Tuesday 15 September 2009

Murder is Over-Complicated

The second episode of Marple saw a version of Murder is Easy, which was one of the first Agatha Christies I ever read, at a very tender age. I absolutely loved the story at the time, marvelling at the cleverness of the plot, and I still think it’s a really good whodunit, featuring an English village with a body count to rival Midsomer. The book doesn’t feature Jane Marple, as the detecting is done by Luke Fitzwilliam, but I very much enjoyed the first part of the tv episode, in which Fitzwilliam acts in effect as Miss Marple’s foil.

My enjoyment was enhanced by a splendid cast, with actors as likeable as Tim Brooke-Taylor, and as admirable as Sylvia Sims, taking relatively minor parts, as victims bumped off before anyone realises that a homicidal maniac is at work. The screenplay by Stephen Churchett had a number of neat touches, and Churchett himself appeared, as a coroner in a scene that didn’t really have a great deal of legal realism about it, although frankly that is par for the course with inquests in television shows.

Unfortunately, by the time we were about two-thirds in, the story began to falter alarmingly. I blame the fact that the writer had been asked to provide a script lasting for two hours rather than ninety minutes (back to a theme of yesterday!) So, to expand an already elaborate mystery, we had a young man with learning difficulties taught about sex with disastrous consequences, including incest, rape, abortion and murder. Needless to say, none of this bore any relationship to Christie’s original plot.

I think that if you want to improve on Christie’s plots when adapting her work, you have to be extremely good at plotting, and my feeling was that the whole edifice collapsed under the weight of its own implausibility. A pity, because again Julia McKenzie did well as Jane Marple - though I still can’t understand quite how she managed to insinuate herself into the heart of a strange community with such effortless ease and speed.


vegetableduck said...

Martin, I don't for the life of me understand the desire of these adapters to "improve" Christie's plotting by changing key events, motivations and even identities of the killers in some cases! What is the goal? Is it to make Christie more "relevant"? Is it to "spice things up"? I don't see how it can be to improve the plotting, because they almost invariably make things cluttered and implausible when they resort to changes in the actual murder plot elements.

Maybe in the case of Murder Is Easy, they changed it because there had been a previous American version? If that's so, it's too bad, because the 1982 version could easily have been improved with a faithful version.

Of course I know Miss Marple isn't even int he book, but her addition would not bother me so much if they showed respect for the puzzle plot, the backbone of a Christie novel.

I am frankly horrified the Christie estate agrees to this. The problem is a lot of people will watch the new adaptation and think that is what Christie actually wrote. They may never read the book. Christie was a great plotter, but they'll never know it from these adaptations! I think it's extremely distorting and I cannot imagine Christie ever would have approved of it.

If they want to change the stories to that extent, why not just write entirely new plots that don't purport to be actual Christie works, you know, "based on the characters of Agatha Christie," like they do with Midsomer Murders? To me the whole enterprise just seems shabby and dishonest. They seem to want to cash in on Christie's name without showing her work the basic respect a great author is due (and she was a great author within her genre).

Let me ask you, as a mystery novelist how would you feel if one of your novels were monkeyed with to that extent?

I'm not talking up absolute textual fidelity either. I recently watched the Poirot Cat Among the Pigeons, and I believe they made a number of alterations, which was fine with me (the basic plot structure, as I recall it, was left intact). Obviously there have to be some changes in adapting a novel to film. But for them to significantly rewrite novels like they've been doing with a number of Marples and even some of the Poirots sticks in my craw.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I was reading your post when I saw "sex with disastrous consequences, including incest, rape, abortion and murder" and was thinking, "Wait! I don't remember that in 'Murder Made Easy!'" Too funny. Clever title for your post, too.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Dorte H said...

A pity they couldn´t leave a good plot alone! Murder is Easy is a great novel.

Dean James said...

Spot on, Martin. It got really grand Guignol toward the end, amost laughably so. Some of the cast was wasted, I thought, on the goofiness. I like Julia McKenzie, having seen her on stage in London, but from what I've seen in Marple, she's far too bland.

Martin Edwards said...

Curt, I've often wondered how I'd react to having my books changed for tv, but sadly, it's not arisen in practice. Though I did stipulate in my first tv contract that Harry Devlin should not be killed off!

Martin Edwards said...

Curt, Elizabeth, Dorte and Dean - thanks, I think we have a consensus developing!

BooksPlease said...

Oh dear! I really dislike it when adapters change plots so radically.

How can this possibly be "Agatha Christie's Marple" when she isn't even in the book? And as for spicing it up - I'm speechless.

Oh well, why should I be surprised when this happens so often, but as vegetableduck says the problem is that people will think this is what Agatha Christie wrote!

I recently watched the TV version of Rankin's The Falls - again a complete mismash - nothing like the book.

Uriah Robinson said...

Martin vegetable duck was spot on with his/her comment. I posted about this a few days ago
http://bit.ly/4uvFi and still can't work why the Christie estate allowed this or even why it was done.

The writers obviously knew nothing about people with learning difficulties and this plot line was ridiculous.

Martin Edwards said...

BooksPlease and Uriah - I agree. It's all the more regrettable as I felt the episode got off to a really good start. I realise that some changes might be needed, but much of the extra material was off-beam, in my opinion.