THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD
This is, hands down, the worst TV adaptation of any Poirot novel. Ever.
Adding insult to injury, this is justifiably one of Christie’s most famous books. The ingenious solution caused a sensation, which, coupled with her well publicized disappearance, catapulted her from being just one more name on a green paperback Penguin to an instant celebrity. Her fame would last for the rest of her career. Over the next thirty years, her powers as a literary conjurer were at their highest. Sad, then, that what ought to be one of the very best episodes of Poirot should show so little appreciation of not only why this book is so enjoyable, but also so important to the canon of crime fiction.
No spoilers. Here are just some of the mistakes the TV adaptation is guilty of:
1. The episode opens with a flash-forward of Poirot reading from the murderer’s confessional. Throughout the course of the episode, the confessional refers to several other characters – thus ruling them out as the murderer, greatly reducing the number of potential suspects.
2. The tone of the murderer’s confessional is all wrong. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd can be read as a brilliant literary trick, a deceptively dark morality tale, or a quintessentially English village mystery, but is emphatically NOT about a hell-bent sociopath.
3. The adaptation could, by all means, have played more with the backstory of a lonely widower and his guilt-ridden mistress, who has murdered for the sake of his love – there is a great pathos to the story which Christie deals with briskly before getting down to the all-important matters of iron-clad alibis and plentiful red herrings. But to throw in another murder halfway through – and one so clumsily committed – is crude and unnecessary.
4. The ending. Oh. My. God. The ending. During this period of Poirot, the script writers all seem to think that what Christie fans really need is a good chase scene. No. No, we don’t. We want witty dialogue, puzzling clues, and tumultuous relationships torn apart by murder while all concerned try to keep a stiff upper lip. What we really, really don’t want is Hercule Poirot behaving like Philip Marlowe, dodging bullets in a factory.
5. What a waste of an incredible cast, most especially Jamie Bamber as Ralph Paton, and Selina Cadell as Caroline Sheppard (a wonderful character, disgracefully underused for most of the TV episode, and disgracefully misrepresented in the endgame).
Is there room for a witty and knowing update of this well known murder mystery? Of course – perhaps even one that plays with the dramatic reveal of whodunit – but a faithful adaptation would have been much more satisfying. Unforgivably, this has all the dramatic satisfaction of a Tesco Cheese & Tomato Sandwich.
Next Up: LORD EDGWARE DIES