Fellowes to give Agatha Christie the 'Downton' treatment

After breathing new life into ITV's Sunday night schedule with the hit period drama Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes is planning to reinvigorate the image of Agatha Christie with a film adaptation of the whodunnit Crooked House.

The film, set just after the Second World War, will be directed by the edgy American writer and director Neil LaBute and shot in London later this year. Fellowes said: "I love the period, I love Agatha Christie and I love the idea of reinventing it. It will be exciting to work with a really vivid, contemporary director – he's one of the originals around at the moment."

There have been suggestions that Christie's tales have become fusty, and ITV is reportedly considering axing Poirot after 22 years, with one source saying the series was "struggling to get [financial] backing".

But Fellowes, a committed Christie fan, disagrees. "I love Christie and don't think it's at all dated," he said. "It's one of those things that never go stale: murder in a genteel setting appeals to audiences in Britain and around the world. I first read them as I was growing up. We had a holiday cottage in Ireland, and when I was 16 I discovered my first tranche of Agatha Christie novels."

The Oscar-winning screenplay writer, who wrote a film adaptation of Vanity Fair and the script for The Young Victoria, said it would be exciting to work on a classic whodunnit (rather than Gosford Park, which he described as a "who cares whodunnit"). He was pleased it was one of Christie's stand-alone books. "I like that for a feature film; you aren't seeing one side of the cake," he said.

Crooked House, which Christie said was one of her two favourite novels, was published in 1949 and based in London in the autumn of 1947. The narrator, Charles Hayward, is told by his fiancée Sophia that she cannot marry him until the killer of her grandfather, who has been poisoned, is found.

Fellowes said his current priority was to get the second series of Downton Abbey "done and dusted" and make sure it was "not a disappointment" for audiences. The first series, described as "the best thing since Brideshead Revisited", was ITV's most successful drama of 2010, with more than nine million viewers.

Then he will make "a bit of a jump" through history to focus on Christie. And while the pressure is on for the second series of Downton Abbey to live up to expectations, it will not ease with the Christie adaptation – Fellowes' wife, Emma, will be watching keenly as "Christie's greatest fan".

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