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The ABC Murders

I haven’t seen the others Agatha Christie’s adaptations made by the same production, but I hear that they were good. The same cannot unfortunately be said of this miniseries starring John Malkovich as Hercule Poirot. And before you start ranting, let me make something clear: I am no excessively traditionalist, I appreciate a good adaptation even […]

I haven’t seen the others Agatha Christie’s adaptations made by the same production, but I hear that they were good. The same cannot unfortunately be said of this miniseries starring John Malkovich as Hercule Poirot. And before you start ranting, let me make something clear: I am no excessively traditionalist, I appreciate a good adaptation even if you’re straying from the original, albeit you change things in order for the original message to come across more clearly through the new medium. I might have issues when you’re coming across with a new message, different from the original, but still I can accept that if it’s interesting. I didn’t mind how Poirot was different in the recent depiction by Kenneth Branagh, for instance: what I had issues with was the way the main theme was treated. And it’s not an easy one, because it deals with moral issues, vengeance vs. justice and the death penalty itself. By the way, they’re in pre-production with Death on the Nile, with Branagh returning as Poirot and no other than Gal Gadot. Good news is she’s playing Linnet, so she dies pretty soon. But I digress.

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I didn’t see the other adaptations drafted by Sarah Phelps, I was saying. In case you’re interested, they were And Then There Were None (with Aidan Turner, Miranda Richardson and Sam Neill, an actor I’m very fond of and the only other man who can say to have played Odin in Thor Ragnarock), The Witness for the Prosecution (with Andrea Riseborough and Toby Jones) and Ordeal by Innocence (with one Luke Treadaway wearing the shoes that were Donald Sutherland‘s in the 1984 movie). Apparently they were decent. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I didn’t like The ABC Murders one bit.

This pretty much sums up my enthusiasm.

I approached it because I was curious to see Malkovich trying out Poirot: it’s not easy since he doesn’t have anything resembling what characterizes Poirot, but he’s such a good actor that you simply have to give him a chance. And the problem is not him: he’s portraying in a very convincing way the character that’s written for him, I think, but unfortunately that character is not Poirot. Not by a long shot. It’s not some variation, some different version. It’s something else.
The writer decided to shift this story and put it in Poirot’s later years, for reasons that I’m afraid are to be connected with enabling Malkovich to play him in a more satisfactory way. What we have is an old, withered Poirot, somehow closer to how we see in Curtain. And if that was the idea I really don’t understand why not taking inspiration from that powerful novel, if you’re familiar with it. Instead, we have a Poirot that has somehow fallen from grace (and nobody is gracious enough to tell us how and why), a Poirot that does house parties and murder mysteries and gets spat at in the street.
There’s no Hastings, which is a shame, considering that the novel features a comeback of the beloved character, but ok. There’s no Japp, who is killed at the beginning of the story for reasons that are frankly mysterious to me. There’s no police profiler. There’s no Legion either, the task force that Poirot forms in order to catch and better profile the killer: their formation is dismissed in half a scene and a “Well, that went well” punch line.

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Inspector Crome is in charge of Scotland Yard and is portrayed by a surprising Rupert Grint who might not be playing Ron Weasley for the first time in his career (because, let’s face it, Charlie Cavendish in Snatch wasn’t falling that far from the original tree). He’s astonishingly convincing, even though what’s going on is not something we expect in a Poirot novel. The Belgian detective has somehow been the ruin of late inspector Japp, because of not being honest about his past, and this is supposed to be an important point of the story. Poirot’s mysterious past. I’m not telling you how they solve it. because it’s beyond ludicrous. According to The Telegraph, it makes perfect sense. It kind of didn’t, to me but again I don’t feel like that’s the main problem: more like one of the small problems that builds up with its brothers to make this adaptation a disappointment.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 11/12/2018 - Programme Name: The ABC Murders - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 2) - Picture Shows:  Inspector Crome (RUPERT GRINT) - (C) Mammoth Screen/Agatha Christie Ltd - Photographer: Photographer TBC

The alternation between third and first person, that’s typical of the novel, gets transformed into an alternation of points of view between Poirot and the killer, thus spoiling one of the pivoting mysteries of the main story. And yet, the relationship they try to build between Poirot and the murder is something more suited for a Sherlock Holmes novel and I would have gladly done without all the gross details about pus and egg yolks, and a girl with broken heels walking on the bloody back of a guy, thank you very much. Honestly.

What they try to do, instead, is something on immigrants and internal politics whose relationship with the main story is frankly unclear, to me. Again, other Agatha Christie’s stories would have been better suited for this purpose. As I was saying, I appreciate changing a source if you’re trying to say something, but you do need to say it in a way that’s matching the story you’re telling. Otherwise, write a pamphlet and leave Poirot alone.

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