Which Agatha Christie Poirot Book Should Kenneth Branagh Film Next?

Books,Movies
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Anybody who looked carefully at the Christmas presents unwrapped by the family in Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographically inspired 1969-set film Belfast will have spotted a copy of Agatha Christie’s The Hallowe’en Party. It was an Easter egg for the eagle-eyed, teasing which Hercule Poirot story the actor-director and screenwriter Michael Green were planning to tackle next on the big screen, after 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express and 2022’s Death on the Nile.

Green and Branagh took several liberties with The Hallowe’en Party, changing its title to A Haunting in Venice, much of its plot, and moving it from the English village of Woodleigh Common to the ghostly, mist-filled streets and canals of Venice. They wanted to venture into uncharted territory for their third Christie adaptation, and the result was an atmospheric horror-tinged treat.

So what’s next? There’ve been no official announcements, so short of scouring Branagh’s other work for more Easter Egg teases of the plan ahead, let’s decide for ourselves. Which of Christie’s remaining 30-odd Hercule Poirot stories would make the perfect next entry in the Branagh canon?

Only choosing from among the novels and not the short stories, and only those that could have the scale and cast-size to sustain a feature-length film (Five Little Pigs would be great, for instance, but it’s too small isn’t it?), here are a few suggestions, in order of publication.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)

The flashback that opened Death on the Nile already gave us a Poirot ‘prequel’ of sorts, but that was more an origin story for his elaborate moustache than the man himself. If Branagh and co. decided to tackle Christie’s first ever Hercule Poirot story, this would be a feature-length trip back to the detective’s debut appearance in a traditional English country house murder mystery.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles introduced both Poirot and regular character Hastings (so far missing from the Branagh films). It’s set during WWI at the Styles Court country estate in Essex, where Hastings has been sent to recuperate from his time at the Front. It’d be fun to see this inheritance-motive murder play out on the big screen, though it would definitely require some fudging of the timeline because even with digital trickery, de-ageing Branagh by the required 27 years might be a bridge too far.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)

In 2017, Branagh named this as one of his three favourite Poirot novels, and it’s easy to see why – it’s classic Christie. A sleepy country village, a wealthy victim, a dastardly twist… the only issue with making this one part of the Branagh/Green canon is how little the detective himself is in it. The story is narrated by a local doctor and much of it takes place before Poirot even steps foot in King’s Abbot. Would cinema audiences drawn in by the Belgian detective put up with his absence for great stretches of a film, even for a mystery as well-plotted as this one?

Peril at End House (1932)

In contention for the title of Christie’s cleverest plot, this is an extremely satisfying story that’s just large enough in scale to translate to the big screen, even though it’s only made its way to television as yet. Moreover, what a vehicle it would make for a lead actor in the role of Magdala ‘Nick’ Buckley, a woman beset by assassination attempts that Poirot is determined to foil.

Set on the pretty Cornish coast, Peril at End House could make a picturesque, tourist-driving domestic picture for Branagh’s team, but the real beauty would be that puzzle-plot and its rewarding conclusion.

The ABC Murders (1936)

Would the recent-ish BBC adaptation put them off making another version of The ABC Murders so soon? Perhaps. Sarah Phelps’ adaptation starred John Malkovich as Poirot in a pre-WWII London plagued by bigotry, xenophobia and the spread of the Fascist movement. It made the story of a serial killer who deliberately taunts Poirot through a series of letters even grimier, and added a non-canonical origin story for the detective to boot. A Branagh version could take a different tack, or press harder into the sick heart of this story about a murderer taking down victims with alliterative names.

Appointment with Death (1938)

Moving away from England, like Murder in Mesopotamia, this is another story influenced by Christie’s experiences at far-flung expeditions with her archaeologist second husband. Set in Jordan and Israel, it’s the story of a poisonous woman at the heart of a traumatised family, each of whom has their own reason to kill her. Can a holidaying Hercule deliver on his promise to solve the case inside 24 hours using no other evidence but witness testimony? Imagine Branagh’s Poirot under Jack Bauer-like pressure as the clock ticks down on his little grey cells, against a shimmering desert backdrop.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1938)

What could be cosier cosy crime than a specifically Christmas-set story? Granted, this one turns out to be more slashed-throats and diamond-theft than elves and cookies, but it’s set in a big English country house so there’ll be lights, a tree, gifts and even snow in among the violence. Poirot usually spends the festive season alone at home, but the murder of a frail multi-millionaire with a disputed legacy draws him into the fray. (And in the David Suchet version, his central heating’s on the blink, necessitating a trip away.)

The casting for this one would need to be particularly canny seeing as it all rests on various familial connections, but previous Branagh/Green adaptations have managed that well and filled even the smallest parts with memorable faces. The claustrophobic nature of Gorston Hall and the ugly side of humanity as siblings bicker over their inheritance could lead to something very special. Not to mention that the murder itself is a corker.

Curtain (1940/1975)

However many Branagh Poirot films are still to come, this should be the conclusion. It is, after all, Hercule Poirot’s last case (and was marketed as such upon publication in 1975). This one brings the detective back to where it all began: the country house of Styles Court (see The Mysterious Affair at Styles above), with his former right-hand-man Hastings.  

It’s not so much the plot that’s a draw here as the potential for Branagh to act the hell out of Poirot’s cleverly executed exit. Provided somebody up to the task was cast as Hastings, who has to solve the case after the detective’s demise, it could be both a tightly plotted murder mystery and an emotional farewell.

Evil Under the Sun (1941)

Death on the Nile showed that where Peter Ustinov has gone, Branagh is not afraid to follow. Guy Hamilton’s 1982 version of Evil Under the Sun starring Ustinov doesn’t share the reputation of Nile among fans, but as a total hoot, it well deserves to. And why shouldn’t Branagh’s Poirot also get his feet in the sand? It doesn’t all have to be past trauma and tragedy for the detective.

On a quiet holiday at a secluded Devonshire resort, Poirot investigates the murder of a woman and uncovers an impressively plotted scheme that fits together like clockwork. Featuring sun, sea and strangulation, it’s a solid story with a different feel to Branagh’s previous three pictures. They don’t even need to set it in Devon – the Ustinov version upped sticks to a much more glamorous location in the Med. The world is Branagh’s oyster.

The post Which Agatha Christie Poirot Book Should Kenneth Branagh Film Next? appeared first on Den of Geek.

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