Christie novel ending altered


All scriptwriters take an artistic licence when adapting novels for the screen but Sarah Phelps has caused outrage among some viewers by changing the identity of the killer in Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence.
Six million viewers tuned in when this highly anticipated BBC TV drama began transmission on April 1 with the second part due to go out on Sunday, April 8, and the finale on April 15.
The hostile reaction of viewers was summed up by the Mail on Sunday: “Ordeal by impertinence! Agatha Christie purists up in arms as the BBC changes the killer in Ordeal by Innocence – so who could the culprit be?”
“This is about as wrong as changing the killer of the king in Hamlet to Hamlet himself,” was one reaction.
“What an arrogant person this ‘writer’ must be,” was another. “Will make a note never to read one of her books – that is, of course, if one is ever published.”
An angry viewer had this advice for Phelps: “If you don’t want to do the Christie story, write one of your own. If you are doing the Christie story, and advertising it as such, then have the integrity to do the proper story.”
This does raise a fundamental question: how far can a novel, especially a well known one, be changed?
It is generally accepted that in a long novel, large chunks have be to cut out or several characters merged into one. But changing the ending of a novel which the “Queen of Crime” considered one of her favourites is more troubling.
The news that the ending had been changed came from Phelps herself who delighted in admitting: “To the horror of Agatha Christie devotees I have changed the ending. I don’t give a b******s about people saying it has to be pure.”
She revealed that she had sought and obtained the legal clearance she needed to make the changes from Agatha Christie’s estate.
In Christie’s original novel, published in 1958, Rachel Aryle, a wealthy woman, who cannot have children of her own, fills her home with dysfunctional adopted children, one of whom, Jacko Argyle, is convicted and dies in prison for her murder. But a witness comes forward to provide an alibi that Jacko had been innocent all along.
In the adaptation, which has been well received by critics, Rachel Argyll (the surname has been changed) is played by Anna Chancellor, while the others characters -and suspects – include her husband, Leo Argyll (Bill Nighy), who is about to marry a younger woman Gwenda Vaughan (Alice Eve).
Jack Argyll (Anthony Boyle) is convicted of the murder, while the alibi is provided by Arthur Calgary (Luke Treadway). Then there are Rachel’s daughters, Mary Durrant (Eleanor Tomlinson) and her husband Philip Durrant (Matthew Goode); Hester Argyll (Ella Purnell); Tina Argyll (Crystal Clarke); son Mickey Argyll (Christian Cooke); and the housekeeper Kirsten Lindstrom (Morven Christie).
The BBC had to reshoot the drama at considerable expense last year when Ed Westwick, originally cast as Mickey Argyll, was dropped when he was accused of sexual assault.
“I took this idea of this f**ked up family and thought about the 1950s and to the horror of devotees, I’ve changed the ending. I’ve changed quite a lot…. But I think I’ve represented the spirit of the novel,” Phelps said.
Agatha Christie’s biographer, Laura Thompson, expressed her reservations: “Changing the identity of the murderer, however good, for publicity, is a bit much.”
Agatha was shrewder than she is often given credit for and there’s a lot of sophistication and subtlety in the original solution….This new version is having it both ways, really: creating the story that the writer wants to tell, but attaching Agatha’s box-office name to it.”
However, Christie expert Dr Jamie Bernthal-Hooker, argued that the changes could bring the original work to a whole new audience. “It’s a new way of interpreting the stories, which will encourage a lot of people who’ve never read Agatha Christie to have a look at her books. These adaptations recognise her as the mother of modern psychological crime fiction.”