Marple: Endless Night

miss-marple3Endless Night, among the best of Agatha Christie’s  later novels, is the latest to be ‘Marple-ised’ – that is to say, adapted for the ongoing Marple TV series by inserting Jane Marple into a story where she did not originally appear. As the sleuth only features in a dozen novels and twenty short stories, the production company have been expanding the canon quite considerably in this way. This is the 23rd two-hour film to be made in the series and the tenth to be adapted from a non-Marple source. On the face of it, this unusually ‘psychological’ of Christie’s books would seem to be a poor fit for the series – does it work? And how does it compare to the earlier cinema adaptation?

The following review is submitted for Todd Mason’s Tuesday’s Overlooked Film
meme at Sweet Freedom, and the second half of Katie’s 2014 Book to Movie Challenge
submission devoted to this book at the Doing Dewey blog – for links, click here.

“There’s no luck for them as meddles with Gipsy’s Acre”

The first adaptation of the book came in the shape of a British film from 1972 starring Hywell Bennett, Hayley Mills, Britt Ekland and in virtually his last role (it was released after his death), George Sanders. Michael is working as a chauffeur but wants to get ahead in life despite his poor background and the heavy hand of his highly religious mother, who tells him that God is forever watching on his actions. He meets Ellie, an heiress and the two fall in love, marry, and build the home of their dreams at Gypsy’s Acre designed by Michael’s ailing friend Santonix, to the consternation of the Christie-Endless-Night-fontana-tie-inlocals and her family – and then there is a tragedy. Not a big hit in its day, it is said that the film slightly upset Christie with its flashes of nudity and other modernist touches (including some quite scary nightmare sequences). It is however otherwise a pretty faithful take on the book, made with his usual skills by veteran writer-director Sidney Gilliatt who previously made the classic film version of Green for Danger starring Alastair Sim and co-wrote Hitchcock The Lady Vanishes. Bennett is particularly good in the difficult role of Michael, while glamourpuss Britt Eckland is typecast as the European temptress in contrast to sweet Disney star Hayley Mills (with a wobbly US accent) as Ellie. There is also a fine score by the great Bernard Herrmann, built around a haunting setting of the William Blake poem ‘Auguries of Innocence‘:

Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.

Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.

Since that first attempt the book has been adapted for radio and even as a graphic novel; however, the new adaptation for the Marple series – which was broadcast in the UK last month – is superficially the most radical. It relocates the story, after a prologue set 8 years earlier, to 1956 and adds Miss Marple even though the original not only had no real detective in it but was designed to feel more like a psychological mystery in the style of Margaret Millar rather than one of Christie’s traditional investigations. There are few physical clues and the clever solution is based entirely on the psychological makeup of the characters. And yet the modifications that the TV company have made, admittedly mainly to keep the series brand going despite the dearth of genuine Marple stories, are not entirely without canonical justification.

Christie-Endless-Night-hbThis is because Christie did in fact base the novel on a 1941 short story she published in The Strand magazine during the war that featured Miss Marple, The Case of the Caretaker. So what of the new ITV version then? The series, especially when Geraldine McEwan was starring in it, positively delighted in altering the original stories and infusing them with a garish and campy sensibility. Julia McKenzie’s portrayal is more down-to-earth and the style has also been brought to heel too, which is my view is a good thing. The recent version of A Caribbean Mystery for instance, adapted by Charlie Higson, may have added Ian Fleming, James Bond and Zombies to the mix but in fact these were amusing superficial embellishments while the plot and main characters were left largely unchanged. Here the script by Kevin Elyot, who has written a great many of the recent Marple and Poirot adaptations for TV but is also the author of that exceptional play, My Night with Reg, is surprisingly faithful to the novel. We begin with a new prologue in 1948 in which Michael fails to save the life of a friends when he falls through the ice while ice-skating on a lake. For this sadly failed attempt, the dead boy’s brother promises to repay him – this proves to be a key modification in that the sickly boy, Robbie, replaces architect Santonix from the novel, and helps knit the story together at the end and may well be Elyot’s best embellishment.

Elyot does however struggle to keep Marple in the plot otherwise while following the narrative of the novel fairly closely as Michael and Ellie meet, marry and build their dream home before death comes knocking on their door. Elyot has Miss Marple visiting her fairly awful friend Marjorie Phillpot (Wendy Craig) who lives nearby but they also just happen to be in Italy when Michael and Ellie are honeymooning there – and in fact Miss Marple seems to spend entire months visiting Marjorie, which more than strains credulity. Elyot might have done better to have followed the approach of the short story and have Marple as a more passive character because it does scotch the climax somewhat as the big twist is revealed before she arrives, which mainly reinforces the fact that she is basically redundant to the narrative. None the less, the adaptation is about three-quarters there with Tom Hughes really terrific as Michael as is Borgen star Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as Greta, though admittedly she does seem somewhat uncomfortable in some of the more glamorous of the 50s style outfits she is made to wear. Janet Henfrey is perfectly cast as Mrs Lee, the seemingly unhinged woman who curses the young couple (and quotes the Blake poem to explain the title too).

Endless-Night-1972

On the whole then I would have to say that I prefer the 1972 movie adaptation (which is available on DVD and illegally on YouTube too), which despite some awkward moments (and some duff process shots) succeeds much better at transferring the book to the screen. The Marple iteration deserves credit for the smart way it refashions the Santonix character for its own purposes and for some very strong performances – ultimately though adding St Mary Mead’s favourite snoop to the proceedings adds very little and does in fact hinder the plot development at the end, perhaps because it is otherwise so surprisingly faithful. It might have been better if they had deviated a bit more from the original novel, and I never thought I’d say that!

Director: David Moore
Producer: David Moore
Screenplay: Kevin Elyot
Cinematography: Balazs Bolygo
Art Direction: Jeff Tessler
Music: Dominik Scherrer
Cast: Julia Mackenzie, Tom Hughes, Joanna Vanderham, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Tamzin Outhwaite, Wendy Craig, Hugh Dennis, Glynis Barber, Janet Henfrey

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

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73 Responses to Marple: Endless Night

  1. Curtis Evans says:

    I just don’t have any interest in this. I know there’s a Marple connection through The Case of the Caretaker, but if they want more Marple, they just should have stuck to this story. It’s no favor to Christie doing this to one of her finest novels. It’s a shame her grandson has given the green light to tarnish her literary legacy like this. Does anyone involved in these films anymore really see them as worthwhile art, or simply as further ways of squeezing some more money out of her literary legacy? As Nero Wolfe would say, pfui!

    • Hello Curt – well, while I think it could have been finessed better, this was a pretty fauthful adptation of the book so not much tarnishing going on really – yes Jane Marple gets added in a perfunctory way at times, but you can almost just blank those bits out as they don’t really modify the story at all – the narration and POV is retained and she functions more as a kind of author surrogate – worth a look, honest!

  2. Fred Windberg says:

    Sorry, I thought it was a horrible Marple…disappointing to say the least..!! Could not wait for it to be over..!!

  3. TracyK says:

    I have not watched many adaptations of Agatha Christie novels. So I can make no comparisons. And I usually don’t worry about how faithfully a book is brought to the screen, either in films or TV shows, but… for some reason it really offends me to take a novel and add a sleuth, such as Miss Marple. So if I ever try an adaptation it would be the original one. Plus I would not mind seeing Hayley Mills again.

    • Curtis Evans says:

      I’ve always been meaning to watch that film, looks like is will remain the closest approach to filming the book as it actually is.

      Can’t wait for “Marple: Postern of Fate” and “Marple: Passenger to Frankfurt.” Incidentally, does anyone else hate that “Marple” business? I’m trying to imagine someone in Miss Marple’s day saying to her: “Hey! Marple! Over here!!”

