With the announcement that the final Hercule Poirot stories will be filmed for ITV this year, confessed detective fiction bore and tedious cataloguer of ways in which the book was better than the film Laura Morgan wonders what we should expect.
I have never been asked to appear on Desert Island Discs, but I have spent happy hours planning what to take with me, just in case Radio 4 should come knocking. My music choices change depending on my mood, but my book doesn’t: ever since I was nineteen, I have turned to Agatha Christie whenever I was ill, bored or miserable, and since banishment to a desert island is likely to involve all three, the Queen of Crime will be coming with me.
(I’m assuming that I will be allowed the complete works. If not, I’ll swap them for Shakespeare, the way you can swap the Bible for your preferred alternative.)
Christie’s stories have been adapted for screens both big and small almost since she started writing them, and while there have been a number of admirable Misses Marple, David Suchet’s 23-year tenure as ITV’s Poirot-in-residence has rendered everyone else’s efforts superfluous. Anorakish types like to tell a story of unclear origin about how Agatha Christie once saw a young Joan Hickson perform on stage and told her “I hope one day you will play my dear Miss Marple”. True or not, it’s pleasing to imagine that Christie could foresee how good Hickson would one day be as the gentle little old lady “with the mind of a sink”, but if Hickson’s Marple is a good likeness, Suchet’s Poirot is perfect: the character sprung from the pages of the books and brought to life. The fussy little walk, the enquiringly cocked head, even the accent, which ought to waver but never does: everything is spot-on.
So we should all be delighted by the news that ITV will be filming the remaining Poirot stories this year: five new episodes, from original stories of, to put it diplomatically, varying quality, which makes it all the more interesting to see what will be done with them.