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A Poirot for our times

Sarah Phelps is the writer of The ABC Murders. This TV drama starring John Malkovitch is the BBC’s newest interpretation of the character Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective created by Agatha Christie. Here she is – Ms Phelps, not Mrs Christie – talking about her creation:

“For a long time Britain was caught up in the wave of righteous sentimentality and sympathy for poor little plucky Belgium. Then the times start to pinch. It’s the Thirties. There’s less to go around. People start to be cruel. They want someone to blame and it’s really easy to blame the people who arrived. So he’s being scrutinised now. People are asking questions. ‘You make us look like halfwits and you’ve got a foreign accent.’ English police for English crimes.”

Are there parallels with Brexit Britain? Of course there are.

“I really wanted to think about who we were in that decade and who we are right now. How have we gone from the optimism, the look-at-us-we’re-brilliant spirit of 2012, from celebrating this glorious, inclusive, generous country, to suddenly this place? How quickly something toxic can take hold! When we talk of the nationalism roaring across Europe in the Thirties, we forgive ourselves and think, ‘Well, that never happened here.’ It did, and the language was very much the same as the language that has been developing in our politics over the last four or five years.”

It will indeed be a Poirot for the second half of 2018 and the first three months of 2019.

15 comments to A Poirot for our times

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Hmmm. I prefer the Suchet version of Poirot.

  • Umbriel

    Well, it doesn’t sound like the Poirot character will be much different. They’ll just be portraying him as too good for nasty, xenophobic Britain.

  • john in cheshire

    Does the far-left bbc collective have a viewing audience large enough to matter, any more?
    Is it possible, that while they keep broadcasting their lefty crap no one is actually watching it?

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    john in cheshire asks, “Does the far-left bbc collective have a viewing audience large enough to matter, any more?”

    Yes, unfortunately. Although it is slipping a little the BBC dominates the news market in particular. That link is from 2015 but I don’t think it has changed much since. However Netflix and Amazon are eating into the BBC’s audience for drama, and YouTube is increasingly giving the BBC stiff competition for the children’s market.

    However I think the BBC might have slipped up a little by allowing Sarah Phelps to speak quite so frankly about her political motives for re-writing Poirot. My guess is that the audience for Agatha Christie skews towards Leave quite strongly. The most recommended comment to the Times piece was by someone calling themselves “Sir Talbot Buxomley” who said,

    So the BBC is even co-opting cosy old Agatha Christie into its right-on political narrative. Well that’s something else I won’t be watching over Christmas. I want to be entertained, not lectured.

    With the exception of Radio 3 and, very occasionally, Radio 4, the BBC has completely disappeared up itself with its “woke” agenda. The sooner it becomes a subscription only channel like Netflix, the better. Then, at least, I’ll be able to opt out.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Whodunnits were the last bastion of good TV drama so they had to wreck them as well. Mind you the rot set in with ITV’s – yes, ITV’s – Marple. Unwatchable.

  • Mr Ecks

    Not merely cockrot does the woman talk but CONCENTRATED cockrot.

    First off there were very few Belgian refugees in 1930s Britain. That is because they were REAL refugees not fake refugees who are mainly third world detritus imported to vote for socialism and replace the native population. As genuine refugees they went home to Belgium after the war to rebuild their country. There were very few left to be “resented” as the stupid , lying Marxist cow tries to claim. Does she imagine that the British–even in fiction–were stupid enough to think Hercule Poirot (and a tiny handful of others who stayed here) were responsible for the Great Depression’s effects on the UK?

    This is far from the first Agatha Christie ruined by the Marxist pukes at the BBC.

  • morpork

    As Jonathon says above, ITV more or less sewed up the AC catalogue, particularly with Suchet as the most Poirotish (Poirotesque?) of Poirots. It’s hard to think of anyone else in the role (Albert Finney made a very decent stab at it in the film Murder on the Orient Express; Peter Ustinov less so in other films).
    But the point is that Christie made the anti-foreigner prejudice of some little-Englanders quite explicit in her books, and this was generally faithfully reproduced in the ITV series. It’s hard to work out
    what’s new that Sarah Phelps thinks she’s bringing to the party. It’s already there.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)


    Yes, if I recall correctly in almost the last scene of the book of The ABC Murders the captured murderer calls Poirot a “jackanapes of a foreigner” or something like that, and gets a magnificent rebuke from Poirot in reply. Though I don’t think I could be bothered to sit through three hour-long episodes of the Remainer TV version, I might well tune in at the end to see how they handle that scene.