      Maybe they should add Miss Marple to other people’s books too. How about “Marple: Northanger Abbey.” Or “Marple: Bleak House.” Or “Marple: The Woman in White.” Think of the possibilities!

    • Well, the Hayley Mills version is much more straightforward an adaptation and is available on (cought) YouTube so you should definitely give it a whirl TracyK – I actually don;t mind these weird adaptations, though I agree that one has to take them one at a time as artistically it seems pretty unsound – but if a good movie comes out of it, I don’t mind!

  4. Sergio – I’d never have thought you’d say that either! Being somewhat of a purist (but you knew that), I wasn’t really ecstatic to hear that Endless Night was going to be ‘Marpleised’ anyway. I think the key is the point you make about Endless Night being more of a psychological thriller, while the Marple novels tend to be who/whydunits (although they certainly do have psychological elements to them). The two don’t generally flow together seamlessly.Fascinating and thorough review as ever, for which thanks.

    • Thanks very much Margot – if you ever catch up with this version i’d love to know what you make of it – I’m not really a purist, but no one wants to feel insulted and it is horrible if one has the strong feeling of being pandered to in a lowest common denominator way!

  5. justjack says:

    Sorry for the misdirection, but when I saw your current “off the shelf” book I had to say WOO HOO! Can’t wait for your take on the odd couple buddy cop team of Lije Bailey and R. Daneel Olivaw.

  6. I’m probably in the minority, but I don’t mind loose adaptations of the stories, especially if they are mostly faithful to the original story and Dame Agatha’s ideas. Gives us old hands something fresh to think about. Haven’t seen Endless Night yet, but will get round to it at some point…

    • Curtis Evans says:

      I just don’t see how sticking “Marple” into the story advances it. I hate this whole notion where Christie books are only deemed worthy of adaptation to film if they can have M. Poirot or Miss Marple in them. Are Christie’s television fans really willing to watch a Christie film only if it one of those two sleuths? Julia McKenzie’s Miss Marple is such a bland character anyway, at least to me. And I have liked her in other things.

      It would have shown more originality, for example, to reintroduce Tommy and Tuppence–as they were meant to be–to a new generation. Instead they just got completely altered, apparently, to serve as supporting characters to “Marple” in By the Pricking of My Thumbs. Speaking of which when will we get “Marple: The Secret Adversary,” I wonder? Feh!

      • But the TV execs aren’t appealing to Christie fans – they’ll watch regardless. They need (right or wrong) a way to lure in casual viewers to what would otherwise be one off dramas. In an ideal world, this wouldn’t br necessary but you never know, someone might watch the Marple version, read the book and then realise that the presence of Marple or Poirot isn’t essential for a Christie to be any good.

        • It is a shame that the anthology format, except when done thusly, seems to be a thing of the past though I would have thought that the Christie brand would be strong enough on its own these days … Poirot one weel, Tommy and Tuppence the next, then a Poirot – sounds great!!

      • Whilke I agree that as a commercial/artistic trend it is disappointing, we are, I fear, going to part company on By the Pricking of My Thumbs, as I thought the TV version worked extremely well in the sense that the Marple character seemed a good fit given the theme. I donl;t believe for a minute that this will stop new adaptations – precisely the opposite in fact given how far they stray from the original novels I would have thought.

    • Let me know what you think Steve – I thought it was pretty faithful, which may have not been a good thing, but given what you think about the book you may find yourself warming to it …

      • I’ve just started planning a Re-Read thread for the future. Currently consisting of Endless Night and False Inspector Dew as these seem to be the books that I’m in a minority about – although Patrick dislikes Endless Night even more than I do. If I can summon the energy, I’ll do a review. If not, I’ll pop back here…

        • That sounds great Steve – be really great to see what a re-read produces – can make it worse of course, though it has also been pointed out here that Endless in particular is maybe a book that workes better once you knwo the ending (perverse, I know …)

  7. Colin says:

    I haven’t seen any of these new Miss Marple adaptations but it does seem a bit odd writing the character into stories she didn’t originally appear in. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Probably it wouldn’t trouble me too much as long as the material fits the character – at least one of the Margaret Rutherford films was really a refashioned Poirot story if I remember correctly.

