Kevin Elyot: 'Christie strikes an alarming chord in our own times'

From a speech by the dramatist and screenplay writer on his adaptations of Agatha Christie novels, delivered at the British Library, in London

I found it an immensely stylish work, quintessential Christie: a group of irresistible characters leading us through a devious plot, motored by a heartfelt, emotional core. It begins with an act of betrayal and ends with a body count as high as Hamlet. But what Christie manages so adeptly is to pull this off in high comic style, creating a perfect tragicomedy.

Her writing is a gift to a dramatist. It tends towards the minimalist, and in a few deft strokes offers character and situation in such a way that you feel enabled to breathe your own life into them. What has also drawn me to the books I've worked on is that each one tells of a genuine, painful experience, such as adultery, betrayal, rumour, wrought, I'm sure, from her own life.

In Agatha Christie's world, it seems, all loose ends are neatly tied up and order is always restored. I'm not sure how convincing this is in our more cynical times. Life is not as neat as she would have us believe; there are consequences, ramifications, scars, and so I prefer to leave a few questions hanging.

And Then There Were None is a fierce morality tale about justice and retribution. As ever in her novels, crime is always punished, but here it's taken to frightening lengths. We're a million miles away from the comforting environs of St Mary Mead. This is a zero-tolerant world, a world of logic without reason, where justice prevails but no one survives. The enemy lurks within, unidentifiable but deadly, striking an alarming chord in our own unsettled times.

There's something about Christie, her instinctive grasp of character and situation, perhaps, that transcends a seeming insularity to give her work universal appeal, and touches parts that other writers can only dream about.

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