My Netflix queue is a bit strange, filled as it is with House of Cards, X-Files, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and now the excellent Agatha Christie’s Poirot series*. I was just watching the adaptation of one of the first novels I read and remember, Tragedy in Three Acts.
David Suchet does a phenomenal job as Poirot. I’ve always thought Christie’s Poirot-Hastings duo was really just Holmes-Watson re-purposed, but the way she writes Poirot, he can never be taken fully seriously by readers… except when he does the big reveal. Despite Conan Doyle’s efforts with Watson’s “pawky humour”, Holmes is a character who is usually meant to be taken very seriously indeed.
There’s something immensely soothing about this adaptation, even as the bodies pile up around you. Maybe it’s the English countryside, which features so prominently and beautifully in many episodes. Most likely it’s the characters, who are as typically early-20th century as you could possibly get.
It’s silly and naive to think of now, but I think I subconsciously expected something similar during my visit to London. I experienced the same mild shock I did when I first entered the United States — a shock occasioned by the sheer number of immigrants.
Literature and media — especially something as classic as Christie — would have you believe that the Charming Old World was the idyll of English representation. It’s nostalgic even to me, someone who’s never grown up in that environment, but who’s read any number of Enid Blyton, Wodehouse, Christie and Conan Doyle books. But there is almost no one of color in these adaptations. If they are, it’s to add some exoticism. It’s hardly fair to blame the authors, either; writing as they were for the times and from their experiences, they would never even think to include a character who looked more like me (and at this point India was still a colony, so there’s that…).
Adding these characters would’ve introduced a rather more disturbing undercurrent, something even more disturbing than the occasional murder. There’s a template for these things — bustling London, where plucky young men and women struggle to get by, or the idyllic English countryside where there are dark secrets and people die for them — and that’s what makes for easy reading.
After all, murder, evidence and motive aren’t complex. Not when it comes to race, class and socioeconomics.
*I have to complain, though, that this series tends to take some emotional liberties with the original stories. I think it’s most appropriately described as “vamped up”.