Tag Archives: Agatha Christie Ltd

Cattrall bears Witness

The BBC’s Agatha Christie revival continues with two-part crime thriller The Witness for the Prosecution. Michael Pickard speaks to star Kim Cattrall about playing a murder victim and why she wants to give women a voice in television.

As far as Kim Cattrall is concerned, she had some unfinished business with Agatha Christie’s novel The Witness for the Prosecution (TWFTP).

Several years ago she had read for a role in a new Broadway production of the short story, only to learn that opening night would never arrive for that particular adaptation. But in a plot twist that might have come straight from the pages of one of Christie’s novels, the actor was last year invited to join the cast of new television drama based on the same novel.

“The script came in and it was drastically changed from the novel and the stage play that I knew, but I thought it was a terrific adaptation,” Cattrall recalls. “They said to me they’d like to offer me the role of Emily French and I thought it would be really fun to do it on film and play this character.

“I felt it was a real opportunity, especially as Agatha Christie has always written wonderful roles for women. The script was very different – it was very innovative but still had a lot of strength, with the female characters in particular. She definitely told very complex women’s stories and wrote those characters well.

“When I read the script, it was great and I could make this woman much more of a force than maybe she was originally in the story. By making her more involved in the suffragettes and more of a radical instead of just a stock character of an older woman pining and fawning over a younger man, we can tell a much more interesting story and create a much more interesting woman for her time.”

Set in 1920s London, TWFTP concerns the brutal murder of Cattrall’s glamorous and rich Emily French. All evidence points to Leonard Vole (Billy Howle), a young chancer to whom the heiress left her vast fortune and who ruthlessly took her life – at least according to Emily’s housekeeper Janet McIntyre (Monica Dolan).

Leonard, however, is adamant that his partner, chorus girl Romaine (Andrea Riseborough), can prove his innocence as solicitor John Mayhew (Toby Jones) and Sir Charles Carter KC (David Haig) defend him in court.

The two-parter, which airs in the UK on BBC1 this Christmas, is the second Christie story to be adapted by writer Sarah Phelps and produced by Mammoth Screen and Agatha Christie Productions, following And Then There Were None (ATTWN) last Christmas. It is directed by Julian Jarrold and produced by Colin Wratten, in association with A+E Networks and RLJ Entertainment’s Acorn Media, with Acorn TV streaming the thriller in the US.

The executive producers are Phelps, James Prichard, Hilary Strong, Karen Thrussell, Damien Timmer and Matthew Read.

Though she may play the murder victim at the heart of the story, Cattrall relished the opportunity to flesh out her character, who is frequently shown via flashbacks during the two-hour drama.

The Witness for the Prosecution centres on the investigation in the murder of Cattrall’s character Emily French

“It was a fun challenge playing her,” she says of the widowed heiress. “I saw her as someone who was a bit of a rebel, who was always testing the ropes and also as quite lonely and incredibly bored. I see her as being quite restless. She meets this young man in this restaurant and he’s not the cock of the walk, he’s a vulnerable young man and he catches her eye. She invites him home and has this moment of offering him five pounds a week to be her companion. I felt for this woman who is reduced to paying for company and attention to make her feel young and vital and visible again.

“I was really happy that Julian allowed me to have fun playing this character as multi-dimensional rather than just the rich, older woman who’s preying on a young man. She’s so much more complicated than that and I wanted to bring that to Emily.”

Best known for playing man-eater Samantha Jones in HBO’s romantic comedy Sex and the City (and its subsequent film spin-offs), Cattrall says she left that role behind long ago by steering away from playing similar characters, instead choosing parts she finds challenging.

“So I feel in a very fortunate position to still be challenged and create different characters in different scenarios,” she continues. “Something to bring forward in any part I play more about what it is to be a woman my age. That’s what I’m exploring myself in real life and is the purpose of the things I say yes to.

“In some ways, Emily French is a character we’ve seen many times before. So I thought, ‘How can I infuse her with something that Sarah’s given me that I can create with Julian to make a character like Emily French more understandable, more detailed and more nuanced?’”

