Murder is Easy: What is an Ikenga, What Was the Secret and More Questions Answered

BBC’s latest Agatha Christie adaptation is a clever beast that raises questions at the ending.

Murder is Easy
Agatha Christie's Murder Is Easy,27-12-2023,Generics,Dr Thomas (MATHEW BAYNTON), Mrs Humbleby (NIMRA BUCHA), Rev Humbleby (MARK BONNAR), Lord Whitfield (TOM RILEY), Bridget (MORFYDD CLARK), Luke Fitzwilliam (DAVID JONSSON), Miss Pinkerton (PENELOPE WILTON), Major Horton (DOUGLAS HENSHALL), Rivers (JON POINTING), Honoria Wayneflete (SINÉAD MATTHEWS) & Mrs Pierce (TAMZIN OUTHWAITE),Mammoth Screen,Mark Mainz Photo: BBC

Contains spoilers for Murder is Easy including the identity of the murderer.

A Christmas Christie is a treat and Murder is Easy scratches that itch very nicely. Telling the story of a rural village of two halves where people keep getting murdered while the police seemingly do nothing, this latest adap written by Sian Ejiwunmi-Le Berre makes some meaty changes to Christie’s original story. Most noticeably our hero, Luke Fitzwilliam (David Jonsson) is no longer a white policeman but a young Nigerian diplomat. After encountering a lady on a train (Penelope Wilton) who tells him about the deaths in the village and that they were carried out by a respectable person with a point to make, and who is subsequently killed herself, Fitzwilliam feels it’s his duty to find out what’s going on.

In the village of Wychwood Fitzwilliam meets a racist doctor (played by Mathew Bayton), a corrupt Lord (Tom Riley), a disgruntled vicar (Mark Bonnar) and a whole host of less privileged folk who are treated as basically invisible. Whodunit?

It’s quite twisty turny and there are some new symbols and elements to explore here…

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Was that Marple at the start?

No that wasn’t but Penelope Wilton did look very noticeably like Joan Hickson’s Marple when she first appeared on screen (particularly from the back). Miss Pinkerton is a standalone character in her own right but it is worth noting that one adaptation of Murder is Easy did feature Miss Marple. This was a 2008 adaptation starring Julia McKenzie. Marple ends up being partner in crime to Fitzwilliam, rather than Bridget, played by Morfydd Clark here.

It’s arguably important that this story doesn’t have a Poirot or a Marple because it involves the antagonist manipulating the de facto detectives into concluding the wrong person is guilty – this is her whole MO. It would be an insult to such masterful minds. Bridget and Fitzwilliam are smart as tacks but they aren’t seasoned detectives.

What is an Ikenga and why is it important?

In the book Fitzwilliam isn’t Black but in this adaptation he’s Nigerian. He’s in the UK to take up a senior diplomatic position in Whitehall. Fitzwilliam has a recurring nightmare where he is in a forest carrying an Ikenga. In the dream, he drops it and it begins to burn.

An Ikenga is an artifact from Nigeria carried by important men (usually) and sometimes women, symbolizing the right hand, the personal God, a person’s ability to determine their own destiny – the word means “strength of movement”. For Fitzwilliam the dream gives him a sense of feeling lost and after the mystery is solved he interprets the dream as a sign telling him he should return to Nigeria rather than staying with Bridget. There’s an Ikenga in Whitfield’s house too and Fitzwilliam notes that Whitfield likes collecting things that don’t belong to him. There’s discourse throughout the show about colonialism and this is another example. 

What was the motive for the killings and what is the secret that is alluded to?

In the original story it’s still Miss Waynflete who is the murderer but her motive is that she had been jilted by Whitfield. In this version however it’s a bit more complicated (because the idea of a woman killing a whole bunch of people just to set up a man who jilted her is a bit tropey in this day and age). Our Waynflete (Sinead Matthews) is very adamant that she is not a cliche, not “a woman scorned” or jealous of Bridget. “All I wanted was independence,” she says (although we do have to remember that she isn’t the most reliable of witnesses). Whitfield says they were friends but that she had a secret and to save his own skin (and most importantly job and status), Whitfield told Waynflete’s father the secret. Waynflete was bound for Cambridge but instead her father locked her up “like a prisoner”. The secret, we think, was her plan to leave but it’s not all that clear – she says she was boarding the boat when she was apprehended, but you don’t get a boat to Cambridge… anyone care to explain further please let us know in the comments!

Then Whitfield did his racketeering during the war, made his dodgy fortune then bought Waynflete’s house, leaving her basically erased from her own life. She wants vengeance against him, but as Pinkerton points out at the start, she also wants to make the point to the rest of the village that if you are a wealthy white man you can get away with anything. 

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So Whitfield is innocent?

He didn’t do the murders but that doesn’t make him innocent. He’s incredibly privileged and entitled having racketeered his way to fortune and power. He believes the murders are some sort of divine intervention because God wants him to be successful. What sounds like a confession and a threat from him is really just incredible hubris. “I made myself. Me and God,” he says. He believes his driver Rivers was struck down by “divine wrath”, making him the ideal person for this kind of revenge. His hubris means the female cleaners are invisible to him so he “confesses” – it might be Waynflete’s understanding of this extreme arrogance that makes her realize he will be the master of his own demise.

Isn’t that a bit risky with Miss Pinkerton? 

Like, what if she didn’t die? Pushing someone under a car in front of loads of potential witnesses is not a master plan. Pinkerton could easily have spotted her on the train. She could easily have not died and someone could definitely have witnessed the crime. After elaborately planning revenge against Lord Whitfield this seems like a bit of a lazy move. She then gives Whitfield’s registration number to the police to finger him but again, it’s a bit risky to assume they wouldn’t then check the whereabouts of the car. Also, it’s a leap to guess the car that actually killed Miss Pinkerton would drive off. Yes, it’s a story about how the most privileged people can get away with anything but that doesn’t seem terribly well planned, particularly given she is no longer in the village where the police are in the pockets of Whitfield, but in London, where Pinkerton at least hopes the police will be a bit more savvy. 
Mind you, the murder of Rivers wasn’t exactly the perfect crime either, though her cover up with the heel was pretty smart – we’ll give you that Miss Waynflete! That said Bridget would know they weren’t her shoes…

Murder is Easy is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.