Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog


with 2 comments

The trouble with Tuesdays is that I’m up, but I’m not up.  By the end of the week, I get tired at the end of the day.  On Mondays, the get-up-at-four-thirty thing is a shock.   On Tuesdays, I just want to go back to bed.

Instead of that, I’ve got this big cup of tea and the computer, and I’m very glad that I have most of my correcting done so that I don’t have to rush around and do it. 

Last Friday, I did it in the car, hoping to wait out the incredible rain.  It didn’t work.  Today there isn’t any rain, which is the good news.

The bad news is that I now have confirmation that I’ve got a right to be screamingly annoyed at the BBC people who do the David Suchet Poirots, and annoyed in a way that isn’t  just the usual bitch-because-they-changed-a-book-I like way.

The BBC production of Appointment with Death isn’t just bad, and it isn’t just inaccurate.  It isn’t even a production of Appointment with Death.

Let me backtrack a little here.

Back when I still had a VHS machine and a lot of cassettes, some of those cassettes were of the Peter Ustinov productions of various Poirot novels and the Margaret Rutherford productions of various Marple novels.

If you’ve never seen these, you might as well know that the big problem with them is the actor and actress who play the principle roles.  Peter Ustinov is as unlike Poirot as it’s possible to be, and Margaret Rutherford is so unlike Miss Marple that Christie–who was Rutherford’s close friend–complained about the casting choice.

You can’t say, either, that none of those productions ever changed anything about the books.  They changed a lot.  One  of the Margaret Rutherford productions is actually the Poirot After The Funeral just sort of dressed up for Miss Marple.  There was a fair amount of eliding this and dressing up that to make the stories more “dramatic,” and Rutherford’s actor-husband was brought in to play a sidekick the Miss Marple of the books never had.

But inaccurate on some points as those productions were, what they never did was take a book and rewrite it from scratch.

The BBC Appointment with Death not only does that, it does it badly.  

It takes a workmanlike Christie plot and turns it into an incoherent hash that makes so little sense, it’s hard to follow.

 And the worst of it is that, as far as I can make out, it does so for no particular reason.  It’s not a political thing.  No political points are made that I can see.  The changes do not make the story more dramatic.  They do not make the story more fair-play.  They don’t do anything except create a mess.

The Ustinov version of this same book, by the way, changes things in just one way.  In the book, you know that the murder victim has looked over the shoulder of person A and seen person B, but since the segment is from the point of view of person A, you don’t know who B is.  In the Ustinov murder, you’re given a shot over A’s shoulders, so that you do know who B is.

What that does is to make the story more fair play than Christie’s original.  Person B is the murderer, and that scene is the one in which the reader/viewer should be able to figure it out.

The kind of changes made in the BBC Appointment with Death are just bizarre.

In Christie’s original–and the Ustinov fairly accurate production–our murder victim is a gross, foul, evil older woman named Mrs. Boynton, once the wardress in a women’s prison, now playing wardress to her stepchildren. 

In fact, she’s got the whole lot of them terrorized, and in a bind.  It’s the Depression, after all.  There aren’t many jobs out there even for people who need them.  The Boyntons have a huge fortune, but Mr. Boynton left Mrs. Boynton with a life interest in the estate, so that she controls the money.  She’s used that control to make their lives utterly, unendingly miserable.

She’s a good character, Mrs. Boynton, one of Christie’s best.  And in the original story and the Ustinov production,  both her motives and the family dymanic they’ve created make perfect, if chilling, sense. If you still think Christie writes cozies, go look at Mrs. Boynton.

In the BBC production, Mrs. Boynton is just as foul as she ever was, but she has somehow become married to a British lord with little money and an obsessional hobby for archeology.  The British lord has a grown son from an earlier marriage, and is on top of it completely besotted with the old bat, who we are given to understand does not treat him the way she treats everybody else.

I have no idea what all these extra people are doing in the plot, and I don’t think the people who made this movie do either.  After marrying Mrs. Boynton off to a British Lord, they eliminated the actual lady married to a British Lord (Lady Westholme), who is also an American but now a British subject and an MP. 

They changed the murderer to one whose motive is fuzzy and not quite believable, added a subplot about finding the skeleton of John the Baptist, and I don’t know what else. 

The result is not just a travesty of Christie’s book, it’s a bad movie.  If this was the first of the David Suchet Poirots I’d seen, I’d never go back to see another.  If I hadn’t already read some Christie, I’d never read any.

It’s silly, I suppose, to bitch and scream about the way movies change books.  Every once in a while, though, a movie comes along that doesn’t just trash the book, but trashes itself.  And this is one of them.

Eck.  The whole thing has me so enormously annoyed, I barely know what I’m saying.

I’m going to go do something sensible.

Written by janeh

October 5th, 2010 at 5:59 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Hash'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Hash'.

  1. This reminds me of the version of ‘The Sittaford Mystery’ with Geraldine McEwen as Miss Marple (and no, Miss Marple wasn’t even in the original story).

    They also completely changed the mystery and its solution, which was supposed to hinge on the victim ‘speaking’ at a seance – in the adaptation, the victim was alive and well at the seance, which meant they needed to change just about everything else because the seance was essential to the killer’s fake alibi. It was a completely different, and not very good, mystery with a few distracting elements of the original mystery (like the seance) worked into the plot for no apparent reason.

    It gave me such as dislike of the series, which I didn’t like very much to begin with because of other, more minor deviations from the canon that I didn’t watch any more of the shows.


    5 Oct 10 at 6:53 am

  2. Inserting Miss Marple in a non-Marple story? Twice? Hmmm. This happened to Robert E. Howard. An “editor” took to inventing Conan stories by inserting him in other Howard fiction. For the movies, of course, they just ignored the author altogether. No Howard STORY has ever been filmed.

    For sheer incompetent movie-making arrogance, though, it’s hard to top the complete re-write of Tolkien’s TWO TOWERS. I shall not die of apoplexy. If it were possible, I would have done so when the wretched scriptwriter explained that Tolkien, the author of the best-selling fiction of the past century, would have written THE LORD OF THE RINGS differently if he’d only attended a writing seminar. I’ll just bet he would have.

    But always remember Faulkner. The story is told that an interviewer once mentioned “the terrible things Hollywood has done to your books.” Faulkner gestured at the shelf behind him, and said, “but Hollywood hasn’t done anything to my books: they’re all right here.”


    5 Oct 10 at 4:01 pm

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Bad Behavior has blocked 246 access attempts in the last 7 days.