Sarah Phelps may have enthralled audiences with three Agatha Christie murder mysteries in recent years, but to many purists the writer has committed a heinous real-life crime: breaking from the Queen of Crime’s original plots.
Not only did The ABC Murders writer change the killer’s identity in Ordeal By Innocence, but Phelps’ inclusion of sex, swearing, savagery and drug taking in the adaptations of And Then There Were None and The Witness for the Prosecution attracted outrage in some areas of the press.
However, Phelps herself says she doesn’t take criticism of her changes too seriously. “I just think people have got column inches to fill,” she told RadioTimes.com and others at a screening of The ABC Murders.
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“A lot of it feels like manufactured outrage. Seriously, if you’re going to work yourself up into a frothing lather about a television drama, just go and watch BBC Parliament for a couple of minutes. That’ll give you a sense of perspective about what to be really pissed off about!”
Furthermore, Phelps suggested Christie would have added more salacious scenes to her stories if they had been written in a later era: “She might not have written any sex or swearing and drug taking and whatever, but I’m sure she would have it if she could.
“She was a dispensing chemist! She was a VAD from the beginning of the First World War to the end. There was a woman who knew the difference to life and death that a grain of morphine can make.
“Don’t tell me this woman was a stranger to controversy and that she’s a stranger to blood and guts and a stranger to all the strange complex weirdness that makes up human motivation and human behaviour. She knows.”
Of course, despite some negative headlines, Phelps’s changes have been welcomed by many Agatha Christie fans – including her great-grandson James Prichard. “I’ve learned a lot about my great-grandmother’s work from Sarah. I now read it differently,” he said, sitting next to Phelps at the screening.
“You cannot just translate a book and put it up on screen. To change the medium you need to change things in the script.”
He added: “You are also creating three hours of television from not a particularly long novel. That takes some doing. What Sarah does is take small things and expands them and makes them fascinating and that’s an incredible talent.”
Well, that’s certainly something for our little grey cells to mull over.
The ABC Murders will air over three consecutive nights at 9pm on BBC1 this Christmas, starting on Boxing Day (Wednesday 26th December)