Whodunnit? Even Agatha Christie wouldn’t know
Great-grandson of thriller writer says letting BBC change plot was one of the hardest decisions of his life
THE great-grandson of Agatha Christie has admitted that allowing a screenwriter to change the ending of Ordeal by Innocence was one of the hardest decisions of his life.
The BBC adaptation reaches its conclusion tonight, but readers familiar with the original 1958 novel will find it unrecognisable.
Sarah Phelps, the screenwriter, has changed the identity of the killer, much to the annoyance of some Christie fans and the author’s biographer, who accused Phelps of “attaching Agatha’s box-office name” to a new story.
However, James Prichard, who succeeded his father as chairman of the Agatha Christie estate in 2015 and had power of veto over the script, said he decided to break the company’s “golden rule” and allow a different murderer.
“It was probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve taken in my working life. But in the end it felt right,” he said. “Yes, we will upset a lot of my greatgrandmother’s fans and to some extent I apologise to them and to some extent I don’t.
“All the way through, with Sarah, I was adamant that this was not something that was on the table. It went through many drafts. Eventually I had a conversation with my father and said: ‘I’ve just read another draft and it feels like [this character] ought to be the killer.’ He said: ‘Why keep fighting it if that’s the case?’”
In fact, he believes Christie would have approved of the change, as she was not averse to rewrites.
“I do live by the mantra that my great-grandmother understood things needed to be changed for different media,” he said, pointing out that Christie wrote a new “happier” ending for one of her most famous stories, And Then There Were None, when she adapted it for the stage in the Forties.
“She had worked out how to trick a book audience, but doing that in a theatre is different,” he explained.
A biographer of Christie, Laura Thompson, said last week that “changing the identity of the murderer, however good for publicity, is a bit much. There’s a lot of sophistication and subtlety in the original solution.”
Fans have complained about the new ending on social media – despite not knowing who the killer is – and insisted that “Agatha knows best”.
In a recent interview Phelps, who is working on a Christmas television version of Christie’s Hercule Poirot mystery The ABC Murders, said: “I try to honour the spirit of the writer. But I can’t be nervous. If I did I wouldn’t do it.”
‘Yes, we will upset a lot of her fans and to some extent I apologise to them and to some extent I don’t’