Agatha Christie’s Marple this evening gave us The Secret of Chimneys, from a book which dates back to 1925. Jane Marple does not appear in the book, and frankly the story – a cheerfully ludicrous thriller – would be long forgotten if Christie were not the author. I felt compelled to watch, though, to see what the scriptwriter, Paul Rutman – a capable and experienced TV detective drama writer - would make of a very tough challenge.
His approach was to take a few small plot elements and a number of characters (or, at least, their names) from the original but to create an entirely new story, with the scene being set in 1932 before moving into the 1950s, with Miss Marple, in the shape of Julia Mackenzie, improbably invited to Chimneys along with an exotic foreign aristocrat and a woman from ‘National Heritage’.
The cast was good, including the reliable Edward Fox, the beautiful Charlotte Salt and the talented Dervla Kirwan. But the story-line was risible and Christie probably turned in her grave at the identity and motive of the culprit. I was certainly amazed, but not in a good way.
I was left wondering what was the object of the exercise. I could see the point of the new TV version of Murder on the Orient Express, even though I’ve read some comments by purists who disapprove of the changes made to the original, because the focus on justice was – to me – genuinely interesting. But with The Secret of Chimneys, a silly but mildly amusing book from the 1920s just became a silly TV show of 2010. Disappointing, to say the least.