I was never wild about the version of Agatha Christie’s Marple starring Geraldine McEwan as the great detective, and so it took me a long time to get round to watching Towards Zero. The book is a Christie with a clever plot that I enjoyed a good deal when I first read it at a tender age. Jane Marple doesn’t even appear in it, so I rather feared the worst from Kevin Elyot’s adaptation. My expectations were low, but I resolved not to make too many comparisons with the original book, and in fact it proved to be an eminently watchable programme; Miss Marple fitted into it pretty well.
The key to the plot is the idea that the story of a murder occurs long before the commission of the crime, but the key question is: whose murder is being contemplated? There are plenty of red herrings, especially those arising from a story told by the old lawyer Mr Treves (here, he was a barrister rather than a solicitor) about a youthful criminal of long ago whom he had recognised again. Needless to say, Mr Treves is soon found dead.
The cast of this version was filled with famous names. Even Greg Rusedski appeared, as a Wimbledon opponent of tennis-playing Nevile Strange (played by Greg Wise.) Saffron Burrows was a glamorous former Mrs Strange, and Eileen Atkins played the invalid aunt whose lovely house accommodates the party of suspect. The cast also included Dr Who (Tom Baker, doing a roguish version of Mr Treves) and Jonathan Creek (Alan Davies, as the superintendent bemused by Jane Marple’s insights)
Elyot’s screenplay was pretty good, given the decision to introduce Jane Marple, which necessitated various changes of structure. The locations, on the Devon coast, were sumptuous and added to the pleasure of classic comfort viewing. Christie purists wince at some of the television versions of the books (the train wreck that was The Sittaford Mystery remains my pet hate) but events here moved Towards Zero in undemanding and rather agreeable fashion.