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Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Chocolate Box (1993)

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Chocolate Box (1993) (Series V, episode 6) has Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) escorting Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) to Belgium to pick up an honour for services rendered and so keeping law and order in the linguistically divided country. They meet Claude Chantalier (Jonathan Hackett) a man who worked alongside Hercule Poirot twenty years earlier when Paul Déroulard (James Coombes), a distinguished politician, was found dead at his desk. According to the coroner, it was supposedly a heart attack. As an insomniac, he often worked through the night and, while doing so, was in the habit of nibbling chocolates. At the inquest, Virginie Mesnard (Anna Chancellor) asserts it was not a natural death. When the young Poirot talks with her, she admits this is pure instinct but, when he looks at the scene, he finds the top and bottom of the chocolate box are of different colours. Hercule Poirot gives the remaining flakes of chocolate to a chemist for analysis. Trinitrin is found. It’s a drug taken to relieve high blood pressure. The other bottom containing chocolates has been taken by the aged butler who admits the Trinitrin was stolen from him. He tells Hercule Poirot in confidence that he’s working for the Belgian Secret Services to discover who among the current crop of politicians would defend against a German invasion and who would collaborate. It was appropriate for him to be with Paul Déroulard. He was a liberal and a secularist, wanting to accommodate both languages and to find a better role for the Catholic Church, based on a separation of Church and State. This is clearly a matter of great political sensitivity and Hercule Poirot agrees to keep the state secret.

The young Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) and Virginie Mesnard (Anna Chancellor)

The most obvious suspect is the Count Xavier St. Alard (Geoffrey Whitehead), a staunch Catholic and the man who supplied the box of chocolates. Virginie therefore lures him to the Opera while Hercule Poirot breaks into the Count’s home where he finds an empty bottle of Trinitrin. They recognise that the case cannot be reopened without a confession. When they try to trick the Count into admitting he killed the politician, he makes an ambiguous remark. Unfortunately, they are interrupted so there can be no follow-up questions. In due course it becomes obvious who was responsible and why. What then makes this adaptation interesting is the focus on Hercule Poirot’s agreement not to reveal the truth at the time. In my review of the Murder on the Orient Express, I commented on Poirot’s decision to allow the murder(s) to escape punishment. It was my opinion that the Catholicism was overdone. Here, matters are rather more cut and dried. The victim’s mother, Madame Déroulard, is shown as intensely religious, saying the rosary every night before going to bed. Within the household, this meant there are tensions between mother and her increasingly liberal son. In society at large, there are also signs of the tension between Catholicism and a rising secularism. The murderer asks Hercule Poirot not to take action and he agrees that it’s in the interests of all concerned that the official record of a death by heart attack remains unchallenged. In practical terms, it avoids the need to open two key issues to public scrutiny — the loyalty of Belgian politicians and the role of Catholicism.

Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) thinking about being honoured in Belgium

David Suchet is at his best, showing Hercule Poirot as a younger and older self. There are also hints of romance. Even today, our great detective still wears the button hole given to him by Virginie. It’s good to see our hero simply telling the story from twenty years ago. There’s no contemporary investigation. Just his memories. It’s also wonderful to see Belgium in all its glory with a delightful production. Authentic locations have been chosen and everything looks right with period costumes, horses and beautiful cars.

Douglas Watkinson has produced one of the best adaptations in this current series. The core of the story remains true to the original published in 1923, but the frame of the story is considerably enhanced. In the original, Hercule Poirot tells Captain Hastings of his “failure”. This trip to Brussels with Chief Inspector Japp, his investiture, and meeting up with Virginie at the end makes a real improvement. The secret service element is constructive, although I was disappointed not to see the younger Poirot disguised as a plumber as in the short story. As a final thought, it’s interesting that, when we go back in time and everyone is supposed to be in Belgium speaking French, they all still speak in perfect English apart from Poirot who continues to speak with a French accent. Obviously it would have been confusing to English viewers if they had suddenly to resort to subtitles to understand one of their favourite dramas. Put all this together and The Chocolate Box is a delightful amuse-bouche to watch.

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: The Blue Geranium (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Caribbean Mystery (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Endless Night (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Greenshaw’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Murder is Easy (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Pale Horse (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye (2008)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Secret of Chimneys (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: They Do It with Mirrors (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2009)
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 Big Four (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Case of the Missing Will (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Clocks (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain. Poirot’s Last Case (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Mirror (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Elephants Can Remember (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Hallowe’en Party (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Labours of Hercules (2013)
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)

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (1993)

Well, as adaptations and embellishments of short stories go, Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (Season V, Episode 5) is something of a triumph and full credit to Clive Exton for taking a thin story first published in 1923 and, with one minor blemish, making it entertaining for the full hour. Let’s start with the heart of Miss Lemon (Paula Moran). She moves through the novels and short stories as an essentially sexless creature, always responsible and efficient in her role. Yet here there’s a risk she may fly the nest and leave Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) for Mr Graves (Leonard Preston), an ex-Navy man working as a private secretary to an Italian count. For once, Poirot rises above selfishness and encourages Miss Lemon to find happiness if it’s on offer. He seems sanguine that this may trigger the departure of his valued secretary. Indeed, he even volunteers to meet the man and both he and Hastings find him acceptable for Miss Lemon. During the conversation, this Mr Graves even shyly admits to owning a small motor cruiser. It was offered to him at a giveaway price as he was leaving the navy. As a final gesture, he tells Hercule Poirot that his employer, Count Foscatini may be acting on behalf of the Italian government to recover some documents being used to blackmail someone politically important. Naturally, he doesn’t have the position to invite Hercule Poirot into the case, but it’s an indication Hercule Poirot’s little grey cells may be required in the future.

Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson), Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) and Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser)

Hercule Poirot is also loyally following Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) as the latter considers the possibility of buying one of those wonderful Italian sports cars of the period. There’s some tooing and froing before Hastings decides to take the plunge, witnessing an argument in the showroom as he writes out his cheque. During all this Poirot remains convinced the only point of a car is that it has four wheels that will not fall off and get him where he needs to go with the least alarm.

At this point, we pick up the plot of the original short story as Poirot and Hastings are dining with Dr Hawker (Arthur Cox), a neighbour, when a telephone call is received from a patient. The maid relays the message that Count Foscatini (Sidney Kean) says he’s being murdered and would someone please come and help. When they arrive at the flat, they find the Count dead, meet a spooky Siamese cat, and call for the police (not because of the cat, you understand). Poirot sums up the position of the body next the phone and the dining table set for two. He talks to the building’s chef (David Verrey) who confirms sending two soups, Dover soles and a rice soufflé, almost all of which was eaten. When they return to the flat, Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) has taken charge and, to their surprise, Mr Graves walks in. It seems he’s been exaggerating his status a little. Rather than a private secretary, he’s actually a man servant. Ah, the things men say during early courtship to talk the bird down from the tree. When the fingerprints on the two coffee cups and wine glasses are analysed, it appears that the Count was eating with Mario Asciano (Vincent Riotta), a known Italian criminal. This is presumably the blackmailer Mr Graves was talking about.

The Chef (David Verrey) remembers everything

Hercule Poirot and Hastings therefore hotfoot round to the Italian Embassy. Sadly, the high-ranking officials refuse help but, as they are leaving, a member of staff tells them that a forerunner of the Mafia, a dangerous criminal organisation, is almost certainly involved. When Mario Asciano is tracked down, the burnt ashes of the blackmail papers are found but no money. He’s arrested for the murder. Except all is not well in the garden as Miss Lemon’s research shows there’s no such title as the Count of Foscatini and the post mortem shows the Count did not eat before dying. There’s a nice piece of stage business involving a mirror with Hastings trying to distinguish his left from right and then an interminable car chase as the real killer tries to make a run for it with the money. While it’s always wonderful to see so many period vehicles driven by stunt drivers in the recreation of a slow-motion chase, this was excessive.

A Humber 6 and the star of the episode

So there we have it. In a way, the mystery element is rather superfluous. It’s rather obvious whodunnit although the motive is not without merit. Miss Lemon does end up with a new man in her life. With Graves no longer having an employer, someone has to look after the Siamese cat — if you remember, she was mourning the loss of her last cat in The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb, also adapted by Clive Exton. Hercule Poirot shows he’s a caring employer. Captain Hastings is left to worry about his new car and, for once, Inspector Japp can emerge from a Poirot mystery without having been made to look a complete fool. All in all, The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman is a superior episode with Leonard Preston particularly pleasing as the love interest.

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: The Blue Geranium (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Caribbean Mystery (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Endless Night (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Greenshaw’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Murder is Easy (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Pale Horse (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye (2008)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Secret of Chimneys (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: They Do It with Mirrors (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Big Four (2013)
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: Curtain. Poirot’s Last Case (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Mirror (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Elephants Can Remember (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Hallowe’en Party (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Labours of Hercules (2013)
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)

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Yellow Iris (1993)

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Yellow Iris (1993) (Season V, Episode 3) continues the adaptation of short stories into one-hour episodes. This is somewhat ironic in the case of The Yellow Iris because Agatha Christie herself took the time and trouble to expand the story into the novel Sparkling Cyanide, albeit not featuring the original Hercule Poirot. This would never do, of course, when David Suchet is now synonymous with the role of Hercule Poirot. Better to stick with Poirot in the shorter version than to introduce Colonel Race. It would only confuse us. Indeed, when ITV did make Sparkling Cyanide, all confusion was avoided by naming a minor character Colonel Geoffrey Reece — long live Hercule Poirot!

