Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Translating Your Heroes To The Silver Screen

Actually, not just the silver screen, the same dilemmas occur on TV too!

Agatha Christie
 I'm talking about your beloved hero/heroine who makes the quantum leap from Kindle or printed page and lands squarely in front of you, a living, breathing, director's interpretation of someone you have known intimately for years and, frankly, now looks and behaves like a total stranger.

Helen Hayes as Miss Marple
Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple
 Oh, the injustice, the bitter disappointment. The calumny even! How dare they? Why didn't they ask you? You'd have told them straight away that no way would Miss Marple pronounce 'enquiry' as 'inquiry' (Helen Hayes in A Caribbean Mystery), smoke a cigarette (Angela Lansbury in The Mirror Crack'd) or speak with a noticeable American accent (Helen Hayes and Angela Lansbury, to name but two).

Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple
 In the early 1960s, the wonderful Margaret Rutherford had a few outings in some wildly loose adaptations of Christie novels. I loved the films, as long as I forgot she was supposed to be playing Miss Marple. Agatha Christie herself was less than keen, although she too was a fan of the actress

The problem is, we all have our own vision. My Miss Marple is a very English, diminutive elderly lady, dressed in old fashioned sensible clothes (tweed skirts and jackets), who carries a sturdy handbag. She has white hair, tied back in a small bun, frequently dons a hat, and peers over small rimless glasses. She's the sort of woman you wouldn't take any notice of - unless you looked a little closer into those eyes. Then you would see a different person entirely. Sharp as a dagger, quick and unflinching, possessed of a phenomenal and undimmed memory, she scythes through the red herrings and leaves the poor old police inspector ten pages behind...
Joan Hickson - the Miss Marple

Imagine then my delight when Joan Hickson (Agatha Christie's own choice), portrayed her in a series of TV adaptations. Now I could settle back, relax and enjoy my Miss Marple solving crimes in precisely the way I knew she always did.
Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple

Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple

Sadly, Joan Hickson passed away in 1998. Miss Marple, however, is immortal. Some of the other fine actresses who have been drafted in to play her include: Geraldine McEwan (can't put my finger on it, but something didn't quite work for me. A friend disagrees wholeheartedly), Julia McKenzie (in my opinion, the closest to Joan Hickson), - and then - er - Carey Mulligan? 
Carey Mulligan. MissWho?
 Let's move on to Dame Agatha's other great detective. The Belgian with the primped and cossetted moustache - Hercule Poirot.
Peter Ustinov as Poirot

The late, great Peter Ustinov played him in Death On The Nile and five other films.His daughter was reportedly shocked when she saw him in rehearsal and exclaimed, "That's not Poirot! He isn't at all like that!", to which her father replied, "He is now!

I agree with his daughter.

Albert Finney as Poirot
Albert Finney, another great British actor, portrayed him in Murder On The Orient Express. I know he was accalaimed for his performance but was he my Poirot? Er - sorry - no. For a start, his hair was all wrong. And the moustache wasn't elaborate enough. And he was too tall. Not a bit like...

David Suchet IS Poirot
Enter my perfect Poirot - David Suchet. From the top of his egg-shaped head, to the tips of his gleaming patent leather shoes, the tiny almost effeminate steps he takes, the perfect buttonhole and the authentic (for the character) accent, could there be any to rival his characterisation? For me, David Suchet simply IS Hercule Poirot.

Olympia Dukakis - Anna Madrigal
Moving onto Armistead Maupin for a moment, I had read and loved all the early Tales of the City books and felt close to the 'family' of quirky characters within their pages. The TV renditions generally worked for me, with some exceptions, but I loved Olympia Dukakis's portrayal of the eccentric, pot smoking landlady, Anna Madrigal. Now when I pick up those early books again (and the latest), I 'see' her whenever that character appears.

Tom Cruise - the 'pretty' Lestat
Entirely the opposite happened when I saw the film adaptation of Anne Rice's classic, Interview With The Vampire. I have yet to see my Lestat, but Tom Cruise certainly isn't it. Too pretty to be sexy enough for me. Now, give me Christian Bale and we could be talking...
Christian Bale - the next Lestat?
 So, tell me, what have been your delights and disappointments? Who would you like to see play your favourite character?


  1. Best Marple ever was Margaret Rutherford IMO. Did you know that many years after those films were made I got to know Lawrence (Larry) P Bachmann who produced most of them? He was also a pretty accomplished novelist. The worst Marple was Helen Hayes. Best Poirot is Suchet - especially his later works like Orient Express, very dark and melancholy.

    1. We'll agree to differ over best Miss Marple - although I love Margaret Rutherford. She was the benchmark Madame Arcati and no one since has come close. No, I didn't know you knew Larry P. Bachmann - You certainly get around, Steve!

  2. Joan Hickson and David Suchet take the palm for the Christie adaptations. Both display effortless intelligence. Joan Hickson also has a world weary compassion far removed from Geraldine McEwan's gleefully malicious approach.

    I never saw the Tales of the City on TV. I'll have to remedy that.

    the film adaptation of a novel that worried me the most was The Lord of the Rings. It all hinged on having the right Frodo and the right Aragorn. I think they chose pretty well. Certainly Mortensen did a hundred times better than the original choice, Stuart Townsend, would have done.

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Elin. 'Tales of the City' is on DVD, along with 'More Tales of the City' and 'Further Tales of the City' I love them all.

  3. Christian Bale as Lestat. Yes!!!

  4. AWesome!! One of the reasons I have given you my inspiringg nommie