A “newish” Agatha Christie…plus a golden oldie

There was, of course, no doubt: I had to watch the 2018 BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence, even though I hadn’t (and still haven’t) read the original.

The movie is adapted from a 1958 novel, one of Christie’s late works, written when she was 68 and wanting to write a different sort of mystery, even as she was beginning to fade. She had always been a master of setting and especially plot; both of these strengths are evident in the movie version of Ordeal by Innocence. But she was never good at writing three-dimensional characters. So it’s not surprising that the characters are 2-D at best. But that’s not the only flaw: Christie was also exploring the psychological novel, which also was not in her skill set. So the ledger is balanced, in a sense, with setting and plot being positives, characterization and psychology being negatives.

Basically, this is about a highly dysfunctional family. If every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, then this one is focused on the parents’ decision to adopt five children at different times and from different places. There is, of course, a twist…

At least the father is an Egyptologist—no surprise for Christie, but relevant for the plot. Anyway, I’m glad I watched it, but don’t bother unless you are a Christie completist.

So, after my “meh” response to Ordeal by Innocence, and thinking about Egyptology, I just had to rewatch the all-star-cast 1978 movie of Death on the Nile, which featured Peter Ustinov, Angela Lansbury, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, David Niven, and Maggie Smith, among others. That was lighter and much more satisfying, emphasizing Christie’s strengths and not playing into her weaknesses. My only complaint is that Ustinov doesn’t look the least bit like Hercule Poirot, who, as everyone knows, actually looks like David Suchet. And this movie contains one of my favorite lines (spoken to, not by, Poirot): “I do wish you would speak some known language.”

Categories: Books, Movies & (occasionally) TV