Dir: Alex Gabassi | Wri: Sarah Phelps | Cast: John Malkovich, Shirely Henderson, Rupert Grint, Tara Fitzgerald, Eamon Farren, Andrew Buchan, Bronwyn James, Eve Austin | Thriller | UK
1933 is the setting for this fraught and febrile thriller that opens in a dingy London boarding house. Shirley Henderson (as Mrs Marbury) welcomes a travelling salesman in the shape of Eamon Farron’s sinuously reptilian Alexandre Bonaparte Cusp who carries a suitcase suspiciously containing women’s tights and a typewriter whose percussive keys forms the pounding score that drives the narrative forward. Meanwhile, John Malkovich fails to convince as a sinister and rather constipated Hercule Poirot investigating the series of gruesome alphabet murders – so called for the capital letters A.B. and C left beside the corpses.
In an attempt to keep give this adaptation a contemporary feel, the usual zenophobic Brexit references are all there – but they just interfere with the solid storyline established by Agatha Christie and classily adapted for the screen by Sarah Phelps. Poirot’s credentials are brought into question by his new boss Inspector Crome (Rupert Grint), as the authorities fail to recognise the Belgian immigré in London. He’s certainly a shadowy character who could well serve for the killer himself. And his hard to pin down accent proves an annoying distraction from the murder investigation of a nasty blond waitress Betty Bernard (Eve Austin) who has denigrated her own sister (Bronwyn James), and Cusp into the bargain.
This TV thriller has more style that substance but it’s enjoyably auteurist all the same. Director Alex Gabassi moves deftly within the first episode to finger the main suspects and there’s a glossy allure to Joel Devlin’s images that conjure up the sickly claustrophobic atmosphere of a dangerously divided interwar Britain shot to pieces and still shaking from the horrors of social deprivation and shell shock, but still trying to put on its best bib and tucker. Apart from the typewriter motif, there’s a rather good score by Isobel Waller-Bridge, (sister of Phoebe). Great stuff for the Christmas holidays in three well-paced episodes from 26 until 28 December 2018. MT
ALSO AVAILABLE ON BBC iPLAYER.