The BBC keeps gunning for “different” with its newest Agatha Christie adaptations.
For an actor who cuts as iconic a silhouette as John Malkovich, we haven’t really seen very much of him lately. He’s had no shortage of work per se, having put out eight features in the last couple of years with four more to come in 2018 alone. He’s also always working with a variety of strong actors in films and shows that span a number of genres; action films, thrillers, and even romantic comedies are evidently within Malkovich’s ballpark. That said, truly memorable roles have been few and far between for him.
The BBC’s latest Agatha Christie adaptation may shift the spotlight onto Malkovich in a more notable way. According to Deadline, he has been announced to play one of the most recognizable detectives in fiction — Hercule Poirot — in a new take on Christie’s “The A.B.C. Murders.” The three-part drama series will also star Rupert Grint of Harry Potter fame, and an ensemble of supporting actors including Andrew Buchan (Broadchurch), Eamon Farren (Twin Peaks), Tara Fitzgerald (Game of Thrones), Bronwyn James (Harlots), and Freya Mavor (The Sense of an Ending).
“The A.B.C. Murders” is one of Christie’s most well-loved tales. Set in the 1930s, the tense and twisted murder mystery involves Poirot going up against an enemy only known as the A.B.C., who taunts the detective with mysterious letters alluding to murders that have yet to be committed. The A.B.C. then picks off their victims one by one in alphabetical order by name, and leaves a copy of the ABC Railway Guide at each crime scene as the sole connecting clue. Poirot must race against the clock to stop this serial killer from ravaging London entirely.
The new miniseries is part of the BBC’s multi-year pact with Agatha Christie Limited. The ABC Murders will mark the second television adaptation of the material thus far, following a feature-length episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot back in 1992. The miniseries will also join the ranks of two existing feature adaptations of the book, the 1965 film The Alphabet Murders and a 2012 Malayalam film titled Grandmaster which is loosely based on the tale.
What’s really setting this newest adaptation apart has to be the unusual choice of Malkovich as Poirot. The below quote from James Prichard – CEO of Agatha Christie Limited and the famed author’s great-grandson – kind of says it all when it comes to digesting the fact of this casting: “I am most excited to experience the unique approach John Malkovich will bring to the role in this thrilling one-off television adaptation.”
“Unique” is certainly one way to describe it when the conventional, methodical Poirot is not something we’re used to seeing from the more off-the-wall Malkovich.
He certainly needs no introduction when it comes to being an intense and intimidating onscreen presence. Malkovich received one of his two Academy Award nominations for playing assassin Mitch Leary in Clint Eastwood’s In the Line of Fire. He plays machismo to the extreme especially well in Con Air. And if a fourth Tobey Maguire Spider-Man film had been a reality, he would have joined the likes of Willem Dafoe — who has cornered the market as far as eerie supervillains are concerned — and wouldn’t have been out of place.
To be fair, Malkovich has mellowed out considerably over the years, and has gone after roles that don’t necessarily reflect the perniciousness of the characters he’s mostly typecast for. It’s not that he’s stopped being unsympathetic onscreen, if 2017 releases like Bullet Head and I Love You, Daddy are any indication. But Malkovich tries to balance out such roles with lighthearted stuff on occasion. The Wilde Wedding is an example of a less intense affair — as the actor himself states, “It’s nice to be at the wedding rather than to kill everybody at the wedding!” — although the movie ultimately wasn’t worth its big-name cast. It’s also a real shame that Malkovich’s forays into playing established characters such as the titular one in Casanova Variations and Blackbeard in Crossbones left more to be desired. The good thing is that he was never the problem in those productions.
Only time will tell if Malkovich’s turn as Poirot will result in a more favorable outcome for his filmography. Regardless, there’s no denying that the BBC is taking risks with its newest Christie adaptations. The first one made under their joint pack with Agatha Christie Limited – Ordeal by Innocence – didn’t necessarily hit the jackpot, because it blatantly went down an experimental route. Despite ticking all the requisite boxes of a proficient mystery show that modern-day audiences would appreciate, Ordeal by Innocence made changes to fundamental aspects of the narrative and some of that wasn’t at all appreciated.
To play Poirot, Malkovich has to follow in the onscreen footsteps of Austin Trevor, Tony Randall, Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov, David Suchet, and most recently Kenneth Branagh (among others). Yet as unpredictable as he could be in the role, we’re hoping that the BBC’s unorthodox ventures pay off better this time around.