THE ABC MURDERS
UK, 2018, 180 minutes, Colour.
John Malkovich, Rupert Grint, Andrew Buchan, Eamon Farren, Shirley Henderson, Freya Mavor, Anya Chalotra, Tara Fitzgerald, Christopher Villiers, Eve Austin, Michael Shaeffer.
Directed by Alex Gabassi.
The ABC murders is one of Agatha Christie’s most popular novels and features her Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. It was filmed in 1966 by the company who made the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple films, given a light touch with the casting of Tony Randall. And, of course, it was filmed with David Suchet as Poirot.
When first screened on British television, the bloggers were outraged. This was not Agatha Christie’s story, plot details changed at, characters dropped, others introduced. And, of course, John Malkovich did not fit expectations of Poirot. The blame was laid on the writer, Sarah Phelps, who had already adapted several Agatha Christie works for television, And Then There Were None, Witness for the Prosecution, Ordeal by Innocence.
For those interested in a different interpretation of Poirot, this version is very interesting. It is 1933 but he is retired, living alone, morbid in his memories – especially of his migration to Britain in 1914 (and there are echoes of hostility to foreigners with posters and antiforeign badges on several of the characters), his experience of the German attack on a village and the fate of the villagers in the church. This eventually has an explanation which would have astonished Agatha Christie.
There is a succession of murders of people with the succession of letters of the alphabet in towns with the same succession of letters. Suspicion of the audience is on Alexander Bonaparte Cust, a stocking salesman, alone, eerie, subject to seizures, renting a squalid flat from a blousey Shirley Henderson, loved by her daughter. He is an all the scenes of the crimes and stockings are involved. He is played by Eamon Farren.
He is the only suspect and the attention is given to the murders, the characters, their families and associates, though a mistake is made in the identity of the ventriloquist who was to be murdered in Doncaster and somebody else killed by mistake.
Poirot goes to see his old friend Inspector Japp but he dies. The next generation of Inspector, over self-confident, played by Rupert Grint, now older and more serious than his character, Ron, in the Harry Potter films.
Of course, the solution is ingenious, most of the murders as a cover for the main target – and a final explanation sequence where the salesman has been set up and is innocent. And one of the motivations for the murder and its style is a resentment towards Poirot from the past.
And, finally the motivation is given for the retired Poirot – and of all solutions, he is a priest in Belgium wanting to save his parishioners from the attacking Germans but failing, the church set on fire – and Poirot wanting to avenge the dead by investigating murder mysteries.
1. The classic Agatha Christie story? The variety of film versions? The comic version with Tony Randall? The classic version with David Suchet? This adaptation to the 21st-century sensibilities while keeping the 1933 setting?
2. Period, London, the notices for patriotism and the reaction of the police, especially towards Poirot? Poirot’s lodgings, police headquarters? The settings for the various killings? The towns and their atmospheres? The letters of the alphabet? And for the characters? The train guide and its being opened at each letter?
3. Poirot, in retirement, the memories of his past success? The opening up of his past before World War I? The invasion of Belgium, the death in the field, the upset? Poirot on the ship? The story of the birth at Andover? Records and enquiries? His relationship with Inspector Japp, the visit, Japp and his collapse and death, the funeral? The clashes with Inspector Crome, younger, arrogant, not collaborating? His visits to Poirot? The invitation to a brandy? The police searching for towns with D? Poirot being the code?
4. The choice of John Malkovich to portray Poirot? Older, his appearance, tinting his beard, the dye running? Accepting the grey beard? His manner, speech, the touch of accent?
5. The opening, the credits, the typing of the letters? The introduction to Cust? His look, manner, clothing, typewriter, his sales goods? The landlady, slovenly, critical, his taking the room? Her daughter and the interaction? The old man upstairs?
6. Cust, typing the letters, the challenge to Poirot, the personal tone, the indication of the alphabet, the town, the names of the victims? His visits to the towns, the evidence of the stockings and the packets? His seizures? Abstract at breakfast, then sick? The daughter and her massage, treading on him, his wounds?
7. Poirot, the first town, the woman in the shop, Cust and his visit, her death? The Inspector not believing Poirot, his going to the town, finding the body? The second murder, the filling out of the story, Betty, stealing her sister’s boyfriend, her callous attitude, money, at the cafe, flirting with Cust, the stockings, her refusing to pay? The brutality of her death? The mother’s grief, her mother thinking her daughter was perfect? The cynical attitude of her sister, Poirot’s visit and the tea?
8. The mansion, the wealthy, the dinner, the secretary and the wife throwing the wine over her? The wife’s collapse, mental condition, physical condition, Miss Gray ringing for the doctor? Her painful illness? Flora kissing Sir Carmichael, his firing her? Taking the dog, the brutality of his death, the book? Poirot phoning, not preventing his death? His visit? The flashbacks to the party, the birthday murder? Hermione talking with Poirot, seeing the man like him?
9. Franklin hiring Poirot, gathering Megan and Donald and Miss Grey? Donald and his tantrum? Megan and her explanation about her sister? The flashback and her memory of the man in Poirot’s clothes?
10. The visit to Doncaster? Dexter Dooley and his puppet? His clash with the man sharing the dressing room? The death and ABC’s error? Paddington underground and the phone call and the note?
11. Crome, his believing Poirot? Their working together? The role of the media, Crome and his sceptical assistant?
12. Poirot as the code, the interviews, going to the factory for the stockings, the explanation by the owner? The documentation, an address? Going to the house, the flight, the contents, the landlady her attitude? Her daughter, love for Cust, trying to save him?
13. The letter E? The town, people apprehensive? The toilet, the murder?
14. Cust, his being in the town, his seizure, his escape, dropping his coat? The collapse? Hospital?
15. Miss Grey, her ambitions, the relationship with Franklin? Her wanting to inherit? Hermione surviving?
16. Poirot, with Franklin, the fingerprint? The confrontation? The motivation, his wanting his brother’s title? Remembering the party, Poirot and entertaining with the murder game? Jealousy and rivalry? Trying to outwit Poirot, his choosing Cust, playing backgammon, setting him up, the flat, the job, the typewriter, the connection with the stockings sales, giving him destinations, accommodation?
17. Megan, her being stuck in her grief, her favours? The grieving parents?
18. Franklin, his arrest? The interview with Poirot, the requested meal? The long explanation, Franklin in the writing of the letters, his shrewdness, the mistaking Doncaster, his fate?
19. The continued flashbacks to the war, the German attack, the soldier in the fields, the people on the church?
20. The shock to discover that Poirot was a priest, the previous scene where he encountered the priest and resisted the advice? His protecting the people, confronting the German soldier, the burning down of the church, the death of the people? As a motivation for his wanting to avenge those who had been murdered?
21. Speculating on Agatha Christie’s response to this version of her story – and the interpretation of Poirot?