Since I was a wee lad of 12, I’ve been hooked on Agatha Christie novels. I’m a sucker for a great mystery, and no storyteller has matched the sheer body of work of one of the 20th century’s greatest authors. But there’s been a disconnect that was only partially solved one time in 1982. With the exception of Evil Under the Sun, Hollywood has failed to produce a decent big screen interpretation of the master mystery writer’s work.
BBC took a stab at two of the stories and seems to have solved the problem. They didn’t make a movie. They made a pair of three-part miniseries. Was that all that was needed, the extra time to flesh out the story? Perhaps, it really is as simple as that.
And Then There Were None is the better of the two. Its ensemble cast portrayed the characters relatively faithfully as I recall. It was the first novel of hers that I read, the one that got me hooked, so it has sentimental value. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting much, but the 2016 production delivered beautifully. In particular, Charles Dance, Maeve Dermody, and Burn Gorman put on exceptional performances.
The other BBC miniseries that we watched was The ABC Murders. John Malkovich did everything he could to make it exceptional, but even his stellar performance of Hercule Poirot couldn’t make up for the liberal changes made to the story. They tried to give it modern sensibilities, changed his backstory, and turned it more sexual than it needed to be, but that’s nitpicking from a fan that most casual viewers would never notice. As a pure production outside of the source material, it was still much better than previous attempts to tell one of her tales on the big screen.
Agatha Christie stories must not be rushed. Like a fine wine, it’s always better to sip than gulp. Trying to fit everything into a two-hour production is a fool’s errand, which is why BBC did right by turning these two into three separate episodes that yielded over 150-minutes each. Her stories are simply too complex. One can fit a modern mystery into two hours, as Rian Johnson demonstrated in last year’s Knives Out. But to do so, the story must be relatively simple. Agatha Christie didn’t do simple.
With the rise of multi-device home entertainment superseding the big screen, it’s good that some are attempting to tell longer stories when necessary. Agatha Christie novels definitely favor this longer format.
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