Christopher Hirst: No mystery but plenty of intrigue

David Suchet played Poirot with a twinkle in his eye and a pertness to his waxed moustache

Share
Related Topics

The news that Julian Fellowes and Neil LaBute have formed an unlikely alliance to make a film adaptation of the Agatha Christie yarn Crooked House comes as a semi-surprise. Not so much for the involvement of Julian Fellowes, who staked a proprietorial claim to dark doings among the upper orders and their servants with his script for the movie Gosford Park. His exploitation of this rich vein later produced the hugely successful TV series Downton Abbey. Official recognition of his role as the leading dissector of the class system came with his elevation to Baron Fellowes of West Stafford in the New Year Honours.

Neil LaBute is, however, an entirely different kettle of fish. Born in Detroit, this former Mormon has been called "American theatre's reigning misanthrope". He is renowned for chilling and, some would claim, bracing dramas that explore dark and dangerous characters. His early success In the Company of Men concerned a plan by two vicious executives to woo and subjugate a deaf woman. A trio of short plays ripped apart the bland, no-coffee-for-me-please innocuousness of the Mormons. The Mercy Seat from 2002 concerned a worker in the World Trade Centre who, having escaped the attack because he was on the job with his mistress, sees the possibility of utilising the disaster to start a new life.

These murky themes seem a world away from Christie's whodunnits with their cut-out characters, unfeasibly brilliant investigators and curiously anodyne violence. As a devotee of Christie re-runs on ITV3, I have become something of an expert on her oeuvre. I suspect the same applies (judging by the adverts for chocolate and detergents) to a large part of the UK's female population. You know that the blood is the stage variety known as Kensington Gore. It is obvious that the deceased will spring to life Lazarus-style as soon as the camera stops rolling and enjoy a reviving cup of tea.

At least, this was the case with the early adaptations of Poirot. David Suchet played the Belgian sleuth with a twinkle in his eye and a pertness to his waxed moustache. Joshing with his dull but amiable sidekick Hastings, he ran rings round the dogged, ever-gabardined Inspector Japp. Each episode would end with the murderer dragged away kicking and screaming ("I'll get even with you, you foreign meddler!") while the three protagonists enjoyed a little plaisanterie by way of a pay-off.

But as the budget and length of the episodes increased, the cheery associates were dropped and the character of Poirot darkened. In the latest film, a chilly and decidedly violent version of Murder on the Orient Express, the detective ended up in tears, grasping his rosary for solace, as he condemned the participants in an apparently justifiable homicide to the course of the law.

As with adaptations of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, even the tea-and-crumpets world of Agatha Christie can change with the mood of the times. Because they are indifferent to subtleties of character, her cleverly constructed yarns can be retold in a host of ways. These efficient but undemanding narratives act as canvas designs that directors and actors can imaginatively embroider. This will not have escaped the attention of Messrs Fellowes and LaBute. More to the point, they will be assured of an audience. Christie remains box-office gold.

Lacking the reassuring presence of Poirot or Marple, Crooked House is a relatively unknown corner of the vast Christie terrain. Yet she maintained it was one of her two favourite works. Let's take a little peep inside. Following the mysterious death of an Anglo-Greek millionaire, poisoned by eye medicine, his granddaughter Sophia cannot marry until his killer is nabbed. Her fiancé, Charles, decides to investigate the case with his father, who happens to be a commissioner at Scotland Yard. The entire family are suspects but it emerges that Sophia is the sole legatee ... Hooked? You will be.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£120 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: The Humanities Department of this ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Are multinationals really eclipsing nation states? Don’t bet on it

Boyd Tonkin
A residential tower block in an area of Southwark with a high concentration of social housing  

We desperately need to solve our housing crisis, but rent controls are not the answer

Mira Bar Hillel
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee