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Was the BBC right to change the ending of Ordeal by Innocence?

Rachel Argyll's killer has been revealed in the BBC's Agatha Christie adaptation [SPOILERS]

Ordeal by Innocence
Published: Wednesday, 30th May 2018 at 11:37 am

A twist on top of a twist! The double murderer in Ordeal by Innocence has been revealed... and it's not the same person as in the Agatha Christie novel.


In the 1958 novel, housekeeper Kirsten Lindstrom is revealed as our killer: she murdered Rachel Agyll on behalf of Rachel's adopted son Jack Argyll, and then bumped off Philip Durrant (and stabbed Tina Argyll) in an attempt to keep the secret.

But Sarah Phelps' BBC1 TV adaptation takes a new direction. Instead, it's Leo Argyll (played by Bill Nighy) who killed his wife, and framed his adopted son/secret biological lovechild Jack Argyll (Anthony Boyle) for the murder. And it is Leo who staged inquisitive Philip's suicide.

But was it the right decision to change the ending? Take a look at our arguments for and against...

Vote YES! Why it was a GOOD idea to change the ending

Ordeal by Innocence

The whole point of a whodunnit is to keep you guessing until the very end. So what do you do when millions of viewers already know the solution to the puzzle, from the book and the play and the film and the TV show and the radio adaptation? How do you make a familiar story into a mystery?

The answer: you tinker with the puzzle and you change the solution.

This way, viewers familiar with Agatha Christie's novel and her original ending have a chance to be surprised – and those who don't know the ending lose absolutely nothing. It's a win-win situation.

And the ending Phelps gives us is incredibly satisfying. It makes sense for Leo to be the culprit! He had the motive (the threat of divorce and the affair with the secretary). He had the opportunity. And the idea that Jack was his unwelcome secret lovechild – with Kirsten! – adds a new dimension to the story.

Also, at the risk of angering the Christie fans, one could say that the original ending is a slight cop-out. In the book, "faithful" servant Kirsten is the outsider in the family, so the revelation that she's guilty is less painful to the Argylls; and Jack isn't so innocent after all, so his imprisonment and death seems less of a tragedy. Everyone is pretty relieved and the whole story resolves neatly.

But in this version, the fact that Leo is the killer and Jack was utterly innocent has WAY bigger implications: specifically, the head of the family is cornered and captured by his angry kids and locked up in a nuclear bunker. So satisfying!

Vote NO! Why it was a BAD idea to change the ending

Jack in Ordeal by Innocence

Simply put: the solution to the murder is the fundamental part of any Agatha Christie story!

This story belongs to Christie – and once you tinker with the narrative to this extent, you might as well have written something entirely new. Giving us a different ending and a different murderer means changing so much else about the story and the characters. Why adapt a classic if you're going to make such key changes?

It also means doing away with the cleverness of the original twist: the idea that our innocent man wasn't quite so innocent after all, because he manipulated the middle-aged housekeeper (and his former nurse) into carrying out the murder on his behalf.

And it means getting rid of the "plan gone wrong" element: Dr Arthur Calgary, our protagonist, was meant to unwittingly provide Jack with the perfect alibi – but events intervened to stop him from coming forward. How perfect that it should be Calgary who returned to find out the truth?

So much has been lost from the original novel in this TV adaptation. And it's not right.


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