The supporting cast includes Andrea Riseborough

Furthermore, Cattrall explains that Phelps and Jarrold combined to ensure TWFTP is a pure ‘whodunnit,’ rather than revealing who the murderer is partway through the story, which means viewers can look forward an engrossing and immersive thrill ride.

“What I love as an audience member is when the story is ahead of me because then I participate more,” she says. “You don’t know who did it and they keep you on the edge of your seat and you feel for these characters because they’re being more complexly drawn, they’re more human instead of just being archetypes. What Sarah’s done in writing it is given them more humanity. You feel for them even though you feel they could have done it, which I think is an interesting way to tell any kind of thriller.”

Filming took place in the English city of Liverpool, which allowed the actor the chance to return to her place of birth – she was subsequently raised in British Columbia, Canada – and also celebrate her 60th birthday there during the shoot in August.

“I’m a combination of British and Canadian,” she explains. “My parents are both British and I’m now spending more and more time there. My immediate family is in Canada and I also have my show Sensitive Skin [HBO Canada], which shoots in Toronto, so I can go between both countries and work and feel very much at home in both of them.”

But what is it about Christie’s original work that continues to fascinate audiences and inspire new adaptations year after year?

Toby Jones as solicitor John Mayhew

“There’s a real need for whodunnit – they delve into characters, character flaws and everybody is fascinated by a murder and what drives it, whether it’s madness or jealousy,” Cattrall says. “They speak to people’s fascination with stepping over that line. They’re blood-curdling and scary – and when they’re done well, they’re very exciting.”

Prior to TWFTP, Cattrall has been seen on screen in two seasons of comedy Sensitive Skin, which tells the story of a woman (Cattrall) and her longtime husband who are trying to reinvigorate their lives as they struggle to come to terms with middle age.

“I really enjoy telling stories about women, especially at the point in their life where I find myself now,” the actor says. “I just think it’s uncharted territory. It would just be boring to do the same thing over and over again.

“The exciting thing is telling stories people haven’t heard before. I don’t see enough of that on television. I see rip-offs of shows I’ve seen before, and some of them are very well done, but what I’m looking for is stories and women who need a voice. We’ve had enough ‘super women’ or ‘wonder women,’ literally, and superheroes – they’re fun and there’s a place for them. That doesn’t mean what I want to produce doesn’t have comedy involved with it or irony or vulnerability for the characters. I’m trying to figure out this time in my life and I’m very much attracted to stories, whether in film, theatre or television, that are telling that story in a way I can relate to.”

Cattrall’s involvement in Sensitive Skin isn’t limited just to her on-screen role, however. She is also an executive producer – a role she describes as “fulfilling” as she looks to bring more original projects into production.

“The thing I really enjoyed about being an executive producer on Sensitive Skin, and the thing that was also most terrifying, was how much say I have, not just to the actors or directors but how I wanted to tell the story and with whom,” she admits. “That’s a really exciting place to be because you start with a blank canvas and then you choose the colours with your collaborators that you want to use, and I’d like to do more of that. That’s why working with writers is so important and exciting because everything is possible, especially at the beginning of the process.

“I would like to do more of that and really continue to tell stories and give a voice to women who I don’t think have been heard in the past.”

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Phelps bears Witness

Writer Sarah Phelps reunites with Mammoth Screen and Agatha Christie Productions to adapt another classic Christie novel. Michael Pickard finds out more about The Witness for the Prosecution.

At just 23 pages long, Agatha Christie’s classic mystery novel The Witness for the Prosecution might seem a fairly lightweight proposition for a television adaptation.

But after the success of 2015’s And Then There Were None, writer Sarah Phelps and coproducers Mammoth Screen and Agatha Christie Productions have combined once again to bring another Christie tale to BBC1. It is due to premiere later this year and will also air on Acorn TV in the US.

“In the world of Agatha Christie, in terms of her iconic titles, it’s absolutely up there,” executive producer Damien Timmer says of the source material. “Some of her novels cast a very long shadow but The Witness for the Prosecution is one of her best conceits. It’s a very dark, twisted love story that collides with a big courtroom drama. It’s irresistible.”

Set in 1920s London, the short story opens with the brutal murder of glamorous and rich Emily French (played by Kim Cattrall, pictured top). All the evidence points to Leonard Vole (Billy Howle), a young chancer to whom the heiress left her vast fortune and who ruthlessly took her life, at least according to the housekeeper, Janet McIntyre (Monica Dolan).

Sarah Phelps
Sarah Phelps

Leonard, however, is adamant that his partner, enigmatic chorus girl Romaine (Andrea Riseborough), can prove his innocence. Solicitor John Mayhew (Toby Jones) and Sir Charles Carter KC (David Haig) represent him in court.

“It is one of her absolute best stories,” exclaims James Prichard, chairman of Agatha Christie Ltd and the author’s great-grandson. “It’s got a phenomenal twist to it. Romaine is one of the best characters my great-grandmother wrote. It’s a great story and it deserves the Sarah [Phelps] treatment.”

The length of the original tale failed to faze Phelps, who was new to the story and has stuck to her rule of not seeing previous adaptations of a property she is working on. She also specifically wanted to adapt the original short story, rather than the 1953 play Christie wrote based on it.

“I wanted to do the short story because it was the one that grabbed my imagination,” she admits. “Even though it’s incredibly brief, it builds up to this extraordinary twist and it felt exciting, like there was a lot of room in it for extrapolation and interpretation and creative input.”

She adds of the adaptation process: “It’s always about finding the story. You can have a novel that’s 800 pages long or a 20-page short story, but it’s always about asking what the story is. Whether it’s finding the key line through it like with Great Expectations, or with Witness, it’s the tiny little mentions and suggestions that make me think of something and it just sort of breathes and grows. I really enjoyed working on it.”

Published in 1925, it was one of Christie’s earliest works, set during a fascinating period of British history in which society was polarised between the rich and glitzy society life and the poverty experienced by many people in London in the years after the First World War.

Aidan Turner in And Then There Were None
Aidan Turner in And Then There Were None

“We talk about the glamour of the 1920s but the champagne, the shingled hair and the dancing on tables was only present for the proportion of the population who had money,” says Phelps. “Everybody else was caught up in a terrible postwar depression where people were starving. People came back from the war and pawned their medals and begged on street corners. So within those two extremes of that world, you throw in a story about money, sex and murder and it feels really explosive.”

Prichard continues: “There is this extraordinary disparity between the rich world of Emily and her ilk and the poorer world of Leonard, Romaine and Mayhew. Whereas And Then There Were None played towards the fears of the Second World War, this harks back to the after-effects of the First World War and how it impacted on everyone.”

Filming for the two-part drama took place earlier this year in Liverpool, which Timmer explains was a good match for a foggy 1920s London. “But we also needed locations outside London – big theatre set pieces and scenes set in the south of France,” he reveals. “We scouted all over the place and found Liverpool had more to offer than anywhere else. It has some glorious exteriors that do a very good job of passing for period London, arguably better than London itself.”

Telling a story that spans several different locations also presented a challenge for Timmer and Mammoth Screen, with just 120 minutes of screen time to fill.

“It’s two hours of television but in that time you’ve got to recreate large-scale courtroom scenes, London exteriors, 1920s vaudeville, big lavish scenes in the south of France and scenes in First World War trenches,” he notes. “We’re lucky to have [director] Julian Jarrold, who is one of our best filmmakers, and a pretty amazing production team assembled around him. We haven’t stinted at any of these things; the sheer scale of it is pretty remarkable.”

Phelps picks up: “It’s claustrophobic as well. You do spend a lot of time in the courtroom but it became a set of staircases and small rooms full of dark corners. It felt like place was really important and it was about creating a city around the people in The Witness for the Prosecution, all of whom were carrying this trauma of the war with them.

Damien Timmer
Damien Timmer

Collaborating with Jarrold was also a positive experience for Phelps, though the writer admits her scripts can be quite detailed in how she sees the story being brought to life on screen.

“I’m very descriptive with stage directions and almost what you could smell or feel if you were really there,” she admits. “I explain how cold it is or whether the carpet’s thin or so plush that your foot sinks in and leaves a footprint like Robinson Crusoe seeing a footprint on the beach. So that’s all there for anybody reading it to feel the world the way I feel it.

