Agatha Christie on the Big and Small Screen
Even though Dame Agatha may not have enjoyed adaptations of her mysteries, audiences have been loving them for decades
- By Daniel Eagan
- Smithsonian.com, May 16, 2011
(Mary Evans / EMI Films / Ronald Grant / Everett Collection)
Christie was so disappointed by earlier film versions of her books that producer John Brabourne had to enlist the support of his father-in-law—and Christie acquaintance—Lord Louis Mountbatten to obtain the screen rights to this 1934 novel. Brabourne and his partner Richard Goodwin promised a first-class production, and they delivered with one of the most expensive British films of its day. Albert Finney gave an idiosyncratic turn as Hercule Poirot, a portrayal that required body padding, prosthetics for his cheeks and a false nose. Christie still complained: “It was very well made except for one mistake I cannot find in my heart to forgive,” she wrote, referring to his mustache. Among the stellar cast was an Oscar-winning performance by Ingrid Bergman as a Swedish missionary. Director Sidney Lumet took on the project because “I wanted to have fun,” but he added a lustrous style and touches like an intricate opening montage of a kidnapping that had been missing from previous Christie films. “Network would never have been as good as it was if I hadn’t done Murder on the Orient Express,” he admitted. Queen Elizabeth, a huge Christie fan, attended the film’s première. A post-screening party for Christie at the luxury hotel Claridge’s proved to be the author’s last major public event. Brabourne and Goodwin would produce two more all-star mysteries with Peter Ustinov as Poirot.