The 2003 ITV production of Agatha Christie’s Sparkling Cyanide is a modern adaptation of one of Agatha Christie‘s less well known mysteries, Sparkling Cyanide, which was originally published in 1945.
To my knowledge, I’ve read just about every Christie book published – it’s possible that I missed one or two somehow, but I suspect I’ve read them all. That said, Sparkling Cyanide is one of those that I certainly haven’t gone back to in decades, and don’t really have a clear memory of reading at this point. That said, from my understanding, this isn’t a huge problem in understanding the 2003 adaptation, as it seems to have had enough changes made that only the largest strokes of the mystery itself have remained entirely unchanged.
The biggest change is the alteration to the sleuth – in the book, the sleuth was Colonel Race, an ex-army colonel who was a leader of British counter-intelligence and a recurring character in several Hercule Poirot novels, besides starring in several of his own. In the movie, Race has been replaced by Colonel Geoffrey Reece (Oliver Ford Davies) and his wife, Dr. Catherine Kendall (Pauline Collins), whose familiar banter seems much more Tommy and Tuppence than Poirot. These aging spies/security agents/investigators are tasked with investigating the suspicious death of a young woman at a party, largely due to one of the other guests requiring vetting for a senior government position and the possibility of scandal if he was somehow involved.
Though on initial investigation the victim seems like an upstanding young woman who no one would have reason to murder, a slew of possible motives for each of the other party-goers to kill her quickly start to turn up. When a second death occurs at a poorly-advised recreation of the original death, the situation escalates even further.
In many ways, this adaptation of Sparkling Cyanide is a look at how a Christie-style sleuth would need to adapt their methods to a modern Britain. In Christie’s era, the idea of a massive network of street-level cameras capable of picking out pedestrians, replacing doormen as witnesses, would seem like an impossibility, but today more criminals are no doubt caught by a camera they never realized was there than by a witness lineup.
Despite all these changes to modernize the story, this is still a mystery worth watching – even the bare bones of a second-rate Agatha Christie mystery are more than sufficient for a compelling piece of crime fiction, especially a relatively tight 90-ish minute adaptation like this one. Lately, it feels like I’ve been watching a lot of mini-series, and full series, and multiple part entries – lots of mysteries taking 4-ish hours to get to a resolution. If you’re interested in a stand-alone movie that you can likely get through in a single sitting, then I’d recommend you watch Agatha Christie’s Sparkling Cyanide – available (at least at the time of this writing) on BritBox. Warning – very brief nudity, for those who are bothered by that sort of thing.