Kenneth Branagh made a great Benedick and Frankenstein but his interpretation of Poirot in the 2017 film Murder on the Orient Express is just dreadful. The one saving grace in the whole film was Olivia Colman, whose relationship with the Judi Dench character was credible and developed on screen beautifully.
I could bear Johnny Depp as the foul, paranoid murder victim, but there is little else to recommend this version in preference to reading the book or watching the sublime Albert Finney version of the film.
The joy of Agatha Christie’s writing is the formula she sticks to – Poirot is stern but likeable (he’d never wave a gun around) and the solution to the crime is only revealed in a final denouement, not drip-fed in case the audience gets bored. And don’t get me started on Christie’s lack of chase scenes. I can’t think of a single one in all her books. Certainly not down a rickety scaffold bridge on which is precariously balanced a train full of people.
Film adaptations can be wonderful and, indeed, I enjoyed Branagh’s Frankenstein so it’s not the man himself. There are just too many differences from the book and from Poirot himself as a literary construct. The train derailment and bridge pursuit were laughable, as was the somewhat random profusion of guns. The whole point of a murder mystery is to see if you can reach the solution before the detective and the heavy-handed laying on of clues made that impossible. The line-up of suspects at the denouement (such as it was) was, I suspect, more to keep all the A-list Hollywood celebrities happy than to ease the narrative.
It’s not often that I get together with fellow writers, but yesterday I had lunch with two freelancers I’ve known for many years. On the way to our lunch, I took in the memorial to Agatha Christie, which was erected by St Martin’s Cross in London’s West End in 2012.
That gave me pause for thought – I may never have such a formidable marking of my presence as a writer, but we all have a part to play. I like the fact that it was the 60th anniversary of The Mousetrap in London and the great writer’s legacy lives on.
I’ve never believed in ranking writers. We’re all different. We all have our own styles and foibles. There are some I sometimes prefer to Christie, and some I will never again read (naming no names), but the act of writing brings something out of every individual that makes that endeavour and the results should never be completely ignored.
Christie once said: “Your criticism is bound to be that you yourself would have written it in such and such a way, but that does not mean that it would be right for another author. We all have our own ways of expressing ourselves.”
It is undeniable that Christie is the best-selling novelist – selling around 2 billion copies at the last count. Worthy of a memorial in central London, then.
Exciting news from the world of film, as filming begins on ‘Vita and Virginia’, starring Gemma Arterton (‘Their Finest’) as Vita Sackville-West, Elizabeth Debicki (‘The Night Manager’) as Virginia Woolf and the truly fabulous Isabella Rossellini (‘Blue Velvet’).
The film is based on the love letters of Woolf and Sackville-West, co-written by British director Chanya Button and Dame Eileen Atkins, whose Mrs Dalloway screenplay was both stunning and award-winning.
When the two subjects of the film met, Vita appears to have set her cap very firmly on seducing Virginia in London of the 1920s. Director Chanya Button says: “Vita & Virginia will be a fresh, provocative study of creativity, passion, sex and sexuality; and it offers an exciting opportunity to bring the story behind the creation of Orlando, one of Virginia Woolf’s greatest works to life in a bold, vivid, contemporary way. With my lifelong passion for Woolf’s writing, it is a great privilege to be working with such brilliant women as Gemma and Elizabeth, to bring the lives of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf to the screen.”
How the literature and the relationship will be handled makes this an eagerly awaited release.
No matter how many times Guardian journalist Gary Younge says his book ‘Another Day in the Death of America’ is not about gun control, the inescapable truth is that the power of the gun lobby has a great deal to answer for. As do we all, for the deaths explored in Younge’s book are not only caused by a single fatal bullet. These ’10 young lives lost to gun violence’ are largely in the wrong place at the wrong time, when they had little option to be elsewhere.
Most parents want the best for their children. Most of us do all we can to help them have better lives than we do ourselves. For some families, breaking out of the cycle of poverty and vulnerability is just impossible. Which is where inequality really comes in.
Younge talks about inequality a lot. He was born close to where I sit and write this and where I was growing up at the time, although a white girl in Hitchin almost certainly had a different life to a black boy in Stevenage. At 17, he taught English in a school in Sudan before university and training as a journalist. He’s an extraordinary writer and his experiences around the world – most recently in the States before returning to the UK – feed his writing. This is a man who’s not afraid to state his case and who displays a humanity when talking about these children. It’s a harrowing and thought-provoking book.
In his Afterword, Younge says: “People have to take personal responsibility for what they do and live with the consequences. But societies have to take collective responsibility for what they do and live with the consequences too.” In the days and weeks it took me to read this book, children were killed in Manchester, adults at London Bridge and many, many families in the Grenfell House fire. I hope we can take collective responsibility for it all.
The inspiration for Torrents of Light comes from Mary Shelley and, specifically, ‘Frankenstein’. The novel still fascinates, 200 years after it was written and my intention is to seek out the music, literature, art and ideas which are new today but which will stand a similar test of time.
Frankenstein’s own torrent of light was a hoped-for breaking of bounds.
I’ll be featuring and reviewing as I come across inspiration and creativity. Wherever it lies. My passions have always been for music and literature, but I’ll be trying out new ideas, new art and even new food.
I hope you enjoy this discovery of all things creative, inspiring and innovative – please comment and send me any ideas you might have for features.