There’s a reason why Agatha Christie’s writings have endured. It could be the stories, the fiendishly clever, page-turners that they are. Or it could be the characters - neurotic, eccentric geniuses. But what escapes most is the fact that while Christie is, of course, known primarily for her writings, there has been a steady stream of consistently excellent adaptations of her work.
While no one can forget Peter Ustinov’s rotund Hercule Poirot from the films, or Albert Finney’s almost-deranged take on the character from The Murder on the Orient Express, it is hardy debateable that the most iconic interpretation of the tiny Belgian with ‘the little grey cells’ came in the form of David Suchet in the long-running TV adaptation of the stories.
For this piece, we’re going to take a look at the most successful adaptations of Christie’s stories on her 126th birth anniversary - and we’re going to focus on TV, a medium in which they’re given just the right amount of room to breathe. Christie’s mysteries are famously complex, despite their straightforwardness, and TV, with its relaxed time constraints, is the perfect showcase for them.
Agatha Christie’s Poirot
Over the course of more than two decades, David Suchet made Hercule Poirot his own. Like Jeremy Brett with Sherlock Holmes, it is unlikely you will picture anyone else as the character when you think of Poirot. With episodes that routinely ran to feature length, every major Poirot story was adapted in the show’s 1989-2013 run on ITV. Of Suchet’s iconic portrayal, Christie’s grandson Mathew once commented: “Personally, I regret very much that she (Agatha Christie) never saw David Suchet. I think that visually he is much the most convincing and perhaps he manages to convey to the viewer just enough of the irritation that we always associate with the perfectionist, to be convincing!”
Miss Marple is often overshadowed by Poirot’s sheer popularity, but the BBC show, starring Joan Hixon as the elderly spinster, helped her reach a wider audience. It ran in truncated form from 1984-1992, covering each of Christie’s 12 Marple novels through its run.
Tommy and Tuppence
Although they were previously played in a 1980s adaptation, Christie’s third-tier detectives got a much more lavish adaptation in 2015 with BBC’s Partners in Crime. The mini-series ran for 6 episodes and featured David Walliams and Jessica Raine in the title roles as a quick-witted, comedic couple who get embroiled in a plot of international espionage.
And Then there Were None
Agatha Christie’s most famous novel has been through numerous adaptations - both good and bad - and this is without taking into consideration the films and shows that were ‘inspired by’ the classic story (we’re looking at you Identity and Sabotage). There’s even a Bollywood adaptation (remember Gumnaam?). But maybe because it’s still so fresh in our minds, the recent 3-part BBC mini-series based on the book is the best. It’s a stylishly mounted show, featuring a great cast and true respect for the source material. Even though it falls into the same trap so many murder mystery adaptations have in the past: Casting the most famous actor as the culprit and in doing so, giving the twist away.
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