If it feels like we’ve been getting a lot of Agatha Christie-related news, it’s because we have. Of course, in the age of big superhero blockbusters, news of her cozy mysteries getting adapted is often welcome news. Regardless, this minor increase in news has actually been an intentional effort from Christie’s estate to work to bring her books to the big screen.
To make this happen, the Agatha Christie Estate employed 14 people out of its London-based office, and in 2013, they hired WME, a Hollywood talent agency, to help them set up deals with Hollywood studios. Since then, the estate has inked three deals with 20th Century Fox. If you’ll recall, there are three that have hit the media most recently: the Murder on the Orient Express remake, which is set to be directed by and starring Cinderella and Thor director Kenneth Branagh, and the the adaptation of the short story The Witness For the Prosecution, which is set to be directed by and starring Ben Affleck, and finally, the adaptation of And Then There Were None, set to be helmed by Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum. All of these films have top-grade talent, and without a doubt a large part of that is due to the estate’s involvement.
While, yes, setting up these deals is one of the many things the estate is focusing on, they’re working to do more than just get these films made. They’re looking to get them made well so that they hold up to the high standards of the source material. They are involved deeply at the development level of these films: they review scripts, give notes, look into casting — all to make sure that it retains what they call “the Agatha Christie DNA.”
So what does this mean for previous adaptations like Murder On The Orient Express, which is considered a classic film in the eyes of many film fans. There's no way it couldn’t be outdone by any remake, right? This attitude is especially prevalent, as the word "remake"tends to have negative connotations due to the number of them in Hollywood. Hilary Strong, the CEO of Agatha Christie Limited, is well aware of these views, and speaking with THR, cleared the air on their philosophy of these remakes.
"One of the criticisms that I keep getting levied at me is that [the previous film adaptations] were so amazing. 'How can you remake Murder on the Orient Express?' They're iconic films, but they are of their time, and there is a new cinema audience that won't watch films that were made in 1957 or 1974, and we want them to hear her stories."
And speaking of time — Strong went on to state how unimportant the period aspect is of Christie’s work — which is ironic since oftentimes "period" is often what one thinks of when they think of her writing.
"To be an Agatha Christie story, it doesn't have to be period, it doesn't have to be set in 1930. It has to have really strong plot and really interesting characters. It has to have a fantastic twist or two or three as you go along. And it needs humor; it needs to have fun."
Indeed, like with Marvel Studios and the films they’ve made, it’s important to remain true to the core of the source material all while doing your best to adapt to modern sensibilities. This will likely help in keeping her work fresh and modern. This also seems to be the perspective of director Kenneth Branagh, who again will be directing the new Murder on the Orient Express.
"She has a real sense of psychological insight and perception. I think audiences are looking for and maybe ready to let that part of her work emerge a little more deeply — and differently from the sort of 'period drama' that some might associate with the work."
Which of the films being made so far based on Christie’s work are you looking forward to most? Let us know in the comments down below!
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