Hercule Poirot, the moustachioed Belgian detective, is arguably Agatha Christie’s most famous character – but as Channel 5’s latest TV film reveals, the crime writer had a love-hate relationship with her fictional creation.
Agatha and the Midnight Murders – the third in Channel 5’s series of fictional films about the writer, and set during the 1940s London Blitz – sees Agatha (Helen Baxendale) attempt to discretely sell off an unpublished book manuscript in order to settle her debts. The unique selling point? The manuscript details Hercule Poirot’s death and last ever case.
The feature-length drama was inspired by Agatha Christie’s real-life antipathy towards Poirot. Like Arthur Conan Doyle and his famous hero Sherlock Holmes (whom he tried to kill off), Christie had come to resent her “cash cow” creation.
“Yes, she [Christie] really didn’t like him [Poirot] – she didn’t like specifically aspects of his personality,” revealed screenwriter Tom Dalton in an exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com. “You know, there were clearly things about this personality that she had created which really wound her up. He was petty and sort of egotistical – these things that make Poirot the great character he is. Because that’s the thing: what makes him such a good character are at the same time the things she really didn’t like about him.”
He continued, “It is a fascinating relationship in that she was writing someone that she actively didn’t like, and that she was still the able to do that in a way that captivated an audience, and I think that’s because that process was absolutely part of making Poirot who he was.”
Dalton was inspired by the legend surrounding Agatha Christie’s book ‘Curtain’, in which the writer finally killed off Poirot. The book was locked away in a vault for 30 years prior to its eventual 1975 publication – and Midnight Murders presents a fictional explanation as to why the book was locked away, when Christie was so obviously tempted to kill off Poirot as early as the 1940s.
Christie wanted to write “other characters, other settings within the mystery world,” explained Dalton, “but here’s Poirot just paying her bills over and over again, and I think this was part of the starting point for Midnight Murders, because she – in the previous eight years or so, she had written 10, 11 Poirot novels, it’s a huge volume of work about one man. And so she was fed up with him, and crucially… she had made the decision to kill him off.”
He continued, “Very little is known about the reality as it were… But it was clear that this intention [to kill off Poirot] was there, so for us it was a question of, ‘Why choose not to publish that book?’.
“The easy interpretation is just, well, pressure from publishers, financial, all of the things that make for a very good reason why you shouldn’t kill off the thing that’s making you the money.
“But for us, we felt like, this is a fascinating point for our story, and what plans has she actually got, and how did it come to pass that she didn’t kill Poirot? She had the the intention, but she didn’t, and that’s really what our story is about.”
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.