Sunday, March 9, 2014

Tommy & Tuppence To Go Atomic?

News has come that the BBC and the Agatha Christie estate, never ones seemingly to squander an opportunity, plan to go "Sherlock" with the Queen of Crime's third-string sleuths, Tommy and Tuppence, and modernize them in a new adaptation of the 1929 short story collection Partners in Crime (though they are only going to go "halfway," so to speak, setting the series in the 1950s).

I have mixed feelings about this.  Tommy and Tuppence seem such creatures of the Jazz Age--classic bright young things--in Partners and Crime and the novel The Secret Adversary (1922).

Even when middle-aged (N or M?, 1941) and elderly (By the Pricking of My Thumbs, 1968, Postern of Fate, 1973), the spirit of the twenties still dances within them (of course some people find that aspect of T & T rather tiresome--even Christie fan Robert Barnard harrumphed about the couple's "intolerably high spirits").

Will ripping them from the art deco twenties and dropping them into the atomic fifties work? Will Tommy and Tuppence now bandy quips while sipping cocktails at a tiki bar?

Will the new Partners in Crime be tiki-tacky?
Of course I know people can say, well, what about Sherlock?

So many people thought Arthur Conan Doyle's classic creation was all about gaslight and hansom cabs, yet the modern-set series has been hugely successful.  But still I don't know about Partners in Crime.

I think Holmes and Watson are such strong, timeless archetypes that they could appear in any age and place and win us over.

But in any event, the die is cast, and we shall see whether it comes up craps or not.

I thought I might take this opportunity to review a bit this week the subject of Agatha Christie's thrillers, the disrespected "poor relation" of her work.

Tuppence looks decidedly skeptical
about this development
Speaking of crime in the mid-twentieth-century, I have finally resolved to read Christie's Destination Unknown (1954), the only mystery by her I have not even started.

However I'm going to start next week talking about our old pals Tommy and Tuppence.

The only Christie, incidentally, that I have started and never been able to complete was the decidedly odd Passenger to Frankfurt (1970)--don't know whether I should give that a try again, just to say that I have really read them all!


  1. Oh, that's fantastic, another series I won't have to bother watching. Why update the book from the late 20s to the 1950s? I know it isn't a big change, BUT wasn't Partners in Crime Christie's farwell to the 1920s and the ambience of the time somwhat important for the effect of the stories? I'm sure the (obscure) references to other detectives will be cut for this adaptation as to not confuse the viewers at home.

  2. When I was a little kid my Mom had a copy of a Tommy and Tuppence novel and the cover blurb made it sound so frightening: "From the next room came the smell of death." Imagine my surprise on finally reading it as an adult! No so frightening after all!

    1. LOL, Tony, that's hilarious, the smell of death! Yeah, I'm afraid Adversary is not so frightening. The only really scary moment I can recall in the T&T canon comes at the end of By the Pricking of My Thumbs....

      Reading some of these Christie books brings back such memories of my childhood days back in the 1970s. Very nostalgic experiences!

  3. The underlying gimmick of that volume -- parodies of well known detective teams -- will fail miserably with an update. They producers and writers are setting themselves up for a lot of extra a work. Considering that most of the detectives that parodies are from the early 20th century and fairly unknown to anyone these days (Thornley Colton, McCarty & Riordan, the Okewood Brothers) the adapters will have to find an entire new set of detective duos. They'll have to find detectives popular in the 50s and still well known to 21st century TV viewers in order for the parodies to work. It will be interesting to see how this production unfolds and if it ever comes to fruition. Of course, they might just opt to abandon the idea of the parody. And seeing how these TV writers do whatever the hell they want to do with Christie's books these days I wouldn't be surprised if Partners in Crime was utterly rewritten with no regard for the conceit of the title and the parodies she wrote.

    1. I imagine they indeed will opt out of the parody element!

  4. I was rather taking for granted that the producers were just going to ignore the original stories, keep the characters, and put them into different contexts. That goes along with the decision to rejig the stories so as to be from the 50s. I note that the lovely versions of the Miss Marple stories from the 80s were 60 years later -- as apparently will these be 60 years later. It seems to me as though the producers can just barely stretch the production budget to reproduce locations and props from 60 years ago but not 90, rather like it's easier to merely use the characters and make up new stories and situations. I do think the parody aspect will be out the window because, as you say, the audience has to be entirely familiar with the detectives whom they're parodying and that's not very likely, is it? Unless they parody Marple, Poirot, Holmes and Perry Mason, and perhaps Father Brown and other Golden Age detectives like Philo Vance and Inspector Alleyn -- and burlesque it enough so that the audience realizes that Tommy and Tuppence are "having fun" rather than being serious. It wouldn't really be necessary for the audience to be familiar with Philo Vance's every mannerism if it was presented as being "comic" and thus the audience would be amused rather than informed. ("Oh, they're making fun of some OTHER old detective I've never heard of.")
    I suspect this will be beautifully-costumed and presented rubbish, like nearly everything that's been filmed for Christie's characters since Chorion really got rolling with exploiting the properties. If they can change the identity of the killers in a classic work of detective fiction, what really is safe? I think I'll drag out my versions with the lovely Francesca Annis as Tuppence and watch them again ... perhaps not ground-breaking, but accurate.

  5. I don't care one way or the other about the new series. I would not be able to watch it for a long time anyway, sooo... I have just started watching the old series. Have watched Secret Adversary, and will watch Partners in Crime once I have read the stories (soonish). As Noah says, Francesca Annis is lovely.

    And I am glad you are going to be talking about Tommy and Tuppence on the blog soon.

    1. Tracy, I've never seen the television version of Adversary, did it have Annis and Warwick too? Annis is stunning, she was made for the art deco age.

  6. Thanks for the comments, everyone, will reply in more detail shortly. Just got the Adversary review posted. Let me know what you think of the book!