TV review: The ABC Murders, BBC One (4 stars)

TV review: The ABC Murders, BBC One

A very contemporary and highly relevant take on a classic Agatha Christie murder mystery

The BBC continues its run of festive Agatha Christie three-parters with the tale of a curiously alphabetical killer and Hercule Poirot's origins story. And with Sarah Phelps once again at the adapting helm, this drama (like those of And Then There Were None and The Witness for the Prosecution) is forcibly lifted off the page and leaps out of the screen with a contemporary vitality. The gory murder scenes and brutal S&M sequence are not what seasoned Aggie-watchers are generally used to.

Set in 1933 London which is rife with xenophobia and suspicion, Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot (John Malkovich) is feeling alien in the place he has called home for two decades and adrift in his profession with his Scotland Yard connection (Kevin McNally's Japp) being put out to seed and replaced by the new broom of Inspector Crome (Rupert Grint). Dubbed by his predecessor as 'a good man', Crome lacks the intellectual brio to keep up with Poirot (he can't pronounce 'monsieur' properly, for one thing), but has the populist touch by getting the first person his men can lay their hands locked away for crimes.

The major crime here starts with the brutal murder of one Alice Ascher in Andover followed swiftly by Betty Barnard in Bexhill. A particular brand of stocking is left near both victims, but when the C killing goes against type, Poirot and (especially) Crome have their work cut out getting to the bottom of the mystery.

Phelps' Poirot has the distinct lack of a twirly moustache to play with, but Malkovich is instead given a neat goatee that he dies in order to stave off the evidence of ageing. But when it leaks during his first humiliating meeting with Crome, he decides to simply be himself. This helps him slowly start to unlock the dark chapter that lurks away in his memory and which might somehow hold the key to solving the ABC Murders. Another stylish and energetic adaptation, the Phelps-Christie partnership is proving to be an extremely fruitful and very bloody one.

Episodes watched: 3 of 3

The ABC Murders is on BBC One, Wednesday 26–Friday 28 December, 9pm.