Monday, October 30, 2017

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Agatha Christie Month presents: The Uninvited

All month long, we've been celebrating the work of Agatha Christie, as interpreted on screens both big and small. As the world's best-selling fiction author, she has a built-in audience in every part of the globe - thus adaptations of her work are frequent not just in the UK, but Japan, Russia, and India. With 72 novels, 16 plays, and 14 short story collections, there's never a shortage of material, yet a handful of Christie works remain unadapted for any medium.

In Christie fandom circles, the most famous of these was Crooked House, one of her more haunting works, and a favorite of the author's. Oh, the excitement when a cinematic adaptation was announced for 2012, with Neil LaBute directing, Julian Fellowes scripting, and Julie Andrews, Gabriel Byrne, Matthew Goode, and Gemma Arterton starring! Then...crickets. Five years later, there were whispers that production had geared up again with a different, still all-star cast. And last month, we finally got a trailer:

So! One down, a few more to go! As we close out Agatha Christie month, let's take a look at the work that's still up for grabs....

The Thirteen Problems (aka The Tuesday Club Murders)

There are a number of short stories we could include on this list individually, even though a good number of them were taken care of by the 80s anthology series The Agatha Christie Hour. I've chosen to focus on this collection of Miss Marple short stories, since, as we discussed before, despite her popularity, only certain Miss Marple novels seem to get adapted and re-adapted, while all but three short stories have been ignored altogether.

This collection consists of two parties and an extra mystery. Each party includes Miss Marple and five other people, each of whom shares a real-life mystery they are somehow involved in, withholding the solution for the other guests to figure out. The Murder at the Vicarage aside, this is the first time full focus is given Miss Marple's deductive prowess, and many regulars - Sir Henry Clithering of Scotland Yard, favorite nephew Raymond West, artist Joyce Lempreiere - make their first appearances in the collection. While "The Blue Geranium" and "The Thumb Mark of St. Peter" were adapted for Agatha Christie's Marple with Julia McKenzie, it's crazy to me that no network has fully committed to giving the spinster sleuth the same series treatment afforded Poirot. These thirteen cases are just the beginning...

Death Comes As the End

In which Christie invents the historical mystery genre by setting a whodunnit in Egypt, 2000 B.C. Well, I say whodunnit, but given the high body count and quickly-dwindling number of suspects, it's less a mystery than it is a horror thriller. Concerning the family of the priest Imhotep and their tense relationship with his new concubine, the novel combines her familiar "drawing-room" milieu with her own fascination with ancient history of the Middle East, inspired by her archeologist husband Sir Max Mallowan. Between the exotic locale, unique historical period, and bloody suspense, I'm a little surprised this hasn't turned up as an adaptation before, though perhaps we should be relieved at being spared yet another production where white people "pass" as Egyptian thanks to heavy eye makeup. Besides, an adaptation is currently in pre-production at the BBC.

Destination Unknown (aka So Many Steps to Death)

A solid spy thriller involving disappearing scientists and a plot for immoral gains on a global scale, with a plucky young woman just this side of contemplating suicide as our lead. While the specific fears expressed - namely that our best and brightest are defecting at an alarming rate to the Soviet Union - may be relics of the Cold War, the actual goals of the main villain could fit into any period (a few Bond films like You Only Live Twice or Quantum of Solace even bear some resemblance). Could also make a great period piece! A large international cast of characters, too, for the globally-minded studio...

Postern of Fate

The final Tommy and Tuppence adventure, as well as the last novel Christie ever wrote. The now-elderly Beresfords solve a mystery in their new countryside home, but it's not the mystery so much as it is the repetitiveness that makes this one stand out, and not in a good way. Whole chapters are filled with dialogue leading nowhere, often repeating conversations held earlier in the book. Some ascribe this to Christie's advanced age, with one Canadian study finding possible signs of Alzheimer's; more charitable readers may find it a study of two individuals whose strength lay in their cleverness finding themselves slowly crippled by age. If the stress was on the latter, could make for an arthouse drama - Still Alice meets Amour meets 45 Years.

Passenger to Frankfurt: An Extravaganza

The only Christie novel I've never read. From what I gather, it involves a female villain bent on world domination through the resurgence of Nazi youth. Sounds good to me!

The Westmacott Christie Reader

I'm referring specifically to a hardback anthology I happen to own (in a lavender box!), but really it's the works within I'm concerned about: six non-thriller novels written by Christie under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. Now that Lifetime has gotten into the Christie business via distribution of the latest BBC miniseries, it seems to me the next logical step is to get into the Westmacott business. The obvious standout is A Daughter's a Daughter, in which a young woman opposes her mother's plans to remarry; Christie initially wrote the book as an unsuccessful play, though a recent revival was praised for its brutal honesty regarding the relationship between mothers and daughters. She also tackled sisterhood in The Burden (what a title!), confronted her own divorce in Unfinished Portrait, and even centered Absent in the Spring around an unsympathetic heroine. People who often fault her for her characterizations would do well to read these...

What's a Christie you'd like to see on screen? Share in the comments below, and join us tomorrow as we do a Casting Coup Tuesday for another work of hers that hasn't made it to the big screen...though it's been everywhere else....

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