“You always have these conversations with your directors and you can tell people get really into it. Our art designer fell in love with the Mayhew house and was incredibly proud of the set. You have those conversations and you understand each other. The director and director of photography will also have thoughts and ideas of how to realise what I’ve written in the script, so there’s always got to be a trust and you’ve got to give people their own artistic licence.”

Timmer says Phelps is “brilliant” at adapting classic material. “Sarah claims not to have read any Agatha Christie so by coming to her work fresh and simply treating it as a classic novel, it leads to something very fresh in the world of Christie adaptations,” he explains. “Having been on the journey with her for And Then There Were None, we all felt her sensibility applied to Agatha Christie’s best stories is a very fruitful one.

“Sometimes people see Agatha Christie as much lighter than the writing actually is. They think it’s a very chintzy, Cluedo murder mystery but actually she is almost always much more complex than that. And Then There Were None was partly an exercise in making people reassess her and see quite how stark and dark and psychologically complex her writing can be, and Sarah is well placed to get to grips with that.”

Prichard says of Phelps: “She seems to be able to get between the lines of Agatha’s writing in a way that is very special. One thing she says is it’s an adaptation, it’s not a translation, so she does adapt, but to adapt means you’re working from the original and it has to be based in the original. And she does have this ability to take my great-grandmother’s stories and make them very real and bring them into a modern sensibility in a way I haven’t seen for a while. She’s just a great writer, and great writers create fantastic television.”

Following the success of And Then There Were None might seem daunting, but while Prichard admits that show was “the best thing we’ve done on TV ever,” he adds that with Phelps and Mammoth back at the helm, The Witness for the Prosecution could be even better. A+E Networks is distributing the series around the world.

“What Sarah and everyone else has brought to this is a different insight,” he says. “Everything Sarah puts in the story is in the original works if you read them properly. Particularly with Witness, which is just a short story, she’s added bits and given backstories but actually it all feels as if it fits within that. She’s taken a cough that the solicitor Mayhew has and she’s built a complete backstory around this one line in the book. It’s extraordinary how she gets this feel from these stories.”

Mammoth and Phelps will be back together again for another Christie adaptation in 2017, this time taking on Ordeal by Innocence, which is the first of seven adaptations the BBC will air over the next four years. Death Comes as the End and The ABC Murders will follow, with writers and producers to be confirmed.

“I’m in no way an aficionado of her work; all I can say is this is my take and this is what I think, what I see and what I think these stories are about,” Phelps explains. “But maybe because I’m unfamiliar with them, that unsettling quality perhaps comes across because I don’t have any prior relationship with them.

“I think she is an unsettling writer and she nails very succinctly and very forensically a sense of identity, a sense of Englishness where actually there’s a real tension to that identity – and there’s a tension to it because there’s a body on the floor and that body’s been murdered. They’re entertaining stories and deliciously plotted but there’s also something else going on, something quite worrying and dangerous.”

Having produced the long-running Poirot series for ITV, Timmer says he has a soft spot for the author and hopes to continue that relationship in the future.

“We’re relishing this chance to take some of the very best titles and treat them as standalone modern classics,” he adds. “As long as one can access those titles, we’re happy to continue as long as we’re wanted.”

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International Drama Summit: Round-up

The international drama community gathered at the BFI on London’s South Bank for three days of screenings, panel sessions, case studies and awards. Michael Pickard looks back on C21 Media’s International Drama Summit, part of Content London.

On the south bank of the River Thames, hundreds of producers, writers and broadcasters from around the world gathered in London for C21 Media’s International Drama Summit this week.

Held at the British Film Institute, the event took in three days of screenings, panel sessions and interviews covering the hottest talking points in the business – from budgets and coproductions to what commissioners are looking for to fill their schedules.

Audiences took in the first images of new Icelandic drama Trapped, written by Clive Bradley and produced by Dynamic Television. Producer Klaus Zimmermann discussed the challenges of working with nine commissioning broadcasters, among them SVT, DR1, DRK, France Télévisions and BBC4.

Figures from all areas of the drama industry descended on London for C21's International Drama Summit
Figures from all areas of the drama industry descended on London for C21’s International Drama Summit

Bradley also spoke about his positive experience working in a US-style writers room for the first time. “It’s always going to be true that if you have four rather than one brain that you will create more,” he said. “The turnaround was always going to be very quick because you’ve got at least eight months to do 10 episodes.”

