Magpie Murders review: How does BritBox series compare to novel?
The best-seller has been given the TV treatment.
By: Christopher Connor
Anthony Horowitz has been a staple of both British television and literature for more than 20 years, with the Alex Rider novels and the subsequent Amazon Prime Video series, plus his TV work on Agatha Christie's Poirot, Foyle's War and Midsomer Murders being his most notable contributions.
Horowitz has since turned his attention to adapting his 2016 novel Magpie Murders for the small screen. It is a whodunnit with an ingenious concept: two stories in one. The first is set in the modern day and charts the death of novelist Alan Conway, and the second is Magpie Murders itself, the book that Alan was writing, which is set in the 1950s and centres on detective Atticus Pünd.
The novel and its sequel Moonflower Murders are heavily influenced by Agatha Christie, with clear nods to Miss Marple, as well as Pünd resembling Hercule Poirot.
Lesley Manville stars as editor Susan Ryeland, who sets out to investigate Alan's death, the answer to which is contained in the final chapter of his book, which is missing.
Daniel Mays (Line of Duty, Code 404), Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones, Dublin Murders), Tim McMullan (Foyle's War, Doctor Thorne) and Claire Rushbrook (My Mad Fat Diary, Temple) also feature, among others.
Several stylistic and narrative alterations set the series apart from the original source material. One of the most obvious changes is evident in how the two narratives are structured. In the novel, the first section is the fictional Magpie Murders followed by Susan’s story, before wrapping up with the remnants of the novel.
But that approach would likely have left viewers scratching their heads. In the BritBox version, the two threads are interwoven with Susan's inquiries regarding Alan's death, which run alongside Atticus Pünd’s own inquiry into the death of Sir Magnus Pye.
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The role of Alan is significantly expanded in the series. He gives his own take on events that, in the novel, would often be explored from Susan’s perspective given that it's written in the first person. Conway is a recurring presence, with each episode opening with segments from his work, in turn giving the audience a sense of his quirks and mannerisms.
Conway, who was known for being a rather unfriendly chap, enjoyed incorporating people that he met in real life into his writing, but he would characterise them in ways that are far from flattering. As a nod to that, the fictional figures that pepper the '50s storyline are portrayed by the same actors from the modern-day setting.
Another interesting addition from the novel is Susan's visions of the fictional detective Atticus, who she interacts with while looking into his creator’s murder. These encounters help drive Susan to uncover small details she may otherwise have missed and begin to make sense of what occurred.
It feels organic and is in keeping with the spirit of the original series, and it also allows the various strands to overlap in a cohesive manner. Far from being distracting, these interludes are short and infrequent enough to maintain the pace of the story, while also adding a slightly fantastical element to proceedings.
Several subplots have been added, including one which centres on Susan's long-term partner Andreas and his potential involvement in Alan's death, which intensifies her desire to uncover what happened to Alan. And that also helps expand the role that Andreas has in the novel.
Magpie Murders does a fine job exploring the novel's dual storylines and incorporating the various twists and turns in the deaths of Magnus and Alan. The story within a story structure could have become far too convoluted for viewers to follow, but it's well-managed, with the two narratives existing harmoniously.
The general story remains intact, albeit with some slight changes such as the age difference between the character of Susan in Horowitz's novel and Manville. The more meaningful changes, namely the order in which the two stories play out and expanded roles for certain characters, don’t rob the series of its surprises and for the most part, help to further expand the real and fictional worlds.
Should the series elicit a similar response to that achieved by the novel, it's only a matter of time before the subsequent novels get the TV treatment.
Magpie Murders is available to stream now on BritBox. If you’re looking for something else to watch tonight, check out our TV Guide and keep up to date with all of the latest news over at our Drama hub.
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