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Home News Murder on the prurient excess ... TV's Agatha Christie crime

Murder on the prurient excess … TV’s Agatha Christie crime

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FOR her fans, it sounded like the crème de la crime … an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, starring Agatha Christie.

Channel 5’s fictionalised drama about the author, Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar – shown on Sunday – was set around an archaeological dig in Iraq in 1928. Enter our heroine, newly-divorced and looking for inspiration for her novels.

Pretty soon she had it in spades, encountering murder and mayhem, but also finding romance with her soon-to-be second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan.

However, television reviewer Michael Hogan said the storyline was ‘a neat and jolly enough premise but sadly, the ideas were superior to their execution. Christie’s plotting is precision-tooled and this pastiche felt like a pale imitation’. 

He added that in the absence of owning the rights to Christie’s works, ‘Channel 5 have a lucrative little production line of these fictionalised biographical dramas by writer Tom Dalton’ – and ‘there’s gold in that there Agatha’.

However, the drama ‘played fast and loose with history. The script’s swearing and more racy scenes – notably the Carry On-style antics of a sexually voracious expat couple and Christie initiating congress in the catacombs felt gratuitously crowbarred in to spice things up for contemporary audiences’.

And yet ‘contemporary audiences’ seem happy to watch adaptations of her works that are not ‘spiced up’ in ways suggesting that the writer and producers are more influenced by their own less-exalted tastes in entertainment than the works of the woman they are mining for ‘gold’.

Agatha Christie was not called ‘the Queen of Crime’ for nothing. But, as with other British literary geniuses, the mystery is why so many people in the world of dramatic art seem bored by her brilliance.

They seem to see her enduring popularity not as an indication that they are dealing with a classic, which deserves careful and respectful handling, but as a sign of the stupidity of mainstream public opinion.

In love with their own supposedly superior imagination, which seems to be ignited only by obscenity and graphic sex, and unable to follow the clues of popular tastes, they would not know an original idea if it crept up behind them in the library with a lead pipe.

If Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar is still doing the rounds in 2029, it would be more surprising than an Agatha Christie denouement. But the would-be murderers know who they are, and public opinion will be their judge.

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Ann Farmer
Ann Farmer
Ann Farmer is the author of By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Movement (Catholic University of America, 2008).

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