There was also a packed house for a first glimpse at ITV’s forthcoming period drama Victoria, starring former Doctor Who companion Jenna Coleman. “Jenna was born to be queen,” said Damien Timmer, from producer Mammoth Screen.

Writer Daisy Goodwin added: “I’ve tried to tell the story of a teenager growing up with a crown. She’s not the queen you expect. It’s drama but everything that happens is true.”

Among the drama case studies, the creative teams from shows including Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, The Collection, Dickensian, Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands, Capital and Jekyll & Hyde took to the stage to reveal secrets from behind the scenes.

Agatha Christie Ltd CEO Hilary Strong said she always envisioned And Then There Were None to be a coproduction, with the three-parter due to air on BBC1 in the UK and Lifetime in the US.

“Working with Joel [Denton, A+E Networks ] and A+E has been a real revelation. This is a BBC show, it’s inherently British, but A+E didn’t demand we put any US stars in as per the old coproduction thing. That is over. Instead, we knew it needed a cast that resonated [in the US] so there was a dialogue.”

DQ editor Michael Pickard (far left) discusses Jekyll and Hyde with the team behind the show
DQ editor Michael Pickard (far left) discusses ITV’s Jekyll and Hyde with the team behind the show

Elsewhere, executives discussed spiralling budgets, creating an increasing need to piece together funding through multiple streams – whether via licence fees, private funding, distribution financing or pre-sales.

And while there was plenty of talk about the alleged saturation of the TV drama market, it was clear that many executives simply believe that while there might be too many shows, there aren’t enough great shows.

Morgan Wandell (pictured top), head of drama series for Amazon Studios, said as much during his keynote session when he warned producers against making run-of-the-mill, “industrial grade” procedurals.

He told delegates that Amazon Studios is aiming to make shows that are a “step above” what is already on offer, such as the SVoD platform’s recently launched The Man in the High Castle.

“If you’re making industrial-grade procedurals then good luck, but you do run the risk of being washed out,” he said, adding that some producers and writers “have built up specific muscles in TV. We’ve stripped away narrative tropes they relied on.”

Meanwhile, UK commissioners noted the changing television landscape as genre tastes and viewing habits continue to evolve.

BBC drama commissioner Polly Hill claimed TV audiences are now more open than ever to “complex, tricky” plots as she unveiled a new series from Luther creator Neil Cross set in a pre-apocalyptic London.

Sky Anne Mensah
Sky head of drama Anne Mensah took to the stage alongside commissioning editor Cameron Roach

Hard Sun, which will air in 2017 and is produced by Euston Films, follows detectives Elaine Renko and Robert Hicks, partners and enemies, who seek to protect their loved ones and enforce the law in a world slipping closer to certain destruction.

Hill told the Drama Summit that the success of the BBC’s recent drama slate, including Sherlock and Happy Valley, was evidence that “mainstream is really moving and big audiences will watch really complex, tricky subjects.”

Sky head of drama Anne Mensah and drama commissioning editor Cameron Roach described the differences between the networks they look after. Watching Sky Atlantic was compared to buying a ticket for a blockbuster film, while Sky Arts was likened to an art house cinema – though not for niche storytelling.

The pair said story was key across the board, however, adding that the pay TV broadcaster’s development team is now commissioning year-round for all three networks, including Sky1, and that channel boundaries remain fluid depending on the project.

ITV director of drama Steve November was more specific when describing his channel’s needs for the next two years. With shows such as Victoria and Jericho coming up in 2016, the broadcaster is well placed to retain viewers following the end of long-running hit Downton Abbey, which concludes with a Christmas special later this month.

And while ITV remains keen on period dramas – with Dark Angel and Doctor Thorne also coming up next year – November said he was looking for a range of new contemporary dramas to fill the 21.00 slot.

ITV drama director Steve November
ITV drama director Steve November

“I have got to be honest, I watched [the BBC’s] Dr Foster with a degree of envy and I wish we had that show,” he said. “Big romantic thrillers and a family relationship drama are real priorities for us.”

