Taking Disgraceful Liberties with Christie's Loyalty to and Faith in British Justice

Agatha Christie took care to ensure that fairness of Justice was not compromised in her books.  The judicial system she had in mind sided on the side of the possibility of innocence on part of the accused unless there was overwhelming proof of guilt.  "Ten murderers may go free, but a single innocent person should not be hanged", seemed to be at the back of her mind as she wrote her books. 

In MMID, the policeman who catches the murderer suspects he is innocent, and gets Poirot to prove innocence and save him.  Only in one instance (I won't name it here) there is a reference to an innocent man having been executed for murder.  In the end it turns out he was not all that innocent after all.  In another well known story, the so called "hanging judge" is popularly accused of having sent an innocent man to the gallows, but there is no truth in that accusation.  In FLP,  the accused is wrongfully sentenced to life in prison for her husband's murder, but Christie stops short of letting the Justice System cross the red line and execute the woman. 

All this is tells us that Christie looked at British Justice with reverence and did not care to dwell on the macabre to attract readers. 

Against such a background, the TV version of FLP starring David Suchet not only changes the script sentencing the innocent accused to death, but actually shows her being hanged.  There was absolutely no need to resort to this cheapening of the story plot even in a TV episode produced in the late twentieth century.    The plot was brilliant and more than able to stand firmly on its own legs; there was no need to add this "spice". 

In fact, too many TV versions of Christies novels show executions being carried out.  Why this fascination with the macabre?  Christie did not deserve this disgrace!    


  • SiddharthaSSiddharthaS Michigan, United States
    Should have mentioned 21st Century, it was not the 20th! But the argument stands.   
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    In Britain it is MMD not MMID I have no idea what FLP is, If you are going to use abbreviations can you use English ones it is so much easer to know what you are talking about.
  • SiddharthaSSiddharthaS Michigan, United States
    Tommy, I stand corrected on the missed " ' " in MMD; thanks. 

    But aren't you being a bit too "typically" English in insisting on using only those titles as published in England and refusing to recognize anything else that comes from outside?  Agatha Christie belongs to the whole world; her books got published in many other countries in many languages under so many different titles.  Recognize that reality and revel in it as an Englishman.   In any case, Christie has created a few such typically English characters based on this trait.  May be you are simply playacting.   

    How come you do not know what FLP stands for.  Look at the list of ten most popular Christie books, FLP is somewhere in the middle.  The title you may have read it under is probably "Murder in Retrospect".  

    I use abbreviation of titles because of the size limit this website imposes.  After a few postings, it has become a habit. 
  • GKCfanGKCfan Wisconsin, United States
    Yes, I can't think of an instance where an innocent person is hanged in a Christie story (SPOILERS– In "Butter in a Lordly Dish," an innocent man is convicted of being a serial killer and presumably sentenced to hang, though it might be hypothesized that the real killer will make sure that the sentence isn't carried out, so that shouldn't be counted.)  My first guess can be that the screenwriters are trying to get the audience's attention with the "show, don't tell" rule, and trying to get the viewer's attention with a violent death and to heighten the sense of injustice, though as you say, this shock treatment may be exploitative and contrary to Christie's presentation of British justice.  One might wonder if innocent being executed in adaptations is meant to illustrate the problems with the death penalty, where an innocent person may be irreparably punished for a crime.

    I would also mention the Joan Hickson adaptation of Nemesis which reverses this trend a little– in the original novel (SPOILERS), an innocent person is convicted of murder and jailed for several years, before Miss Marple figures out the truth and frees him.  In the Hickson adaptation, the innocent man is never convicted, and instead has been living as a vagrant for years under the wrongful cloud of suspicion.

