Whodunit novelist and playwright Agatha Christie–the planet’s all-time best-selling author—has been dead and buried for 40 years, but the Brit writer of 66 novels is a red-hot commodity right now with no less than eight projects in various stages of readiness. So what’s Christie’s big attraction to actors and moviemakers?
Tight, twisty storylines, complex motivations and plenty of short, memorable, scene-chomping roles for big stars who can usually shoot their stuff quickly and move onto something new. But the biggest impetus of all came from the Agatha Christie Estate, who, in 2013, hired power agency William Morris Endeavor to broker big Hollywood deals. And broker they did, giving the Christie estate the right to almost Marvel-esque control over the adaptations when it comes to the development process—reviewing scripts, giving notes and taking a look at casting choices, all designed to ensure the presence of what CEO of Agatha Christie Limited Hilary Strong calls “the Agatha Christie DNA.”
OK, we don’t see detective Hercule Poirot action figures or Miss Marple Happy Meals on the horizon. But this month A&E debuts BBC’s The Witness for the Prosecution, a two-part redo of Billy Wilder’s Oscar-nominated 1957 blockbuster that starred Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich; this time Toby Jones and Kim Catrall lead the cast. Ben Affleck also plans to direct and star in a big 20th feature film version of the same Christie short story and play.
Meanwhile, Kenneth Branagh is directing Murder on the Orient Express, in which he also plays Christie’s signature Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who sleuths out the shady motives of ‘30s luxury train passengers played by Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Michael Pena and more. A well-liked 1975 hit movie based on the same novel copped six Oscar nominations and a slew of BAFTA Awards, so it’s no surprise that news of a Murder on the Orient Express remake has some Christie purists up in arms. But as Branagh himself puts it, “[Christie] 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.”
Does that mean that the much-jeered announcement of Disney’s intention to reimagine the Miss Marple series of 12 novels and short stories–as vehicles for Jennifer Garner–will send screenwriter Mark Frost poking around the psychological nooks and crannies of a character Christie wrote as a crotchety, wily old dame detective?
Then there’s Crooked House, directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Dark Places) from a screenplay by Julian Fellows (Downton Abbey) based on a personal favorite of Christie’s. That one’s about a young detective investigation a multigenerational family of weirdos including his about-to-be-married ex who may either be a suspect or the next victim of a killer who poisoned her grandfather. The cast includes Max Irons, Stefani Martini, Gillian Anderson, Christina Hendricks, Glenn Close and Terence Stamp.
Meanwhile, The Imitation Game and Passengers director Morten Tyldum is developing a big-screen redo of And Then There Were None, Christie’s classic tale of a group of eccentric strangers invited to a remote island where an unseen killer starts picking them off one by one. A stellar movie version hit theaters back in 1945 under the direction of classy imported French director René Clair; a much less classy international co-production played drive-ins and grindhouses in 1974; and just last year, Sam Neill, Miranda Richardson and Toby Jones played the desperate strangers in a suspenseful, beautifully melodramatic miniseries version. Will Tyldum’s take surpass those that have come before? Will any of the new Christie redos?
Admit it: You’re in suspense too.