Agatha Christie's Poirot began its final series tonight with Elephants Can Remember, featuring David Suchet as Poirot and Zoe Wanamaker as Mrs Ariadne Oliver. The book, it has to be said, is one of Christie's worst, a rambling effort written at the end of her career when her powers were failing and her publishers were too much in awe of her to edit what she wrote with the necessary ruthlessness. I read it not long after its first publication in the early 70s, and was so disappointed that it's one of the few Christies I've never bothered to reread..
Oddly enough, the flaws of the original presented more of an opportunity than a grim challenge for the screenplay writer, Nick Dear, a BAFTA winner whose CV includes a version of Jane Austen's Persuasion. I can think of a number of Christie books that have been ruined by over-the-top adaptatons in the past few years, but Dear did a good job with this "cold case" mystery, inventing liberally to compensate for a lack of dramatic material in the book.
As with a number of other televised Christies, the action was shifted to the between the wars period that seems well suited to puzzle stories of this kind, even when they were written much later. Wanamaker was, as usual, great fun in her zestful efforts to establish the truth about the apparent murder and suicide of the parents of Celia Ravenscroft (well played by Vanessa Kirby, who was equally good in Kate Mosse's Labyrinth). It was a shock to see the super-glamorous Greta Scacchi playing the part of an ageing battleaxe, but like the rest of the cast, she was excellent.
People who don't like Agatha Christie point to flaws in characterisation and wildly unlikely plot devices, and Elephants Can Remember is a book which suffers from these weaknesses. But this lavishly produced TV version showed that sympathetic adaptation can work wonders with unsatisfactory source material. The result was decent Sunday evening entertainment, and certainly the screenplay is better than the book. But it's only fair to add that Christie cannot sensibly be judged by her last few novels. Her reputation is built on those ingenious classic mysteries she wrote long before her powers declined, and could hardly be more secure.