Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Mini | Fiction | Marple With A Minigun

Marple don't text. She don't photoshop so well either.

"Number One was a Chinaman - the greatest criminal brain of all time; Number Two was a multi-millionaire; Number Three was a beautiful Frenchwoman; and Number Four was 'the destroyer,' the ruthless murderer, with a genius for disguise, whose business it was to remove those who interfered with his masters' plans. These Four, working together, aimed at establishing a world dominion, and against them were ranged Hercule Poirot, the little Belgian detective with the egg-shaped head, the green eyes and 'the little gray cells,' and his friend Hastings. It was Hercule Poirot's brain, the 'little gray cells,' which brought about the downfall of the Big Four, and led to their destruction in the cave in the Dolomites."

The Big Four

It seems a bit cheap to discuss the rumour (early April Fool's Prank?) that statuesque 38-year-old actress - one of FHM's World Sexiest Women several years running (probably) and kick-ass action heroine from that TV show that used to be on TV - Jennifer Garner is being considered by Disney to play Agatha Christie's second-most famous creation, little old innocuous sleuth Jane Marple, in a contemporary reboot. Cheap because I imagine the entire Internet is having a wonderfully masturbatory snark-fest over the news, and we here at Silkworms are supposed to be a little less obvious. Cheap because, honestly, it still feels like a joke about crass, disrespectful American remakes to me - it's almost perfect ironic anti-casting. Just look how elderly, diminuitive and inconspicuous Jennifer Garner is.

She actually knits with those sai.

It simply can't be for real. I don't care if it's supposed to be Marple: Origins, or Mask of Marple, in which the elderly Jane Marple hands on her magical ring to her estranged American granddaughter (played by Garner) and tells her that she's been Chosen to take up the superhero Marple identity (for there must always be a Marple). I just don't believe it; however you try to market it, Jennifer Garner as Jane Marple is a funnier critique of nonsensical focus-group reboots than the entirety of Episodes.* It's even more appropriate than Christie's own weary satires on the adaptation process, in which surrogate author Ariadne Oliver is forced to wrestle with directors and producers over the interpretation of her eccentric Finnish detective creation, 'Sven Hjerson'.

But in another sense, it's perfectly logical, because Christie already turned one of her heroes into the star of an absurd actioner, when she wrote Hercule Poirot into The Big Four in 1927, a novel which is generally prefaced with sympathetic words along the lines of 'Christie's mother had recently died, and she was under a great deal of financial pressure...'

The Big Four, a winningly terrible book, sees Poirot and Captain Hastings tossed into a deadly (and, once, literal) chess-game against four international criminal overlords (yeah, that's The Big Four). One of these masterminds is American, which means he's an evil capitalist. Another is French, which means she's an evil sexpot. The leader is Chinese, which means he's Fu Manchu the villainous and moustacheous Li Chang Yen. And there's an assassin, who is so mysterious that nobody knows anything about him, apart from the fact that when he eats bread, he has a nervous habit of picking up the crumbs on the tips of his fingers. No, I'm not joking.

Poirot faces off against them in a series of small, interconnected vignettes which usually conclude with a secondary character being murdered in an extreme and, frankly, unlikely manner, after which Poirot turns to Hastings and says, "Mon ami - regard. Four used tampons have been deliberately left unflushed in la toilette. The Big Four have struck again." Eventually, the Dynamic Duo come face to face with Li Chang Yen and the other three Big Four ("Regard, mon ami! He picks up the bread with his fingertips! C'est Number Four!") and end up having to battle them in an underground lair, which eventually collapses in on itself, killing the Four while our two heroes hurry to safety. All of this really happens. Poirot's twin brother, Achille Poirot, also turns up at one point.**

It's a bizarre attempt to turn Poirot away from English country-house mysteries and towards globe-spanning, racist and absurd action adventure quarter of a century before the James Bond books; and it's all the stranger because it was only Christie's seventh novel, coming right after the runaway success of The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd and long before Christie's growing resentment towards the little Belgian fellow injected an air of staleness into his adventures. The hokey supernatural elements that entered roughly half of her mysteries post-war are a minor issue by comparison, as is the 'serial killer who leaves clues at the scene of every crime for the dubious 'reason' of taunting his detectives' nonsense of The ABC Murders. (The conclusion is actually a cunning twist on the sensationalist appeal of the thematic serial killer, though, which makes me wonder - where did this silly literary trope come from? Jack the Ripper taunted the detectives hunting him, but he didn't write, 'From hell, u may find me at the sing of the Grey Lamb. The next deth will be a Libra').

So, no - I don't mind that Jennifer Garner could become Miss Marple, because it's appropriate to Christie's own weary efforts to break away from the basic, well-worn formula of her most popular work by trying something different, no matter how absurd. Hopefully the Marple will fight international baddies and vengeful ghosts. While quipping.

Jon Ware
Fiction Editor

* I've also read some excellent suggestions for further adaptations with lead actors who are exactly the opposite of what's required, my favourite being 'Ashton Kutcher as Bartleby the Scrivener'.

** It's not actually as bad as it sounds - you see, Achille is really Hercule in disguise. He...disguises himself as his twin brother. Utterly ingenious. Alias should have taken notes.


The question of whether or not Christie was any more racist than the rest of her contemporaries pales, for me, in insignificance next to the undeniable douchiness of those people living today, here in the present, who insist on calling And Then There Were None by its original name. Cos, like, it used to have a racist epithet in it, before the politically correct brigade swooped in AND CHANGED THE NAME! Because it's not as if And Then There Were None is actually a more menacing, evocative title or anything. It reminds me of Bill and Star Etheridge, the politicians fucking morons who tried to make a big deal out of the shocking absence of golliwogs in today's society in order to encourage 'healthy debate'. There's no debate. Neither golliwogs nor 'Ten Little Indians' add anything of worth to our world. Sure, they're part of British history, so they should be recorded. But there's a petty maliciousness to the way these people insist that we should keep them in the public consciousness in defiance of these illusory liberals who want to erase all memory of our nation's past...while at the same time obsessing guiltily over it.

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