Here I discuss the recent for-TV adaptation of Agatha Christie’s crime novel of the same name. It is worth pointing out that I’ve not read the book yet. Also SPOILERS. That’s the point.
Endless Night has certainly been portrayed as one of Christie’s darker pieces – more thriller than cosy. The story follows, and is narrated by, Michael ‘Mike’ Rogers (played here by the immensely brooding Tom Hughes) as he courts and marries rich American Ellie Guteman and they buy the supposedly cursed piece of land known as Gipsy’s Acre and live in the house designed by an old friend of Mike’s, Robbie, whose brother Mike attempting to save years previously. Yes, the story takes place over a year, maybe a year and a half, at least, judging by the way it was narrated.
Oddly enough, I’m going to start my thoughts by looking at the end of the performance, not counting that contemplation on “my beginning is my end” in his jail cell. I want to look at the two very contrasting, yet so linked, images that stuck in my mind: the (remarkably controlled) explosion of Gipsy’s Acre house and the ice-locked brother of Robbie, Pete.
By the camera angles and colours, we are left wondering throughout the piece until its denouement whether Pete’s death really was an accident, thus shadowing Mike’s narration with heavy watcher foreboding throughout. Granted, this, unlike Ellie’s murder, was unplanned, sudden slaughter, the weakness of the criminal mind yet its utter unlocking and lust-bringing.
If one murders once, it gets under one’s skin, and Mike realises this towards the end. I don’t think he really wanted to murder his lover Greta (after all, he’d only just admitted to Marple that they were getting married), but the disease of murder gripped him, pure murder-lust. I’ve seen this in Christie’s characters before, just as I’ve seen chaos-lust in my own characters.
People with curious minds might want to think the best of Mike from this…but, in the back of their minds, there will always be that idea… Did he deliberately kill him?
Just for a pricy watch.
And that brings me to Mike as a character.
I empathised with him, especially at the denouement, and not just because, in those final scenes, perhaps he doesn’t want to kill when the disease is strong enough to misdirect his mind. One wanted to like him, but for his lack of morals.
Yet, he is a ‘cold-blooded’ (to borrow a cliché) killer, utterly clear by the final ten minutes’ screen time. What surprised me, however, was Mike’s shock at Marple’s words – “that would be like killing your mother” – when he has had that desire in him for many many years. And who can tell whom is to blame for that? Mike may be innately…evil, perhaps.
I think that’s a line that will hit home with a lot of viewers, for the reason that one will be either revolted – or that one will know exactly what that’s like.
And I can tell you that the latter will be more likely.
I cannot account for what the prose elicits, but I suspect this relativity was part of Christie’s intention in her unreliable narrative.
Another reason is not of empathy and human nurturing, but that of tearing life down with morbid curiosity: fear – and fascination. Part of the human psyche we cannot, as a reasoning species, ignore.
Fire and Ice and Foreshadowing
Perhaps Mike’s actions on the ice traumatised Robbie, too, hence his own rather morbid fascination with the death. In the end, although he never murders exactly the way he wondered, his words, his mentality, still foreshadows his own death and destruction of the house he himself created – after all, revenge bears logic when one has nothing left to lose.
Christie and the ITV team use the themes of foreshadowing/mystic guesswork a lot in this piece – Mrs. Lee’s palm-reading and its effects, for instance – though, one could argue, fatalism takes actual hold or precedence here, through the characters’ obsessions with death that ultimately lead to their own demises (heard of don’t play with fire, yeah?).
Too, their minds may have been twisted by the stunning landscape tapestry.
The post-modern architecture was never going to survive in Gipsy Acre’s wilderness; but the canyon – where numerous characters go to reminisce about their deaths, and, uh, push people down – also provides a good metaphor for the themes. The drop, of sanity. The descent, into amorality (this happens to most of the characters, if one gives their actions a broad sweeping sense). The fall, from riches – or by riches. Take the ablative however you like.
I guess more is said of Ellie’s new friend Claudia (and her relationship with Doctor what’s-his-name) in the book, but, personally, I felt those characters were never really introduced in the more personal way Christie has done in Poirot and some other Marples. This may also be accounted for by the exceedingly long drag of the beginning (as I said: over a year in plot…).
Not counting Pete’s murder, Ellie doesn’t die until the 1-hour-15 mark, would you believe! Even the omens of the gypsy’s curse, though fake, seem to float into the plot very loosely and sporadically, or irrelevantly.
This I expect of Murder, She Wrote, but not of Marple.
That lack of in-depth Secondary Characters and the slowed pacing put me off the adaptation. However, I enjoyed the story immensely. In the words of Poirot: “I look at the psychology”. Indeed, the twisted sense of mind Greta, Robbie and Mike have bleeds from their pasts, maybe their present ideologies and humours, and their overriding psychology, like their constant desire for money and success.
And, as this is a murder mystery, we all know it’s going to go wrong.