Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Hallowe’en Party (2010)
Agatha Christie was sometimes tempted into flirting with the supernatural. There’s the collection appropriately named The Hound of Death, and some of the stories involving Harley Quin. Then we have the séances. Some are explicitly fake as in The Sittaford Mystery and Peril At End House. But there are others where, at first sight, there might be real “spooks”, e.g. Dumb Witness. The novel, The Pale Horse, is more explicit in the tradition of Dennis Weatley with its black magic theme, and then there’s this slightly atmospheric novel with the murder taking place during Halloween. If there’s a consistent theme, it’s the effect the dead have on the living. Many characters are left with the feeling there are loose ends from the past. Some bear burdens of guilt. In a sense, this is perfectly consistent with the literature with which Agatha Christie grew up. There’s a wonderful Gothic tradition that mixes in with both the bottom, penny-dreadful end of the market and the more classic work of Conan Doyle, H G Wells, and so on. It’s not surprising she should have tipped her toe in the supernatural pool from time to time, e.g. to spice up a murder in an exotic location as in Murder in Mesopotamia.
In this adaptation, there’s a deliberate attempt to create atmosphere both at the beginning and later when Rowena Drake (Deborah Findlay) is walking back through the woods to her country home. I confess to being slightly ambivalent about this. Although I accept the legitimacy of creating an ambiance for the children’s halloween party, the murder itself has no supernatural connotations and there’s nothing else to justify the notion there may be a deranged stalker lurking in the woods — it’s a bit like a poor man’s slasher film and somewhat out of character with the rest of the programme. The other shift in emphasis comes from the change in the manner of the earlier school teacher’s death which is used to substantiate several hints she and the child victim were witches who went through a form of trial by water.
Putting aside these minor aberrations, the rest of the production is played straight and without any more obviously supernatural hints (allowing for the fact Agatha Christie did set one scene on an altar supposedly used for pagan rituals). Charles Palmer follows on from The Clocks with another stylish adaptation, this time penned by the increasingly ubiquitous Mark Gatiss, that stays reasonably faithful to the spirit of the original. I forgive the decision not to allow the murder(s) to escape justice. The final confrontation we see does quite perfectly capture the extent of the narcissism involved although, as I recall the original, there maybe one too many murders listed in the reveal at the end. I’ll have to dig out my copy and refresh my memory. But, more seriously, there’s the problem of the supposed lesbian relationship and the less than convincing explanation of how it ended. It’s a slightly tiresome feature of several of these Christie adaptations that a sexual subtext has been added or overemphasised. Once the decisions are taken to drop The Elms school and to change Janet White’s cause of death to generate more emphasis on the supernatural side, I suppose Mark Gatiss is forced into the open, but it runs completely contrary to the spirit of a story transplanted back into the 1930s.
As to the cast, it’s always good to see Zoë Wanamaker, this time returning as Ariadne Oliver. There’s a timeless and effortless quality to her acting and, although she’s left somewhat in the background here, she has some nice moments with David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. There’s a nice cameo from Timothy West, Julian Rhind-Tutt is eminently watchable despite all the hair, and Deborah Findlay is one of these stately-as-a-galleon matriarchs who runs a tight ship of a household despite the presence of two unprepossessing children gratuitously introduced by Mark Gatiss.
So, Hallowe’en Party is quite a pleasing version of a novel that came towards the end of Agatha Christie’s writing career, i.e. it sags a bit in the middle. The core mystery is fairly obvious from quite an early stage, but there’s some nice misdirection as to who’s responsible for the deaths. David Suchet shows no sign of slowing down although his feet hurt a little during the filming. There are only a few more of the Christie canon left to adapt. Roll on 2012.
For reviews of other Agatha Christie stories and novels, see:
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2004) — the first three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2005) — the second set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2006) — the third set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2007) — the final set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye (2008)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Murder is Easy (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: They Do It with Mirrors (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Secret of Chimneys (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Case of the Missing Will (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Chocolate Box (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Clocks (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Hallowe’en Party (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Three Act Tragedy (2011)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Underdog (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Yellow Iris (1993)