A disclaimer is necessary at the very beginning of this review. The miniseries of Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders which is currently available on Netflix is violent, disturbing, and unorthodox, but it is worth watching. If you are familiar with the characterizations of Christie’s Belgian detective Hercule Poirot offered by David Suchet, Peter Ustinov, and Kenneth Branagh, you will immediately understand that John Malkovich’s Poirot is cut from different cloth.
In this presentation, Poirot has seen better days. He finds himself graying, at loose ends, alone, and marginalized. An extraordinary string of murders brings new focus to his life but also unearths some hidden demons. Even if you are familiar with other versions of Poirot, a few minutes of Malkovich’s performance will cause you to see the detective in a new light.
Without giving too much away, there is a theological dilemma that burdens and motivates the great detective. He is obviously a religious person, a Roman Catholic, but he refuses to confess or accept the sacrament. Screenwriter Sarah Phelps has given us a new origin story for Poirot, but it is one with emotional and ethical impact.
Some reviewers have complained about certain excesses in this presentation. The characters are more Dickensian, some parts are just plain grotesque, and the material is definitely adult. They complain that this version is too revisionist and departs greatly from Agatha Christie’s vision. In reality, the British television presentations of the author’s Poirot and Miss Marple are fun, but they are fantasy and often fail to fully depict the darker side of her work. They often departed from Christie's original sources.
Certain aspects of the series will cause the viewer some disorientation. For example, Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter movies) is all grown up and playing an initially dismissive Inspector Crome. For another, the insertion of a proto-Nazi anti-alien movement seems too great an effort to address a contemporary issue.
Although the overall mood of the series is dark and a bit depressing, the coda is challenging. Even the world’s greatest detective is something of a mystery.