Channel 5 have once again solved the problem of not having the rights to any Agatha Christie novels by making the drama about Agatha herself
You have to admire the chutzpah of Channel 5. Undaunted by the fact that the BBC currently has the monopoly on TV adaptations of Agatha Christie, it has found an alternative: murder mysteries featuring Christie herself as the sleuth. They are new stories, written by Tom Dalton, but the period settings make them feel vintage. It’s not quite sleight of hand, but it’s crafty.
Agatha and the Midnight Murders was the third in a series of feature-length films. Helen Baxendale played the author, with a warmth in her voice and a glint in her eye. It was a classic and atmospheric locked room whodunit – deaths piling up, everyone a suspect, plenty of red herrings. Unfortunately, the misdirection was cleverer than the actual direction. There were points when I had to rewind in order to work out what was going on, as with an early fight scene. The script also felt as if elements were missing: if you had not seen one of the earlier films, Agatha and the Truth of Murder, then you were at an immediate disadvantage in understanding the relationship between Christie and her companion, Travis Pickford (Blake Harrison).
In real life, Christie wrote a novel featuring the death of Hercule Poirot and locked it in a bank vault for 30 years. Here, she was flogging the manuscript to a Hong Kong businessman and superfan (Thomas Chaanhing) for £20,000 because she was being pursued by the Inland Revenue. They met to complete the transaction in an eerily quiet hotel, staffed by a solitary barman, during the Blitz. An air raid siren went off and in burst a very odd police constable (Jodie McNee) who shepherded everyone into the cellar. Before long, the manuscript was stolen and Christie’s polite request for the culprit to hand it back fell on deaf ears.
All of the characters’ behaviour felt a little weird, and it was not clear if that was by accident or design. Some were caricatures – Sir Malcolm Campbell played as an entitled toff – while others were barely there, as with the two women posing as tourists. Elizabeth Tan hadn’t changed out of the costume from her last job, on ITV’s The Singapore Grip. I have no idea if the real-life Christie ever swore but some of her lines jarred, not least because they sounded strikingly modern: “Is there anyone in your life who’s been around 20 years and not f—ed you over?” she said, trying to explain her attachment to Poirot.
And yet for all the production’s faults, the whodunit was effective, because I stuck with it to the end in order to discover the identity of the killer. In that at least it captured something of Christie.
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Agatha and the Midnight Murders
Actu monde – GB – Agatha and the Midnight Murders, review: this sneaky Christie isn’t a patch on the real thing