I’ve just finished reading ‘The Secret Pilgrim’ by John le Carré, and as usual, having enjoyed it, I’m left thinking not about the plot or the characters although i do think of them, I’m mulling over how in awe I am of le Carré as a writer. I mentioned this in an on-line book club I’m part of and there were lots of responses. Someone mentioned that they hadn’t read any books but had seen ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ recently, the Gary Oldman film. I thought it was a dreadful film, even allowing for the fact that films are bound to be different from the novel, and it got me thinking about how the written word transfers to the screen.
This is what I wrote a couple of years ago:
I wrote about TV and film adaptations a while ago. I probably wandered off on a tangent but I think my main point that was that I understand TV and film versions of books are going to be different from how readers imagine characters in their heads; often plot-lines or characters or back-stories have to be missed out, or episodes shortened to fit an alternative medium. I get that… I thought Alec Guinness was perfect casting for George Smiley in the BBC version of ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy…’ but that Gary Oldman was a terrible and disastrous choice in the more recent film. I mentioned yesterday that I thought having a blond actor playing the part of Jimmy Perez in the Shetland TV mysteries was a mistake, because his dark foreignness was crucial to the character in the books, setting him apart and different.
I also mentioned the latest Poirot TV story, The ABC Murders with John Malkovitch as a very different Poirot. I can understand the new interpretation of the character, to make him less exotic, less prissy, less eccentric (although going back to the books, Poirot consciously uses these characteristics and exaggerates them to mislead people he’s investigating) I can appreciate for modern audiences to have a believable Poirot is a key part of a new adaptation. However, just as in the Gary Oldman film of Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy, it seemed inexplicable and pointless to make one of the characters gay (which was a spoiler for another character who was revealed to be so) so it seems inexplicable and pointless to make the new Poirot an ex-priest (or trainee priest) rather than an ex-policeman.
Why didn’t the script writer invent a new character, an elderly ex-priest, who had come to Britain after the carnage of the Great War, and now specialises in serving God by solving crimes and revealing the identity of murderers. Why bolt on a completely different person with a complexly different personality onto a known character?