Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Agatha Christie's Poirot - Hallowe'en Party


Hallowe’en Party is the latest instalment of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, due to be shown in the UK at 8 p.m. tonight, and as I’ll be away, I’ll be setting my recorder with a view to doing a review soon. For although the original book is one of Agatha’s least impressive, in my opinion, I am told by John Curran that the TV adaptation is excellent. And John, as the author of Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, is a very good judge of these matters.

This brings me to the question of whether TV adaptations can actually improve on the original book. The acting is crucial, of course, and David Suchet is always good value as Poirot. Much also depends on the quality of the screenplay, and Hallowe’en Party is written by Mark Gatiss, whose many credits include Sherlock and Doctor Who, as well as previous Christie stories. He’s a talented writer, to put it mildly, and more respectful, I think, of the source material than some other TV writers. But with Hallowe’en Party, the challenge unquestionably is to improve on the original, since Christie was nearing the end of her life when she wrote it, and I recall my disappointment as a teenager when I read the first edition. It simply wasn’t a good mystery.

Of course, only a major writer is ever likely to have his or her unsuccessful books adapted for TV. With Christie, the name is a brand, an assurance of enjoyable mystification, and such a strong brand that the quality of the original isn’t the key issue. Several of her masterpieces have been butchered by others over the years (The Sittaford Mystery was one of the most dismal recent examples) and so it will be a pleasing irony if Hallowe’en Party proves to be a triumph.

Good as Colin Dexter’s books were, I think the TV versions did improve upon them, and the same is true of some of the later and weaker Sherlock Holmes stories. On the other hand, the consensus seems to be that the first DCI Banks show did not live up to the standard of the books, while Tim Heald, Liza Cody, Marjorie Eccles and Frances Fyfield were not especially well served by the TV versions of their books. It’s all the luck of draw, I guess.

10 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - I agree that it's possible for the televised version of a story to be better than the book, and it's funny you would mention the Inspector Morseseries, as I thought that was a particularly fine adaptation of a body of work. Some episodes did improve on the books, and even those that didn't, were quite well-done. It may be the package of acting, directing, commitment to high quality, or it may be something else. But I, too, am eager to see what Hallowe'en Party is like...

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Margot. The 'package' point is important - for best results, every aspect has to be right.

Uriah Robinson said...

A few weeks ago I read Five Little Pigs, and then watched the TV adaptation the next day. There were two additions to the plot of the book made by the TV production which were totally unnecessary, and spoilt the entire program for me, despite the usual brilliant performance by David Suchet.
I can understand a struggling author handing over control of the script to a TV company, but the Christie estate should have more clout to influence the content of the programs.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I love the Morse TV adaptations...the actors were just wonderful. I think with something like Christie, it would have to be a REALLY nicely done adaptation because her fans wouldn't accept less.

Deb said...

I've been very disappointed with the recent Poirots (shown in the States on "Masterpiece Mystery") which included "Murder on the Orient Express," "Third Girl," and the nearly-unwatchable "Appointment with Death" (which was so different from the book as to be an entirely different animal altogether--only the basic outline and some names from the book remained). I know there's an attempt to add some "depth" to these stories, but giving Poirot a rosary and having him frequently say his prayers is not the way to develop it.

Kerrie said...

I'm enjoying the current new spate of HP videos but also fascinated by the world-wide synchronisation of the releases

pattinase (abbott) said...

This is strictly from an outsider's POV. Too many of the BBC shows appear to be written by the same person. There is a samness about them that eventually put me off. The exception is the new Sherlock Holmes-or at least the first one. And the PRIME SUSPECT, MORSE and CRACKERS series which managed to be different. Of course, America can't do these shows at all.

vegetableduck said...

This adaptation had good points and generally improved upon the novel, in my view, but I thought it rather toppled over into absurdity at the end (so many murders!). Of course in part this reflects the weakness of the book's plotting.

I was disappointed that the climactic scene between Miranda and X rather fizzled. I thought the actress playing Miranda was just too ordinary a young girl.

GeraniumCat said...

It all augurs well for Hallowe'en Party, which I haven't watched yet. I'm still recovering from The Sittaford Mystery, which we watched at the weekend and had me squawking with indignation and outrage by the end!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for all these comments. GC, I know how you feel about The Sittaford Mystery - awful version of a decent book.