Channel 4 drama team Piers Wenger and Beth Willis also talked about the challenge of building a year-round drama slate, and how they approach traditional genres such as crime, period and sci-fi in a fresh way (see No Offence, Indian Summers and Humans respectively).

Deputy head of drama Willis said: “If it could be on another channel, we shouldn’t be doing it. We’re always looking for shows with an edge.”

Wenger, C4’s head of drama, revealed there are a variety of funding models in play at the broadcaster, such as its international coproduction strategy that saw Humans produced with US cable channel AMC.

As the conference drew to a close, the challenges of the future came into view – keeping viewers tuning into linear broadcasts, judging success in ways other than overnight ratings, piecing together financing in a world where there are no longer any set models for production and finding ways to tell new stories in an increasingly competitive market.

There will never be a formula for creating a hit series, but the ambition to find the next big hit is continuing to drive the business forward in new and innovative ways, ensuring the appetite for television drama will remain undiminished for some time to come.

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Agatha Christie Ltd CEO Hilary Strong talks to DQ

Agatha Christie Ltd CEO Hilary Strong explains why adaptations of the celebrated author’s stories, which remain popular across the world, will keep on coming.

The 125th anniversary of the birth of author Agatha Christie this year is being marked with two new television adaptations.

Sleuthing couple Tommy and Tuppence appeared in a new BBC1 series called Partners in Crime, starring David Walliams and Jessica Raine, in July. A six-part drama placing the characters in the 1950s, it re-imagined the events of Christie novels The Secret Adversary and N or M? across two three-part stories produced by Endor Productions.

BBC1 has also partnered with US cable network Lifetime on a new adaptation of And Then There Were None, which was named the world’s favourite Christie novel in a survey published in September.

And Then There Were Non
And Then There Were None will air on BBC1 this Christmas

The classic thriller, which tells of 10 individuals invited to an isolated island where they are killed one by one by an unknown murderer, has been adapted by Sarah Phelps (Great Expectations) and produced by Mammoth Screen. The cast includes Douglas Booth, Charles Dance, Anna Maxwell Martin, Sam Neill, Miranda Richardson, Toby Stephens and Aidan Turner, and is due to air on BBC1 this Christmas.

These new adaptations serve as a fitting tribute to the prolific writer, dubbed the Queen of Crime. But they also represent the efforts of Agatha Christie Ltd to introduce her to a new generation of fans by becoming more proactive when exploiting the rights to the author’s vast library.

Hilary Strong (pictured top), CEO of Agatha Christie Ltd, says: “The brief from Mathew Pritchard, Christie’s only grandchild and chairman of the company, was that we would work together to exploit the brand ourselves and that’s why he brought me in with my television background,” explains Strong. “We were coming to the end of our Poirot films series on ITV that first aired in 1989. David Suchet’s work as Poirot is iconic and no one else has played a leading drama role for 25 years. It’s an extraordinary thing to have done but we knew they were finishing and we knew then that we had to do something new and fresh.

“It gave us the opportunity to sit back and decide what we wanted to do. Did we want to carry on with Christie being the traditional, much-loved work that it is? People’s perception of it is ‘cosy crime.’ But for a brand to remain alive and resonate for a modern audience, it needs to do something new and give a different message.”

With a background in television and rights management, Strong is perfectly placed for this new challenge. She was previously MD of Acorn Productions, where she had responsibility for developing drama around the works of Christie and other properties, including Foyle’s War. She has also worked for Chorion (Enid Blyton, Paddington Bear) and was group business director at Hat Trick Productions.

Partners in Crime
Partners in Crime, starring David Walliams and Jessica Raine

With Partners in Crime, the company made its first move away from ‘cosy crime,’ setting the action in a more recent period and casting Walliams and Raine to attract a younger audience. And Then There Were None, while set in 1939, has a more contemporary tone and is, Strong says, “really fucking scary.”

She explains: “Sarah Phelps has done an amazing job and has been absolutely truthful to the story while giving us this deep dark tone. For me, it embodies what we’ve been trying to do – take something and retell it so it appeals to modern audiences. If we can achieve that, then we’ve done our job. I don’t want to shake off the cosy crime image but I want people to understand that Christie can be delivered in a different way.”

