Since And Then There Were None aired over Christmas in 2015, it seems there’s a new festive tradition, namely settling down on the sofa to watch an Agatha Christie adaptation.
This year, it’s the turn of The ABC Murders, which sees the return of Hercule Poirot – but not as we know him. In this three-part drama, the detective, played by John Malkovich, is a fractured man, and a shell of his former self.
Someone who’s now shunned by the people who once revered him, he’s also being taunted by a serial killer who’s writing letters intimately referencing his first name and signing off with the initials A.B.C.
“It’s the 1930s post-war Britain and at this time moment in time, fascism is on the rise,” explains Broadchurch star Andrew Buchan, 39, who plays aristocrat Franklin Clarke.
“There is underlying suspicion and a distinct mistrust of people from other countries. Hercule fits into that description and is on the receiving end of some quite unpleasant treatment and verbal abuse from passers-by, people he knows and all because he is Belgian.”
The actor, who was born in Stockport, attended Rivington and Blackrod High School and worked at Manchester Airport and Granada Studios before finding fame on screen, thinks there is “something desperately heart-breaking” about this interpretation of Poirot.
“He’s not this energetic man going about his detecting. Rather, he’s a bit of a fallen angel and he’s sifting through the scraps of life,” says the actor, who admits he was a little starstruck working alongside acclaimed Hollywood actor John Malkovich.
“When I heard it was going to be him, obviously several thousand images flash through your head so you think, ‘what’s he going to be like?’. There’s something ethereal about John. He’s a very intelligent man, a thinker and a truly lovely man. Being at the read-through, sitting next to him, it was magnificent to hear him lift Poirot off the page.”
As for his own character, Andrew describes Franklin as “a very amiable, friendly guy”.
“He lives at Combside with his brother Sir Carmichael (Christopher Villiers) and his wife, Lady Hermione (Tara Fitzgerald). They get on famously and it’s a nice tight-knit family atmosphere,” says Andrew who married long-term girlfriend Amy Nuttall in 2012.
“As the murders unfold, and one is particularly close to home for Franklin, it becomes clear to Poirot the killer is working his way through towns and names alphabetically. This young upstart Chief Inspector called Crome (Rupert Grint) is handling the case and Franklin doesn’t think he’s going about the investigation in the right way.
“He’s known Poirot for years, from the mystery parties he used to attend, and his distinctive reputation in solving crimes and mysteries, that’s why Franklin approaches him. He knows he’s the best of the best and won’t stop until it’s resolved.”
A fan of the genre (“I like a show about serial killers or a good documentary about that stuff, and where you have to unpick details and try and guess who it is before anyone else”), Andrew watched And Then There Were None and Ordeal By Innocence, both penned by Sarah Phelps, who’s adapted The ABC Murders too.
“I thought they were brilliant and there was something very hypnotising about them. And this is edgy, mysterious, dark and twisted,” says Andrew, who embraced the 1930s makeover.
“Lindsay Pugh, the brilliant costume designer, has a very acute eye as to what is needed. I’ve played a plumber for about five years, very baggy jeans, quite a loose-fitting top so I said to her, ‘Let’s just try and make some strides towards a suit, something that fits’,” he recalls.
“She started putting out tweed and as soon as I put it on, I felt of the period and it helps you find the character. I do like having the waves in my hair, too. It’s good to just introduce a flicker of something new.”
Agatha Christie – Did you know?
She wrote her first mystery novel in 1916 when she was just 26, following a bet with her sister. It was published four years later as The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
Her prolific writing career spanned six decades, and included 66 crime novels, six non-crime novels and over 150 short stories.
She wrote over 20 plays, of which the most famous, The Mousetrap, is the longest-running play in the world, having debuted in 1952.
With more than two billion books published, she is only outsold by the Bible and Shakespeare.
Her books have been published in over 100 languages, making her the most translated writer of all time.
The ABC Murders begins on BBC One on Boxing Day.