  • GKCfanGKCfan Wisconsin, United States
    SPOILERS– I just thought of ATTWN, where perjured testimony leads to an innocent man being given penal servitude.  Since the man was delicate, this proved the same as a death sentence.  In this case, the corruption is all on one man, a crooked police officer.
  • Even in the old version of Ordeal by innocence (with Donald Sutherland as the exporer, and no Poirot, as in the book) the movie ends SPOILER showing the hanging of the "innocent" (actually not so innocent) accused. For me it spoiled it. The horror and sadness of the story comes from the fear and sadness the whole family feels, emanating from the murderer. Adding cheap vicarious thrills was really unnecessary. AC did a marvelous job in that book - one of my favourites (besides holding my favourite quote).
  • I don't think Christie does take great trouble to ensure that the fairness of justice is not compromised in her novels. Certainly, among the early works are several examples which show that if you were 'Quite, quite', as Mr Rycroft from The Sittaford Mystery would, and, indeed, did put it, from the right class, the police would let you into their secrets and do what they could to see that the better class of family members would not be embarrassed by their errant relative's murderous actions. The Inspector in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, would see to it, Poirot SPOILER assures the murderer that his sister would not be embarrassed. After all, the murderer writes, she has pride as well as sensibility. The police will fix it with the Crown Prosecution Service that the need for the publicity of a trial will be avoided - a story will be concocted; the murderer will take his own life . Poirot has no scruples either towards letting the murderess SPOILER take the coward's way out in Dumb Witness and Death on the Nile. Even more tasteless was what happened in The Crooked House, SPOILER. Our narrator tells us that the police know who did it (murderess now deceased) and that the original suspects will be freed from jail sometime before the trial, which will not need to take place. Cheers! They are only a private tutor and a shop girl or something on the make, so never mind that they will languish in jail for a bit whilst completely innocent of murder - but possibly not adultery. Then if you are 'quite, quite', don't worry if you're nothing to do with the investigation, the Inspector will take you in to his confidence, as he does Jerry in The Moving Finger - ask you to sit in on interviews and crime discussions, and share some evidence with you if you are 'quite, quite' and pretty, as Narracott does with Emily Trefusis in The Sittaford Mystery.

    As for telly, I have some sympathy of a sort with silly producers who change the plot. If you are not a Christie fan, some storylines do read as a bit flat. The S
  • The Sittaford Mystery is a bit flat, though enjoyable, but with not a lot of action, and I can see that a producer might think, crikey, how are we going to make SPOILER finding a pair of boots up a chimney climatic? It is the whole atmosphere which makes the novels good, and, to be fair, only a handful of mysteries are sensationally cinematic: Death on the Nile, Evil Under the Sun, Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, etc
  • Griselda, I think you are right about AC being aware of class differences in the way the police treat people as well as in other ways, but my feeling is that she is presenting society as it really is, rather than condoning it. To take Jerry in "The moving finger" - his callous dismissal of the two victims in the end is pretty shocking to the reader, but I think that is deliberate - it shows him as the shallow, lighthearted character he is (one only hopes Megan will challenge his complacence in the future).. In "crooked house, the hero is concerned about the falsely accused couple, it is the police who are calm about it. On the other hand, in the story "The dead harlequin" the artist, who comes from lower middle class origin, and has a massive chip on his shoulder, is repudiated by Mr. Satterthwaite's friend but befriended and encouraged by Mr. Satterthwaite - not just as an artist, but as a suitor for lady Charnley. I feel that AC's attitude towards "the working class" was similar to her attitude towards Jews - subconsciously she felt they were different, inferior, with unpleasant behavior and less rights, but consciously she tried to be fair and support their equality. As a Jewish Israeli, having to constantly re-evaluate my attitude towards a whole lot of minorities - Ethiopian Jews, Islamic and Christian Arabs, disabled people, LGBT etc., I know that we can't always control our subconscious, which is conditioned by our upbringing - the best we can do is not to become complacent, and keep pushing our limits. I think AC honestly tried to do this.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    SidharthaS I could ask don't you think you are being arrogant in not using Innitials which MOST people are less familiar with I rather than me being typically arrogant insisting 1) That everyone should embrace Abbreviations (which I admit I use time to time when lazy)  and 2) Because you seem to be arrogant enough that you think people should embrace your way of using Titles that other Countries use. I had heard of Murder In Retrospect but prefer to Respect other users on this sight who respect the fact that The Books Author was British
  • I think you are right, Tali, and I think that AC did it the way she did in order to advance the plot. It would be a poor story if the narrator was unable to obtain enough information to tell the story. Sure, in society, things were the way AC describes them, I believe, also. I also agree that she was trying to open her mind to new ideas. It is all fascinating, looking at the perspective of those times. I was struck when re-reading Sittaford Mystery that when the narrator says that there were still 'a few people who by choice or necessity chose to live out of the world' (paraphrased), she meant society people. She wasn't really thinking about the blacksmiths, and the farm workers, and the working  people whose families had lived there for generations. It was just a different time, and there would have been good and bad things about it. Wasn't AC of American extraction? I wonder how this affected her outlook? 

