Sex and Profanity and Nuclear War? It’s Christie, Spock, But Not as we Know It

Christie is everywhere on the BBC at the moment and I’ve been watching ‘Ordeal by Innocence,’ one of three novels recently adapted by Sally Phelps.  The production has done away with the cliches that so often dog Christie’s work but kept the central point: the murder of an unpleasant character for which each of the other characters has a motive.


Bill Nighy plays a villain for once, wealthy landowner Leo Argyll, while his wife Rachel, whose murder begins the story, has Anna Chancellor ramping up the cold haughtiness of her previous roles in Pride and Prejudice and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

The couple have adopted several children from widely differing backgrounds and subjected them to an abusive childhood.  We find out the history in a series of swooping back-and-forth scenes, and sometimes it’s hard to know what’s happening when, let alone why.  But it makes for exciting action, especially when the maid Kirsten enters the mix (this is the fifties) along with a strange young man who claims he can give one of the now-adult children an alibi for the time of the murder.

So much is updated in this version that I feel like coining a new word: adupdation or updatation, perhaps.  First, there’s the sex and, whereas in the original this would have been subtly suggested, here it’s well and truly out in the open.  Then there’s the language: people effing and blinding and calling each other all sorts of names; and I have to say that while the sex seemed in keeping, the swearing jarred.  People just didn’t talk to each other like that in the ‘fifties.  I know – I was there.

Since this is the fifties the Cold War is never far away, and Leo has built a nuclear shelter in the cellar of the large house.  This bunker, like cellars in all murder mysteries, is a repository for secrets including the birth of an illegitimate child; and in a blinding twist of irony Leo ends up being locked in there by the maid whom he raped years before.   This ending is not in the book, and Christie purists have complained, but I found it deeply satisfying.

Here’s the series:

here, just to prove a point I made earlier about TV/book crossovers, is the novel:

and here, just in case you’re interested, is a discussion of the differences between them:

And finally – the other day I came across a prize for a mystery novel NOT featuring the murder of a woman.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  A propos of which I’m writing a short story called The Boy on the Bus….

Kirk out

PS  Oh, and you will have spotted there’s a new theme.  I’m having a bit of a revamp – of which more anon.

2 thoughts on “Sex and Profanity and Nuclear War? It’s Christie, Spock, But Not as we Know It

  1. I agree that the amount of swearing in so many shows supposedly set in earlier times just seems wrong. And I don’t want to be thought of like Mary Whitehouse but I really don’t like it. I can swear when I need to, but things seemed much kinder in the days when programmes such as Porridge had to invent swearwords to make things sound authentic. However, there is one expression that has irritated me for 40 years since someone far more religious than I pointed out how offensive it can be, which is OMG or its full expansion. It is everywhere. Children utter it in classrooms. I haven’t seen the ‘Ordeal’ programme, but from what you say it would not surprise me to hear it there. As a measure of how offensive some people find it, think what would happen if someone on television uttered an oath based on the name of any other deity.

  2. You are right about the other deities, although i suspect I’ve become inured to OMG; however ‘Jesus’ as an expletive does offend me (it’s used frequently in one of my favourite sitcoms, ‘Episodes’. Apart from that I don’t mind expletives used so much to express anger, which is different from them being used as insults. But I’m getting off the point, which is verisimilitude and the updated language really grates in the ‘fifties setting

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