  • Flubber

    The BBC loathes the British far more than their imaginary British loathe foreigners…

  • Alton Benes

    But such a strange choice of Poirot for the BBC to hire, given the type of politically – how shall I put it? – committed drama Sarah Phelps chalks up to the public tab. Google “John Malkovich Mark Steyn” and you get some truly eye-popping results.

    Spoiler alert: I do recall JM being name-checked favourably in MS’s stuff back in the day, which about an internationally famous stage and screen actor was pretty remarkable. It suggested that even Big Hollywood recruited on who was right for the part, rather than which way the actor voted.

    So, has Malkovich recanted his former views? Does he now love Big Brother? Or has some staffer at the BBC not done their due diligence on actors’ general suitability for getting work with the BBC?

  • Horace Dunn

    morpork: Surely the adjective, rather than “Poirotish” or “Poirotesque”, ought to be “Herculean”.

    I’ve often wondered why programme- and film-makers of a leftie persuasion are so drawn to writers who don’t share their world-view. If you want to make a left-wing programme, why start with Agatha Christie? Why not just write a lefty tv play and have done with it?

    I remember some years ago seeing an adaptation of “The Browning Version” (which starred the upthread-mentioned Albert Finney) which had clumsily strapped-on lefty sentiments. And one had to ask: if you want to make a film with a left-wing message, why would you start with Rattigan?

    Similarly, I’ve recently seen “Mowgli”, Andy Serkis’s take on the “Jungle Books” which leaves out Kipling’s poetry and wisdom and turns the narrative into a whiney essay on inclusion and diversity. It also invents an English villain (so that Indians aren’t shown in a bad light) whom they name Lockwood, presumably with reference to Rudyard’s father. Silly twats. The film by the way is a remarkable technical achievement, but nonetheless dreary and unengaging.

  • Paul Marks

    Translation of the ramblings of Sarah Phelps….

    “If you are in favour of the independence of the United Kingdom from the European Union then you are a Nazi from the 1930s”.

    That is what this person is saying – “toxic nationalism”, “it could not happen here” (a term people use about the rise of the National Socialists), and on and on.

    What a horrible person this women is.

    And the person does not seem to even know that whilst Poirot is a policeman in Belgium – he is a private detective (not a policeman) in the stories set in England.

    Nor were people “cruel” in 1930s Britain – indeed crime and so on were then at their low point, and most (most) people were kind and generous. People were welcomed, for example into the home of Alfred Roberts in Grantham, as INDVIDUALS – because they did not represent a body (such as the European Union) that wanted to RULE Britain.

    In short everything this woman says here is false – and it is motivated by vicious hatred of the British people. Exactly the emotion, vicious hatred, she is accusing others of being ruled by.

  • Mr Ecks

    Mr Dunn–Dinesh D’Souza has it.

    They are totalitarian scum. They want to control everything and infest everywhere.

    As he says–“Why bother with the NFL–Men running up and down a field? Or the Boy Scouts –boys tying knots and rambling? Because they want you as just one brainwashed cell incorporated into their collective body. No escape, no refuge from their Marxist bullshit.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    The Guardian reviewer loved the first ep, the Guardian commenters didn’t: “The ABC Murders review – John Malkovich’s suffering Poirot is magnificent”.

    Anyone watch it? What did you think? I might catch up with it sometime if the reviews are very good, or very bad.

  • Bloke on M4

    Natalie Solent,

    I didn’t see it but I read about the plot changes and they completely cocked it up. I mean, there’s things you can do with Christie, but DO NOT mess with the plots. The plots are what make the stories great.

    There’s a lot of people with abysmal and possibly pretentious taste out there. Make something awful that has a little bit of politics about Brexit and they’ll praise it to the skies.

    All of this is really just laziness by the BBC. Poirot was done very well before. There’s no point redoing it. They’re just making another version, with a Hollywood name because Christie is a known commodity. It’s like the endless remakes of Dickens and Austen. There’s dozens of detective novels from the 1930s that never had an adaptation, or were adapted poorly in the past.