    Yes, we all have to re-evaluate our preconceived notions which we inherit from our parents and upbringing.

    Tommy, I think you are going over the top, now. Nobody is being arrogant. Let's be kind to one another.
    We need a moderator to cut in and remind us what the abbreviations forum members have used stand for, and to translate posts in Spanish etc, (although it is fun trying to translate, as you can,as many words are similar.) A bit of proactive moderation would help discussions to flow. This site is a bit self-service, and it needs a moderator to put in a bit of work and research.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    Yes Griselda, perhaps I was a ltle bit over the top but If I wrote my post again I would word things differently but the substance would be the same, If I was writing my post again I would have only have used the word Arrogant once but as it happens I took a deep breath and toned it down from what I had Initially wanted to put, Mind you,it would have helped if people used the write Initials when using abbreviations.  
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    I like the fact this site is a bit self-service when I started bon here if you went off-topic the Moderater would yank you back to the subject, Conversation should be organic, Yes we need a Moderator but we also need to be able to see where Conversations take us to a certain extent.
  • Actually, Tommy, the lack of a moderater - and more than that, an editor - means that when we shift from book to book, the title of the conversation usually only mentions the first book. Thus, someone interested in The Sittaford Mystery would not think of looking under Harley Quin, and there is some interesting stuff about Sittaford in the Quin discussions. I'd be happy if the discussions remained rambling as they are now, but someone "Tagged" messages by book or subject.
  • Grizelda, I believe AC's father was American, but she had hardly any contact with him - she was brought up by her mother and either her grandmother or her grandaunt.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    Perhaps I am being dence today but are you in favour or not of having a Moderator? I have had another look at the Sittaford Quin Discussion yes there is some good stuff there.
  • shanashana Paramaribo, Suriname

    Suggestion to all participants of this SITE (of every nationality) , please type the full meaning of an Abbreviation first just before using the abbreviation: for example (f.e.). 
    Unfortunately, there is no translate-option so you have to do that on your own if what other fans have to say in their languages, interests you. I wonder why this website has omitted that option for all those readers and fans who have made their acquaintance with AC in a different language than English.
    I fully agree with @Griselda that a moderator is needed, especially in these kind of discussions in which things become personal.
    Also, I  haven't come across any kind of announcement that on this site communications should only be in English because AC is an English author. A big part of her succes is that her work has been widely translated in different languages. I always have to trace back the English titles to their Dutch variation because that's the language I have originally read them in. All in the game. So, like Tali said, let's keep pushing our limits as AC tried to do in her novels and broaden our horizons in whatever way possible.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    I wasn't meaning to suggest people should only post in English just that Titles should be the more common English Speaking ones, I agree a Translate Facility would be useful. 
  • SiddharthaSSiddharthaS Michigan, United States
    @Griselda - thanks for digging up those references about the lower end officialdom's instinctive deference to those who they perceived to be "higher class" people.  

