Think of a murder mystery trope and chances are, Agatha Christie invented it. Her novels are full of amateur detectives, big country houses, and elaborately plotted twist endings. There’s a reason she’s one of the world’s best-selling authors – her mysteries are so well constructed that trying to solve them along with her sleuths is addictive.
Her works have been adapted for the stage, for radio, for TV, and even for computer games and graphic novels, but it’s the films we’re most interested in. With Kenneth Branagh’s Death On The Nile hitting cinemas this week, what better time could there be to revisit some classic Christie adaptations? These are our favourites:
Branagh’s first outing as the legendary (and legendarily moustachioed) Hercule Poirot is a faithful and lavish treat. One of the best-known of Christie’s murder mysteries, the whole story takes place on board the titular train, where an apparently random group of travellers become suspects.
With a cast of familiar faces, including Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, and more, Murder On The Orient Express has impeccably stylish costumes and sets, delightful performances, and the reveal… well, we wouldn’t want to spoil it, in case you’ve not already had the pleasure. But it's good.
Billy Wilder’s version of Christie’s short story Witness For The Prosecution is a proper jaw-dropper. Charles Laughton stars as an elderly barrister who’s supposed to have retired for his health, but just can’t resist taking on an apparently hopeless case: a man accused of killing a wealthy widow who was in love with him, whose only alibi is his wife’s testimony.
Marlene Dietrich is brilliant here, as is Tyrone Power, and the shifting balance of power between the three leads is an absolute joy to watch. It’s just incredibly clever – not that you’d expect anything less.
Another recent Christie adaptation with an impressive cast of big names, Crooked House stars Gillian Anderson, Glenn Close, Julian Sands, and Terence Stamp, among others. Here, an elderly business tycoon has been apparently murdered via contaminated insulin, and almost every member of his sprawling aristocratic family seems to have had motive and opportunity to have ‘dunit.
You get everything you could ask for in a big house murder mystery here, and the solution is truly unexpected. Darkly, devilishly over the top, with performances almost as big as the house itself, some might call this one a guilty pleasure – but we’re just going to count it a pleasure.
Something of an oddity, this one: based on a late-period Christie novel, Endless Night sees a young chauffer falling in love with a rich heiress and building the house of his dreams in an idyllic location, only to be told by locals that the land is cursed.
Though it is, ultimately, a murder mystery (and one with a great twist, too!), the murder itself doesn’t happen until almost an hour in. That slow build-up has the advantage of keeping the audience on their toes; by the time someone finally gets bumped off, you’ll be looking for potential murderers everywhere.
Another Christie classic that’s been adapted many, many times (and borrowed from even more times), there’s something irresistible about René Clair’s version of And Then There Were None.
Ten guests are invited to the isolated island home of U. N. Owen, whom none of them knows… and then, after dinner, they’re played a recorded message that reveals their crimes. As they attempt to understand their unknown host’s motivations, someone starts picking them off one by one.
Laced with mannered comedy, this black and white treat uses candlelight and shadows to its advantage, creating an increasingly hysterical atmosphere as the pool of suspects shrinks. A gruesome nursery rhyme, performed by the first victim shortly before his death, provides a grim blueprint for what’s to come: pay close attention and you might even be able to spot the killer before the final shock denouement.