Agatha and the Midnight Murders, Channel 5’s third feature-length drama about the life of Agatha Christie, tells the fictional story of a wartime air raid in 1940s London.
Agatha (Helen Baxendale) gets caught up in the air raid while trying to secretly sell off an unpublished manuscript to a private collector, in order to settle her debts. The film was inspired by the real-life story behind Christie’s book Curtain, in which she killed off her famous creation Hercule Poirot. However, while the book really was written in the 1940s, it wasn’t published until 30 years later.
Speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com, screenwriter Tom Dalton (who has penned all three ‘Agatha’ films for Channel 5) has broken down some of the real-life Agatha Christie Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the fictional tale of Agatha and the Midnight Murders.
Was Agatha Christie a teetotaller?
In Agatha and the Midnight Murders, crime writer Agatha Christie declines when offered a nip of whiskey (even when the air raid sirens sound), revealing that she’s a teetotaller – a detail that was apparently based on real-life.
Speaking to RadioTimes.com, Tom Dalton said, “Agatha Christie – the fact that she’s a teetotaller is kind of a nice reality, she was. And obviously this plays a part [in the drama]”.
Agatha Christie thought Arthur Conan Doyle was the better writer
A very modest Agatha tells prospective buyer Frankie (Thomas Chaanhing) that she believes that she’s not as talented as her fellow crime writer Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes – an admission that Frankie scoffs at. But did the real Agatha Christie believe Conan Doyle to be the superior writer?
“We found somebody saying that [that she thought Conan Doyle was the better writer]. It’s one of those things where it’s sort of heresay, but it’s quite nice. We never found a quote from her saying that, but yeah. We found hearsay,” revealed Dalton.
“This sort of is something we found a while ago, but Conan Doyle has played a part in all three [Channel 5 ‘Agatha’] films, albeit very, very small, he was just referenced, but he’s been there as a presence across the films, which I quite like. “
The character Malcolm Campbell was a real person
In Agatha and the Midnight Murders, the adventurous military man Malcolm Campbell is played by Alistair Petrie (the strict headmaster in Sex Education). However, the character was inspired by the real life Campbell.
Tom Dalton said: “The character of Malcolm Campbell, he’s a real person. Land speed record holder, father of Donald Campbell, and he really did have the job of evacuating the royal family in the event of an invasion [during World War II]. He’s a great character.”
Is the wartime Hitler song real?
What’s the best thing to boost morale during an air raid? A good singalong, of course. In Agatha and the Midnight Murders, grifter Travis (Blake Harrison) tries to brighten the mood (and cheer Agatha up) by singing the bawdy World War II British song “Hitler Has Only Got One Ball”.
“Interestingly, most people know the truncated version, but that’s the full version,” Dalton said of the version Travis sings. “That’s the full version of the song that was sung. It’s a bit of British propaganda, it was created as a bit of propaganda, and it really, really worked…This was something that really permeated the allied troops.”
Did Agatha Christie have financial difficulties?
The entire premise of Agatha and the Midnight Murders is based on Agatha’s financial difficulties, and the lengths at which she needs to go to earn some money – even if it means killing off her cash cow creation Hercule Poirot, and selling the manuscript to a private collector. But was Christie really struggling financially in the 1940s?
“When Agatha talks about her perilous financial situation, that is all true, so that’s something that is again a very important starting point for this story,” Dalton said. “She was in financial difficulty because… the Americans stopped paying royalties at the beginning of the year, and this is a big deal if you think about it. Yes, you’re a very well known and bestselling author, but you think of the American market compared to the UK market, it’s just much much bigger. So to suddenly have that revenue stream shut off was really quite serious.
“Likewise, she was under investigation by both the US and UK tax authorities. So if this idea of her being in financial distress is, as far as we can ascertain, a reality, that’s – it’s a big one for us, because it talks to her reasons for why she’s doing what she’s doing.”
Which book kills off Hercule Poirot?
In the drama, Agatha attempts to sell her new, unpublished manuscript, in which her character Hercule Poirot is killed off. In real life, Christie did kill off Hercule Poirot sometime during the early 1940s – but the book manuscript was allegedly locked in a vault for 30 years prior to its eventual publication, under the title ‘Curtain’.
Curtain is the book Agatha refers to in the drama – but it has a different title on-screen.
Dalton said,”At one point, the characters ask her about the book that she’s writing, and she says it’s about someone who thinks they can get away with murder. Now this is obviously a reference to Curtains, so this is the book that she’s written, and in that novel the murderer is known as X… and [in] the film – the manuscript [that Agatha tries to sell] in the film, as its title, it’s called ‘The Death of X’. And so you’ll see that in the film, and originally the title of this film was actually Agatha and the Death of X.”
Did Agatha Christie see a ghost?
At one point during Agatha and the Midnight Murders, one of the guests, Grace (Gina Bramhill), reveals that she once saw a ghostly head of a Japanese woman floating towards her – but, according to Dalton, in reality it was Agatha Christie herself who allegedly saw such a ghost.
He explained: “At one point they’re discussing ghosts, and [the character Grace] says that she once saw a head of a Japanese woman floating towards [her] – so this is, again it’s a bit of hearsay, but this is something we found as being a quote from Agatha Christie. The proof of it was tenuous, but it was really so bizarre that I believed it straight away… The real Agatha Christie was quoted as having said this when asked whether she’d ever seen a ghost.”
Agatha and the Midnight Murders airs Wednesday 7th October 2020 at 9pm on Channel 5. Check out what else is on with our TV Guide, or take a look at our new TV shows 2020 page to find out what’s airing this autumn and beyond.