Split across three hour-long episodes, The ABC Murders takes the original Agatha Christie book of the same name and decomposes it to its most basic form. In a bid to make this a more gritty, moody version of the original book, The ABC Murders loses sight of Agatha Christie’s writing, abandoning the charisma, whimsical characters and dark humour for a deeper, psychologically charged story. Ultimately, this BBC drama is more style over substance, boasting long, drawn out scenes that reek of melodrama and sprinkled with questionable dialogue. This is really shown through the anachronistic slang terms which feel out-of-place and disjointed given the time period. While those unaware of the books and Agatha Christie’s legacy may find some enjoyment here, for everyone else The ABC Murders is a poor adaptation and one that moves far too slowly to keep you enthralled through to finding out who the killer is.
While it’s understandable in this day and age that stories do change to fit the different mediums they’re adapted to, The ABC Murders include several different character stories woven around the main mystery of tracking down the killer. Of course, the bulk of drama revolves around our main character Hercule Poirot who comes out of retirement only to find most of the world still treat him as a foreigner and not as an equal. While grappling with his inner demons, Poirot has to contend with a killer who’s been deliberate enough to post him letters, signed off as ABC. After a string of murders all link back to this man, Hercule Poirot teams up with the local police force to track down the killer and bring him to justice. Along the way, the story twists and turns along a winding “who-dunnit” road, eventually leading to the climactic reveal of who the culprit is after throwing a curve-ball for much of the series. While this is generally still pretty exciting and manages to wind up the tension on its way to the finale, the rest of the series feels unnecessarily padded out and overlong.
A lot of this bloating is thanks to the character work which ranges from very good (Rupert Grint as Inspector Crome), through to divisively received (John Malkovich as Poirot) over to poor for some of the supporting cast that crop up. There’s such a wildly inconsistent array of acting on offer here that it can sometimes be a little difficult to settle into a rhythm with this one, even if it is only set across 3 hour-long episodes. Much has been said of John Malkovich’s take on Agatha Christie’s classic detective too and while I can understand some of the complaints around his character, he actually fits with the moody theme of the series. Of course, his French accent still leaves a lot to be desired but if you can look past this, there’s enough here to make for a competent watch nonetheless. Although it would have been nice to see a more charismatic, screen-stealing performance from the detective, in doing so I can’t help but feel it would have emphasized the issues with this series.
When it comes to the cinematography though, The ABC Murders excels. Some of the camera work is really stylish, there’s a great use of overhead shots during the first episode and the general feel and tone of the works well and is consistent throughout. Still, despite this and a suitable musical score throughout, The ABC Murders fails to conjure up any sort of meaningful excitement, instead leaving the show to revel in its dark, dreary tone for much of its run time.
It’s difficult to know who The ABC Murders is really tailored toward. Book lovers will probably dislike this adaptation that fails to capture the heart and soul of the book. Those after an authentic 1930’s crime drama will dislike the colloquialistic dialogue and awkward scripting, not to mention the long, drawn out segments that fails to move the plot along. This leaves fans who aren’t too bothered about the book and are just after a compelling murder mystery. While there is still an interesting mystery woven throughout, this 3 hour series takes so long to get the pieces moving that it’s difficult to know whether you’ll get through the early stages of the show to reach the finale. With far better on offer in almost all 4 genres this BBC drama caters for, The ABC Murders is a missed opportunity and one that fails to do credit to the Agatha Christie book it’s based on.