The company isn’t just interested in a new way of telling Christie – it is also shaking up the way its television adaptations are built. No longer simply licensing rights away, Agatha Christie Ltd is keeping its hand in the creative process and building direct relationships with broadcasters and suggesting potential projects before selecting the production partners they want to work with to bring the idea to the screen.

“It is quite unusual,” Strong says of the strategy. “It helps that there are relationships before that process. Damien Timmer, who runs Mammoth, was an executive producer at ITV on Poirot and Miss Marple, so he has a long relationship with the family and the company. When we sat down with him, he was extremely open to the benefits of collaboration because you get a different insight when you’ve got people who really know the brand involved. The script process is very collaborative but once production starts, they get on and make the programme. It works really well.

“The thing I was most keen to do was move away from the idea that the estate is there to approve or disapprove, which does happen with estates. So if we get it right and we’ve chosen the right writer and worked on the scripts, then once you get to production, those parts are in place. It would be quite unusual to hit a fundamental problem then.

“We also do a lot of the design stuff together because that’s really important to us. We need to make sure the imagery being used when you get to promotion works cross-platform. We had new book covers for Partners in Crime, with a logo that goes across the TV programmes.”

Les Petits Meutres
France 2’s Les Petits Meutres d’Agatha Christie

Christie isn’t just popular in Britain, however. Strong says the novelist’s works have been translated into more languages than those of any other author, while TV adaptations have been sold into more than 180 countries. Japanese network NHK aired a two-part version of Murder on the Orient Express in January this year, produced by Fuji TV. And French broadcaster France 2 is behind Les Petits Meutres d’Agatha Christie, which plants two detectives into Christie plots. Twenty-three episodes have been produced by Escazal Films since 2009.

“What’s been really interesting is just how big Christie is in other countries,” says Strong. “In South America, Australia, Germany, Italy, Japan and China, Christie is huge and they have their own indigenous productions in foreign languages.”

She also suggests a big deal for the German-language rights to Christie’s books is near completion, adding that the estate is very open to doing “very radical, avant garde, contemporary new things” with Christie’s stories.

“But we’re unlikely to muck about with the core plot because that’s what works,” she explains. “When people start trying to mess with it, that’s when it goes wrong. You can tell it in a new way, give it a contemporary tone or set it in a contemporary setting. And Then There Was None means there is no one left at the end. It’s not a returning series!”

Strong recognises the drama business is tougher now than at any point in her career: “The fact that budgets have come down and expectations in terms of quality are higher, together with the need to compete on the international market, means your vision and scale has had to go up.

“It’s a very good time for drama. There’s an awful lot out there but that’s because there’s an appetite for it. As people keep on watching it, people want more. And the fact there’s so much, if you’ve got a brand like Christie, you can put your head above the parapet a bit and people can find you in the schedules.

Murder on the Orient Express
The Japanese version of Murder on the Orient Express

“But one of the things we don’t do is work with people just because they think the brand will help them sell more shows. We will only work with people we know have a genuine love for the stories. We have tried developing a couple of smart ideas and then down the road realised the people we were working with didn’t have the depth of understanding of the brand, and in those circumstances it rarely works. If you work with people who understand Christie, it just works much better.”

Strong would love to see Witness for the Prosecution, a short story about a woman who gives evidence for the prosecution in her husband’s murder trial, made for television and says the global appeal of Christie’s stories is in the pure and simple language she uses.

In the meantime, fans can look forward to a new big-screen version of Murder on the Orient Express, which will be directed by Kenneth Branagh for 20th Century Fox. Branagh will also star as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who must investigate a murder on board the famous train – but there are a number of passengers who could have committed the crime.

Agatha Christie Ltd has also launched its own digital drama based upon Christie’s character Mr Quin, which launched as an app in November 2015.

But what is it about Christie’s work that means it has stood the test of time? “Her plot lines are just ingenious and her characters are lovable,” Strong adds. “People adore them. And the breadth – there are 33 Poirot novels to read. You’re not going to do it in a hurry.

“I don’t see any time when people don’t want to carry on reading her books. Our job is to retell those stories in a way that makes them accessible for people. What I’d love – and would tell me I’d done my job – is if people watched And Then There Were None and then went back and read some of the original books.”

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