    Such characterizations are more about realities of life that do not really challenge the aura around institutionalized Justice, whose sanctity I believe AC may have consciously tried to preserve in her writing.  Even in the Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the murderer's last words in his confession talk about Veronal, and the "poetic justice" in his own resorting to it to escape from law.  Perhaps it was Christie voicing her own reverence for Justice through this character. 

    My posting was specifically about what I considered to be AC's personal red line that she simply would not cross in her capital murders, and about the angst I felt to see the producer/directors failing to notice it and respect it.  I wondered if others shared those thoughts. 

    From your response, it appeared that you were thinking in much broader terms - in terms of Christie's officials showing their classist behavior or being seemingly unfair or inconsiderate to the "lower classes", and looked at such characterizations as some cynicism on part of AC about the quality of British Justice. 

    I wonder if one could go that far.  In an ideal world in some future era perhaps the law enforcement officials would be perfect in all their dealings.  But if all these characters had been strictly "fair" and without any prejudice whatsoever, they would hardly have been believable or enjoyable, thus making AC's story-telling unreal and ineffective regardless of the ingenuity of her plots. 

    About what you mentioned re the "Crooked House" - I think the police official was correct in wanting to suppress the reality behind the tragedy and protecting the family concerned from public exposure.  Here Christie's other concern about the ordeal of innocence under tragic circumstances came into play, I suspect.  In any case, if the policeman needed some time to release the arrested suspects, would that not be natural given the demands of bureaucracy?  You need to get a warrant to arrest people; surely you cannot release them without more paperwork !?      

    Thank you for raising that flag though. 
  • SiddharthaSSiddharthaS Michigan, United States
    @ taliavishay-arbel  - those examples you discussed in your response to Griselda were superb, and are going to make me read those books all over again just to make sure I did not miss the nuances you refer to!  

    Over years, I have developed a deep admiration for the Jewish contribution to human progress.   Every time I visit the Holocaust Memorial, I come out enlightened.  You said - "As a Jewish Israeli, having to constantly re-evaluate my attitude towards a whole lot of minorities - Ethiopian Jews, Islamic and Christian Arabs, disabled people, LGBT etc., I know that we can't always control our subconscious, which is conditioned by our upbringing - the best we can do is not to become complacent, and keep pushing our limits. I think AC honestly tried to do this."  hints at the kind of introspection and dedication to discovering Truth that has made the Jewish race achieve what it has.  One can only learn from it. 

    AC's first novel featuring M. Poirot, the profile of the murdered woman's husband indeed shows a specific prejudice institutionalized over millennia across the world.  Where I grew up, Jews were a small part of the population, were prominent and respected, and were considered a valuable part of the mosaic.  I read the original English book very early as a middle-schooler, and recall being a bit taken aback. 

    But if Shakespeare could not be free from such prejudice, could Christie be immune?  Did Shylock influence AC when she wrote The Mysterious Affaire At Styles??    
  • I certainly agree, SiddharthaS, that Agatha Christie, like the good Jane Marple, believes in Justice. In The moving Finger, Miss Marple says "..we are not put into this world Mr Burton to avoid danger when an innocent fellow-creature's life is at stake". I like that sentiment. She, like Poirot, believes in justice and truth. I once saw a play called Easter, in which a character says that there is one quality higher than justice, and that is mercy. I wonder what Agatha Christie, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot would have thought of that sentiment. By the way, it says online, I believe, that Kenneth Brannagh is actually going to play Poirot. Will that be a come down or an elevation after playing Hamlet?
  • Thank you, SiddharthaS. I appreciate the compliment. I once went over AC's books looking for "Jewish" characters and references - most of them were stereotypical. However, in Three act Tragedy, "Egg"'s young admirer, who is Jewish, is portrayed very sympathetically - and gets the girl in the end! I think it is interesting that this is the one novel that Sattertwaite appears in - just as Sattertwaite is the one who encourages the lower middle class artist to court lady Charnley in "The dead harlequin". It almost seems as if Mr. Sattertwaite is the voice of AC's better, more democratic, more humanistic self.
  • AnubisAnubis Ontario, Canada
    Yes, there unfortunately instances in AC's work where she herself displays a regrettable prejudice against Semites, just as many English folks did in those days. However, SiddarthaS, IMHO, IIRC, IINTHC, it is generally acknowledged that WS presented Shylock in TMOV and Othello in O as (at least somewhat) sympathetic figures, and argument can be made that WS was not prejudiced against them, or other "non-English" types. 
    In any case, I would be much obliged if you could identify where in TMAAS there is any indication at all that the late lady's second husband is Jewish. Inglethorp is an Anglo-Saxon name of long heritage — according to the Domesday Book, there have been Inglethorpes (sic) residing in Yorkshire since at least 1086; his cousin Evie Howard is not Jewish; and there are plenty of non-Jewish folks who have long beards.

