As travel bans slammed down all over the world this year, my family and I escaped to 1930s England. Every evening, prodded by my bloodthirsty grandmother, we’d gather in the living room to watch murder mysteries based on the novels of Agatha Christie.
These were not the new Agatha Christie movies with star casts and clever subtexts. These were episodes made for television, mostly filmed in the 1990s and with rather poor production quality. When I was a child, they were precious contraband. Relatives flying in from Europe would bring them for us on crackly video tapes and I would wonder at all the excitement. Not much seemed to happen in an episode. A bunch of adults would sit around in a room quaffing liqueur and talking. Sometimes there was blood.
Watching them on online streaming platforms this year, I was glad of “certain certainties”. David Suchet is still Hercule Poirot, the egg-headed Belgian detective who drinks creme de menthe and says “mon ami” a lot. Miss Marple, the sleuth from St Mary’s Mead, is still twinkly. It all ends in a comfortable room where everything is explained and some people are shocked but it’s nothing that a sherry can’t cure.
My grandmother, who knows every Christie novel from cover to cover, kept up a trenchant critique of the televised versions. No, the old man did not hide his will in the original. This actress is completely unsuitable for the character. That romance subplot is forced. Of course, the murderer was – here she would be greeted by howls of protest from the rest of us.
But we also joined in, pointing out how the televised version departed from the book, pronouncing judgement on the plot, clicking our tongue at flaws in the production. I think we luxuriated in it. Fresh out of the second wave of Covid-19 in India, it seemed miraculous that so many people could care about the loss of one life or three.
Read all the articles in the Comfort zone series here.