It has probably not escaped your notice (unless you are living in Antarctica with penguins) that there is a new film out of Agatha Christie’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. It hasn’t escaped my notice because there are ads for it on the side of London buses and when the 22 stops in traffic outside my flat (which it has been doing a lot recently due to heavy plant activity – not triffids), I have a very nice view of the cast. Kenneth Branagh, sporting luxuriant moustaches, is playing Poirot and directing it. In preparation for this wildly exciting event I read the book and here is my imagined dialogue between Agatha and an unnamed modern day literary agent after the agent has read it.
A DIFFICULT CONVERSATION
Agent: Is this a first draft?
Agatha: Oh dear, well no I didn’t see it as such.
Agent: (sighs) But where are the descriptions? As it stands it might just as well be MURDER ON THE 7.15 CROYDON TRAM. You say the train is stuck in a snowdrift but where is the snow? There is no indication of the snow anywhere. Does it melt immediately? Does no one look out of a window and see it? Does no one scrunch a snowball or throw it?
Agatha: Oh dear you obviously don’t like it at all.
Agent: It’s not that I don’t like it but there are no descriptions. I want to be able to see it. I want snow, I want lush interiors. I mean frankly you wouldn’t really know it was taking place on a train. What do the cabins look like? And if it comes to that what do the people look like.
Agatha: I do describe the people I think.
Agent: You describe Poirot a little bit – huge moustaches …egg-shaped head …ridiculous-looking but as for what’s her name … What is her name? The Countess …
Agatha: The Countess Andrenyi?
Agent: She’s a drag queen or something.
Agatha: Oh you mean the Princess Dragomiroff.
Agent: Oh yes, that’s right – well simply telling us she’s ugly doesn’t tell us much. What kind of ugly?
Agatha: But there’s the yellow toad-like features and the toque.
Agent: The what?
Agatha: The toque, the toque, I describe her as wearing a toque.
Agent: What is that – some sort of otter?
Agatha: It’s a hat.
Agent: Oh. And there’s another thing. Poirot …
Agent: Well, can’t he fall in love with one of the suspects.
Agatha: No, that wouldn’t do at all he is a sexless individual with a large brain.
Agent: Whatever made you think that would be a good idea, darling?
Agatha: Well, my sales. So far Poirot has appeared in seven novels one play and one short stories and he has always been the same. I can’t change him now. My fans wouldn’t like it.
Agent: Oh, you have fans do you? Hmm…
A long silence ensues …
Agatha: Are you still there?
Agent: Yes, I’m thinking.
Time passes …
Agatha (tentatively): What did you think of the plot?
Agent: The plot is OK as far as it goes although it sort of falls off the end of a cliff doesn’t it? Couldn’t we have a scene when they are all saying goodbye to each other on the platform, something to round it off. Now let me see how can we salvage this … could we have longing perhaps … yes, that’s it, longing …
Agatha: For what?
Agent: For pretty much anything darling. Yes, that’s it longing… Now then I can’t hang on here sorting this out for you but basically it’s plot B+ and all the rest C-. Have another go at it and bung it back to me in a month.
Agatha looks down at the notebook in which she’s been making notes of the conversation and sees the following words: Lush Snow, Lush Interiors, Toque, Longing … Otter????? She picks up her pen and begins:
Poirot scrunched the lush snow into a ball and filled with longing threw it playfully at the Princess. It struck her toque and she laughed gaily galloping through the snow towards him. She might have been the ugliest woman in the world but to him her yellow toad-like features were the epitome of beauty … Suddenly, out of nowhere an otter appeared scything through the lush snow. It threw itself at his face. It latched onto his lush moustaches. Poirot screamed as it dawned on him too late – the otter had done it!
Agatha threw down her pen and went and poured herself a large gin …
So here’s the question. Are you a fan of Agatha, Poirot, the books the films? And what kind of Poirot do you think Ken will be. I can’t imagine him playing him as a sexless brain can you? After all, Ken is always the hero – so what’s going to happen? My guess is a bit of longing and some manly striding. Anyway, I’m off to see it tomorrow and I can’t wait. Apparently there is an outrageous piece of product placement which produces this piece of dialogue from Poirot: ‘Ah, lerve theeese leeetle cecks’. The cecks incidentally are of the Great British Bake Off variety. And so that you can excercise yeur leetle greh cells which I know you long to do, answer this. What was the title of the German version of the book?