    • Curtis Evans says:

      I think the thing is, as Sergio shows in his excellent piece on the novel Endless Night, it’s really a unique book in Cristie’s work, much more a psychological crime novel in the Ruth Rendell mode (did Christie ever read any Ruth Rendell in the 1960s?). It’s an impressive work that deserves respect for its artistic design, I think, rather than get treated as just another property to be turned into a “Marple” installment. But then they did this already with The Pale Horse, Murder Is Easy, Ordeal by Innocence and Towards Zero, some of Christie’s best books. I’ve only seen a couple of these but in my view they all work splendidly without the little old lady from St. Mary Mead (Supt. Battle in Towards Zero is not especially interesting, however).

      • Colin says:

        As I say, I haven’t seen any of these Marpleized versions. Those books you mention are all pretty strong works and I too would imagine they could be adapted just fine in their own right. Adding in Miss Marple as the sleuth is basically a marketing ploy it would seem. I don’t think I’d take issue with that so long as there is a whodunnit to solve. This story does sound like it’s of the wrong “type” though.

      • I agree that Towards Zero should have had a stronger detective character – but I am not a big fan of the Marple series as it has developed, to be clear, and I agree that the Mckenzie interpretation is perhaps too subdued – a reaction to the Geraldine Mcewan iteration, perhaps?

    • Cheers Colin – well, in fact two of the Rutherfords were, which is to say that out of four films, only one was based on a Christie novel – Gallop is from After the Funeral and Murder Most Foul from Mrs McGinty’s Dead, both Poirot novels. I knwo you’re not a big TV fan but I have a real soft spot for the Marple version of By the Pricking of My Thumbs, directed by Peter Medak and starring Anthony Andrews and Greta Scacchi as the ageing Tommy and Tuppence, which I thought worked really splendidly.

      • Colin says:

        Ah, thanks for clearing that up – I was half right then.

        I’m not averse to TV material, although I am more of a film man, and am always open to recommendations. If I were in the UK I’d probably have seen some of the new Marple shows and would be better placed to comment on their quality.

      • Curtis Evans says:

        My problem with Thumbs is it seems such an transformation from the T&T of the book. Even as an elderly couple they were rather jolly souls. I know this isn’t a congenial conception to modern mystery film makers, however.

        • In some ways, for me, even those changes made it easier to digest, given the somewhat radicalised nature of the adaptation in the first place – as a book it’s weak on plot but very strong on subtext and theme and I thought it brought that out quite well. But it’s possible that we are not going to agree on htis – you’ll have noticed probably that I am rarely a purist when it comes to adaptation!

  8. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I’m *definitely* going to stick to Joan Hickson! I’m obviously becoming a purist and I don’t see the point of sticking a character in – they could have done the film and called it Agatha Christie’s Endless Night and people would still have watched it!

    • Well, you’re right there Karen and hopefully this won’t stop that happening – the 1972 version is easily available and well worth a look and at least was released very near the original publication date, which is often a bonus for me.

  9. I am in a house in California with a lot of Christies and contemplating which to reread. Not sure the charm will hold up for me. But I prefer her to the huge collection of Ludlums and Higgins around. But most interesting of all, they have a big collection of Hitchcock’s earliest films. Next week I will review RICH AND STRANGE. Quite a bonus to see that.

  10. Curtis Evans says:

    I’m waiting for the mash-up “House of Christie,” where Poirot and Marple solve a murder together, with guest appearances by Tommy and Tuppence, Supt. Battle, non ami Hastings, Miss Lemon, Inspector Japp, Colonel Race and Ariadne Oliver.