  • AnubisAnubis Ontario, Canada
    Griselda, I have always chuckled at Miss Marple's comment that we are not put in this world to avoid danger, when in that particular book she imperils a young woman's life in order to catch a killer. Miss M took care to be well back out of the action, in safety.
    Incidentally, I don't know if Poirot would be up or down from Hamlet, but it would certainly be up from Dr Loveless in The Wild Wild West. I think he would be a good Poirot.
  • SiddharthaSSiddharthaS Michigan, United States
    @ Anubis - I wonder if newer editions of the book will have it given the legal restrictions in many parts of the world post WW-II or prevailing deference to political correctness.  After all the other title of ATTWN was changed to Ten Little "Indians" and even the nursery rhyme text was altered to meet racial sensitivities.  In the TV Version of TMAAS, Alfred Inglethorpe is shown wearing clothing of orthodox Jews, and while similar looking clothing may be used by certain Christian denominations, the facial aspects (of which the long, unkempt beard is only one) are stereotypical.  But that is not to say that I could not be wrong and my memory, usually excellent, may not be playing tricks. 

    Perhaps those who have access to the older, early English versions of the book will advise if they find any such confirmation.  Tommy, do you think you could help us here?   
  • I looked at TMAAS - the husband isn't presented as Jewish. The only Jewish character is Dr. Bauerstein. Unless I missed something.
  • SiddharthaSSiddharthaS Michigan, United States
    @Taliavishay-arbel @Anubis - I shall take it then that I made a major league mistake. Shows the risks of relying too much on memory or first impressions.  My sincere apologies to all of you, and particularly to the late author for having carried a wrong impression for so long!
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    I think The Invalid Husband in Ordeal By Innocence is Jewish, I might be wrong I know in one Book a married man is and wonders if that is why he might be suspected of Murder, It is either Taken At The Flood, Crooked Ordeal By Innocence.
  • AnubisAnubis Ontario, Canada
    Interesting comments, Tommy. SiddarthaS, it is a very understandable conclusion to draw, especially, as you say, given the clothes the actor wore in the TV program. It is not until near the end of the story that Poirot explains why the beard is a necessary part of the plot.

    By the way, in what I hope is a benign comment, I'm going to go in favour of generally avoiding acronyms and initials, unless the meaning is clear from the context. In my neck of the woods, "PC" can stand for President's Choice, Personal Computer, or Politically Correct; "WTF" can stand for Waterfront residence, Way Too Funny, and a rather vulgar expression that might be expressed euphemistically as, "Oh, that's a lot of nonsense." One meaning could lead to buying a house and another could lead to a fist fight. :)
  • Anubis, I can't quite agree with you about Miss Marple's taking risks by proxy. It is true that in "The Moving Finger" She sends the young girl into danger, but that is because the young girl can pull it off while she can't - she wasn't there during the original murder so can't pretend to blackmail. In another case, she certainly puts herself in danger - see the ending of "Nemesis"! Also, at the ending of both "Sleeping Murder" and "A Caribbean Holiday" she is certainly in the line of fire - and in "Sleeping Murder" she has only herself and a bug spray to protect a victim from a murderer. So I'd say her statement in "The Moving Finger" is not inappropriate.
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