closely to the original novels. I think that adaptions should 80% Christie's story and 20% screenwriter's imagination. The best TV films are ones where the writer adds something of their own, like the voodoo and James Bond references in Charlie Higson's version of A Caribbean Mystery, or the additional murder in Elephants Can Remember. Slavishly sticking to the source material can be a little dull, as audiences don't want an exact repeat of the novel, otherwise it is not unique, but we don't want a complete re-writing either.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Monogram Murders: Cover Revealed!

In an exclusive video, the cover of the new Hercule Poirot mystery, written by Sophie Hannah, is revealed. 

And here is the amazing UK cover...

(c) HarperCollinsUK

And here is the US cover...

(c) HarperCollinsUS

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Screenwriter Kevin Elyot dies aged 62

(c) ITV - Kevin Elyot recently adapted Marple: Endless Night for television 
Kevin Elyot (18th July 1951 - 9th June 2014) has died after a long illness, his agent confirms

The British playwright, best known for his play My Night With Reg (1994), has also written scripts for Poirot and Marple, as well as adapted And Then There Were None for stage in 2005. Recently, he adapted the last Poirot novel Curtain: Poirot's Final Case for television, marking the end of the twenty five year running series. He also wrote the screenplay for the final Marple episode, Endless Night, starring Julia McKenzie as the elderly sleuth.

In total, he has adapted nine Agatha Christie novels for television, six for Marple and three for Poirot. His episodes of Poirot have been some of the finest and greatest of the series. Five Little Pigs and Death on the Nile are two very iconic stories which were brilliantly brought to life by Elyot. Especially the scenes in Death on the Nile between Poirot and Jacqueline (originally taken from Dead Man's Folly). The adaptation of Curtain was sublime, and a fitting end to the character of Hercule Poirot. His recent episode of Marple, Endless Night, was also excellent, showing new depths for the series and adding a different and altogether more dark spin on the character. I also loved his adaptions of The Mirror Crack'd and A Pocketful of Rye. However, his spin on The Body in the Library caused some controversy as he included a lesbian relationship and changed one of the identities of the killers. Although I didn't like the new ending, the episode as a whole was well scripted.

Here are the episodes Kevin Elyot wrote:

  • Marple: Endless Night (2013)
  • Poirot: Curtain (2013)
  • Marple: The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side (2011)
  • Marple: A Pocketful of Rye (2009)
  • Marple: Towards Zero (2007)
  • Marple: The Moving Finger (2006) 
  • And Then There Were None (2005)
  • Marple: The Body in the Library (2004)
  • Poirot: Death on the Nile (2004)
  • Poirot: Five Little Pigs (2004) 

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Saturday, 7 June 2014

Poirot and Marple are coming to the US

The final seasons of Poirot and Marple are to be broadcast on PBS in the USA soon. 

A year ago, excited fans of Poirot in the UK were waiting another twenty four hours for the first episode of the thirteenth and final series of the hit ITV show. Elephants Can Remember first aired on our screens on June 9th 2013, and didn't disappoint. Then the week after, we were treated to the first of the last series of Marple, A Caribbean Mystery. This year, fans in the US can now view these amazing last episodes on their TV screens. But there's a catch. The thirteenth season (why do we Brits call them a 'series' and in America they are called 'seasons'?) will be shown in part on the American channel PBS, but the final three will be available to watch exclusively on the new streaming service Acorn TV. You can also view the first two episodes on Acorn TV the day after broadcast, but you can ONLY see the last three on Acorn TV. The Big Four and Dead Man's Folly will be broadcast on PBS but the other three are only available on the streaming service. All of the Marple episodes will be available to watch on PBS, and will be on Acorn TV the day after broadcast. As I don't live in the US or have never been, and to be honest, have no idea what this Acorn TV is, I don't know if this is good or bad. But if you have a subscription with it, you should be able to watch.

As an exclusive for fans in America, here is an episode guide for the following episodes, with broadcast dates included. (Note that the episodes are in US broadcast order)

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Jason Durr takes over from Robert Powell in Black Coffee

The Heartbeat actor will take over the role of Hercule Poirot from Robert Powell in the UK tour of Black Coffee. 

Jason Durr will make his debut performance as Agatha Christie's super sleuth tonight (June 3rd) on the UK tour of the play Black Coffee from the Agatha Christie Theatre Company. His previous acting credits include roles in Heartbeat, Midsomer Murders, Lewis and Marple: The Blue Geranium on television. Jason Durr has also played another famous detective on stage recently, Sherlock Holmes.
He will follow in the patent-leather footsteps of Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov, Robert Powell, and of course David Suchet, who have all played Poirot before and brought him to life on stage and screen.
Jason Durr will star alongside Liza Goddard, Robin McCallum, Olivia Mace, Ben Nealon, Eric Carte and Felicity Houlbrooke.

(c) Bill Kenwright Productions - Jason Durr as Hercule Poirot 

(c) Bill Kenwright Productions - Robert Powell as Hercule Poirot 
Related Articles:

Robert Powell is the new face of Hercule Poirot 
Black Coffee Review 
Hercule Poirot: On Stage and Screen