    • I think there is an animated show in Japan where Miss Marple and Poirot crimebuust together but actually I would totally watchg a Christie anthology with a different character returning on a totating basis – ah well, I can dream …

      • Ela says:

        Isn’t that mostly the plot of ‘Cards on the Table’? ;-)

        Haven’t seen this (or any of the Julia McKenzie versions) but wish the producers would just do the Christie mysteries without feeling the need to include Miss Marple. A straight version of ‘Endless Night’ would be easily dramatised, and it’s not one of the really well-known ones so would be less familiar to viewers.

        • I obviously need to re-read Cards on the Table Ela!!! I am sure that there will be plenty more adaptations of Christie and hopefully they will all be presented ‘straight’, though as I say, the 1972 did that already pretty well :)

  11. Curtis Evans says:

    “I am sure that there will be plenty more adaptations of Christie”

    Next up: “Marple: SHE Came to Baghdad.” All they have to do is write out Victoria Jones and write in Miss Marple.

  12. Noah Stewart says:

    Some time ago, I commented in my own blog about the addition of Miss Marple to a production of The Pale Horse, “Why not re-purpose a few old creakers by, say, Freeman Wills Crofts or Ellery Queen, take out the detectives and add Jane Marple? Why not re-make the entire Perry Mason series with her instead? Murder, She Wrote? The Sopranos? Where in the World is Carmen Santiago? Apparently the new watchword is, add a dash of Marple to any bloody thing, like onion salt.” I haven’t seen this production yet — although I intend to find a copy, thanks to your interesting review — but I’m expecting onion salt.

    • Thanks for that Noah. It’s not a novelty though, is it? After all, in the 1940s Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlow got turned into both Michael Arlen’s The Falcon and Brett Halliday’s Michael Shayne (as, in the case of thge laterr, did Clayton Rawson’s Great Merlini) – plus ca change …

      • Curtis Evans says:

        Speaking of which, why not make a series of Marlowe films actually based on all the Chandler novels. There’s quite a checkered record accumulated in that regard.

        • I’m actually preparing a post on the 1980s TV show that was based on the Chandler short stories, which I think is a bit underrated. The closest we have had to an attempt at a uniform adaptation remains on radio – Ed Bishop in the 70s and 80s and more recently Toby Stephens for the BBC – both did fairly well in terms of fidelity but monkeyeed around with the plots none the less. But then again, my favourite Chandler movies range from Dick Powell to Elliot Gould’s interpretations, so clearly my tastes are a tad eclectic – but it would be nice if say HBO decided to to all the Chandler books in period, set between 1939 and 1959? I would looove that …

    • Curtis Evans says:

      This reminds me of Christianna Brand’s story about how she couldn’t think of a plot for a new mystery and John Street invited her down to his house to look through his old novels–he had about 100 by that time–and “pick a plot, my dear!” Street’s novels, which have an astonishing number of clever plots, could keep the Marple/Poirot franchises going for years to come. Of course it’s too much to hope they would actually film them with his detectives Dr. Priestley and Desmond Merrion! I’d desperately love to see a Priestley series but peace in the Mideast is more likely.

      And then there’s the whole tragedy of the film world’s refusal to embrace Carr’s superbly atmospheric books! Why is it they can do Jonathan Creek but they can’t do Gideon Fell?

      • My dream is that David Renwick, currently making new Jonathan Creek episodes, manages to get the Beeb to invest in some Carr adaptations – you would think that some of his spectacular stage style effects and love of highly colouured melodrama and thick atmosphere would be a winner, right? Even on radio the results have been few and not especially rewarding (Donald Sinden was not really my idea of Fell).

