Death on the Nile and the fight against racism in Agatha Christie

However, she says censoring the books in this way was a mistake – as she thinks that for the most part Christie was not racist herself in her novels, but rather reflected the racist attitudes of her time and left them open. to criticism. “It made the [censored] less socially critical novels as documents of their time because I think Christie’s novels critique racism rather than perpetuate it [it]”, she says. “The racism depicted in the books draws attention to the fact that it was very dominant in the culture in which Christie lived. The 1930s [when her career as a crime writer hit its peak] saw the rise of the far right in Europe, leading to the Spanish Civil War and World War II, and [racism and] xenophobia was obviously prevalent.” She thinks this aspect of the books gives them particular resonance again in 2022. “I’m not saying we’re in the same situation right now, but far-right sentiments are again rising.”

Christie on TV

While there’s more to Christie’s novels than meets the eye when it comes to racism and xenophobia, it’s never really been reflected in the screen takes of her work. Previous adaptations of Poirot – from films starring Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov to the UK TV version memorably starring David Suchet – have been very white and often just used “exotic” locations as pleasing backgrounds instead. than to really represent them as real. places of the world, suffering from the effects of colonial domination.

“There was a conscious erasure of diversity in the television adaptations of the 1980s and 1990s,” says Dr. Jamie Bernthal-Hooker, author of Queering Agatha Christie. “Black characters in books have been replaced by white characters and likewise those we can read as LGBT [were removed]. An example given by Bernthal-Hooker is Christie’s 1955 Poirot novel Hickory Dickory Dock, which was originally set in a 1950s student hostel and featured an array of international characters, including the Egyptian student Ahmed Ali and his roommate Akibombo, who was originally from West Africa.However, when the book was adapted for the small screen in 1995, the action – as was often the case in television series long-running – was transplanted in the interwar period and featured an all-white cast.

“It was perhaps understandable in terms of avoiding problematic stereotypes”, says Bernthal-Hooker – the characters were sympathetically but stereotypically drawn by Christie, the latter speaking in broken “comical” English – “but also there was clearly no attempt to develop or update these characters for the screen, as is the case with other characters in the adaptations.”

“I find [the 1990s TV] adaptations that are a bit too white, too conservative, too Middle English,” Bernthal-Hooker continues. “You can get those readings from the books, but you can also get a lot more worldly reading from them.”

However, when it comes to approaches to adapting Christie, times are changing. Aside from Branagh, the other major interpreter of Christie’s work recently has been writer Sarah Phelps, who has been behind several recent television adaptations of Christie, including And Then There Were None, The Pale Horse and Poirot’s story The ABC Murders. This latest miniseries, in particular, offered an interesting exploration of xenophobia by showing Poirot being targeted by members of the British Union of Fascists for not being English – in one scene a train conductor throws his ticket on the floor disdainfully. This plot point was an amplification of the dismissive attitude expressed towards Poirot in many novels by other characters due to his foreignness. Some commentators also saw it as an indirect criticism of Britain in the wake of Brexit, for better or worse: one newspaper called it “atrocious drivel from the liberal left”.

However Bernthal-Hooker, who was an extra on The ABC Murders, counters that the interpretation made sense in the context of Christie’s original novels. “People forget that he was a Belgian refugee during the First World War,” he says. “He comes to England homeless and lives on charity. Poirot is still an outsider and comes from a world other than the one he is investigating.”

Similarly, Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express also added historical context by pointing out the threat of far-right bigotry via the aforementioned character Gerhard Hardman: “The producers obviously put a lot of thought into the character,” Plock says. “It skillfully brings together past and present. They took an element of the 1930s, reminiscent of Nazi ideology, but also brought a contemporary perspective. [Willem] Dafoe’s character plays the role of the white supremacist we would recognize today.”

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