  13. Yvette says:

    It almost seems to me that they (the powers that be) just don’t know HOW to adapt Christie’s Marple-less and Poirot-less fiction. I simply cannot abide the insertion of Marple or Poirot into a story which was never intended to have them. Ugh. I haven’t seen ENDLESS NIGHT, Sergio, Truth be told, I doubt I’ll be watching it. When Joan Hickson passed away, I gave up on Miss Marple anyway. I never get tired of re-watching those. Especially BODY IN THE LIBRARY and A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED, A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY and even, MURDER AT THE VICARAGE and SLEEPING MURDER. All most faithful to the original source and cast so splendidly with what seems an abundance of attractive English character actors in their prime. I most especially adore David Horovitch as Inspector Slack.

    • Oh, I agree about the Hickson adaptations Yvette, wonderful stuff though even they tapered off a little bit at the end (well, Hickson herself tried to call it quites several times apparently).

    • Curtis Evans says:

      Hickson was great, but today she gets some criticism form people who see her as stiff and cold. I think what they aren’t getting is Victorian/Edwardian reserve. Marple 2 was an interesting portrayal, but came off something like a semi-Bohemian. I could have seen this Miss Marple becoming a suffragist and taking up progressive causes. Marple 3 seems like a fairly modern grandmother.

      • I think you’ve absolutely nailed that Curt – semi-Bohemian is absolutely the best description I’ve heard. What is true for me is that Hickson worked the best in her own context – but you could argue that it is by far the most conventional reading too

  14. Sergio, thanks for a fascinating insight into the new Miss Marple adaptations. I’ve only heard about them. We recently watched a few television movies of David Suchet’s POIROT on cable that were mostly faithful to Christie’s novels. While I’m with the purists, in just about everything, I don’t mind bending the rule and watching a modified serial or a movie for sake of entertainment. The only issue I’d have is with the introduction of a character, that too a lead character, who wasn’t there in the original. In such cases, I think, there ought to be a footnote saying based on or adapted from the work of…

    • Thanks Prashant – well, it is now clearly a branding issue as much as anything else, creating these Poirot and Marple identities – it will be intersting, now that Suchet has finishes his run, what will happen. It won’t be long before they start being adapted again though one assumes that they will have to take a very different approach. We shall have to wait and see but hopefully not too long!

      • Noah Stewart says:

        I expect now that, given the recent success of Benedict Cumberbatch and “Sherlock”, some clever person at the Beeb will realize that Poirot and Marple, or both, are ripe for a reboot. Poirot will be reborn as a tattooed twenty-something hacker with an ironically waxed moustache and OCD whose need to rearrange mantlepiece ornaments is a hangover from his difficult childhood, and Marple will be a tattooed twenty-something single mom who dresses ironically like an elderly woman, runs 30 Facebook groups, and cannot be more than three feet from her cell phone or she has an anxiety attack. (sigh) Yes, I realize that occasionally characters and plots benefit from a refreshing, an updating, even a cross-pollination. It’s just that people liked these iconic characters for decades based on who they were, not who they reboot as. Everything doesn’t have to be recast in terms that millennials can understand. The problem is, as the producers of the “New Perry Mason” discovered, when you bollix up a franchise by rebooting it incorrectly, you taint it for a generation and it can’t be re-re-booted; you have to wait 15 or 20 years. Oh, no. That means Perry Mason is overdue for a reboot … I expect someone as we speak is preparing a TV show about a tattooed twenty-something counter-culture lawyer who defends millennials unfairly charged with murder by Boomers, with a transgendered secretary ironically named Della Straight.

        • Nice one – have you been watching Elementary? In the one Mrs Hudson got discretely transgendered (and why not) and Sherlock was completely tatted up (ouchie). I do know what you mean about potentially screwing it up for a generation or more (Robert Downey Jr is supposed to be developing a film versio of Perry Mason as I recall … wonder what happened to that Thin Man movie with Johnny Depp?) In the end one is reminded of Rex Stout, who suggested such people should go and “roll their own” and not mess around with other people’s creations – and it is a fair point.

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