Pauline Moran, David Suchet and Hugh Fraser admire the yellow iris

So The Yellow Iris is both good and bad. As we have come to expect from this series, the production values are first class. No expense is spared to reproduce Buenos Aires as one military government is due to replace another. We have soldiers in the streets with period tanks and troop carriers to lend authenticity to the whole. The inventiveness of the location finders and the way the scenes are set up is a delight to behold. However, nothing visual can cover up the thinness of the material. Essentially Hercule Poirot is supposed to be passing through Buenos Aires on the way to visit Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) but, before he can navigate through his stop-over, he’s a witness to a death in a French restaurant. Then, before you can say [whatever long word captures your imagination], he’s arrested and deported as a spy. The Argentine General’s threat to call in the French Consul is a nicely judged insult. This unhappy combination of events gives Hercule Poirot an unsolved crime (if such it be) in his resumé. This rankles so, when Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) brings him a yellow iris almost two years later, he’s immediately interested. There were yellow irises on the table when the first death occurred. Captain Hastings confirms a new French restaurant with the same name is due to open in London. Such a coincidence is not to be ignored and a quick visit confirms a table has been reserved on the opening night by the same group (less the dead woman, of course).

Death by yellow iris

The first scenes in the Argentinian version of the restaurant are well done although there’s a relentless padding to fill out the time. This involves a tango between two of the diners and a sultry song being sung. However, when the meal is rerun in London, it’s immediately obvious who the killer must be and how the murder was committed. Perhaps I’ve just read too many detective novels but, despite the best efforts of the scriptwriter, Anthony Horowitz, and the director Peter Barber-Fleming, to distract us, the last ten minutes are just treading water until our suspicions are confirmed. There’s actually a much better version of the same methodology in a Father Brown story where he solves the crime without ever leaving a room — it’s all in the footsteps he hears. Anyway, it’s always good to see David Troughton, in this case as the grieving husband, and the rest of the cast acquit themselves well despite the limited nature of the plot. It’s fairly good despite the threadbare story and, if you want to prove yourself as a superior armchair detective, this is a perfect opportunity for you to identify the killer early.

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: The Blue Geranium (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Caribbean Mystery (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Endless Night (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Greenshaw’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Murder is Easy (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Pale Horse (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye (2008)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Secret of Chimneys (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: They Do It with Mirrors (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2009)
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 Big Four (2013)
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: Curtain. Poirot’s Last Case (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Mirror (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Elephants Can Remember (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Hallowe’en Party (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Labours of Hercules (2013)
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 Case of the Missing Will (1993)

March 14, 2012 6 comments

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Case of the Missing Will (1993) (Season V, Episode 4) is something of an oddity. For all we have the usual cast of stalwarts with David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, Hugh Fraser as Captain Hastings, Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon and Philip Jackson as Inspector Japp, this is essentially an original story rather than an adaptation of the short story bearing the title which first appears in 1923 before being collected in Poirot Investigates, first published in 1924. In most of the other television shows featuring Poirot, there’s at least a tip of the hat by the scriptwriter to the Agatha Christie original. Perhaps surprisingly, Douglas Watkinson obviously wrote down the title at the top of a blank sheet of paper and then decided to write his own story to go with the title. Or perhaps someone at Granada Television instructed this change. Who knows after so many years.

Beth Goddard as a very modern girl

So let’s take this step by step. The original has a young lady approach Poirot with a puzzle. A will has “gone missing” and she would like him to find it for her. After a little thought, Hercule Poirot complies and so, through his agency, the woman meets the condition in the discovered will and inherits the estate. Hercule Poirot accepts her intelligence in asking the best detective in the world to crack the mystery and walks away. This story has us start with the childless Andrew Marsh (Mark Kingston), a wealthy businessman, announcing the terms of his will in the 1920s. Some years later, as Hitler and Mussolini are starting to make waves in Europe, the action relocates to Cambridge University where two of the three children who heard the announcement are now students. The theme of this episode is the pressure for more gender equality. Under the terms of his will, Violet (Beth Goddard) is expected to marry and effectively gets nothing. The patriarchal Marsh assumes her future husband will provide for her. John Sidaway (Terrence Hardiman) and Peter Baker (Neil Stuke) are to receive what would, in those days, have been a reasonable capital sum. They are, respectively the children of Sarah Siddaway (Rowena Cooper), a friend of the family and an Australian woman who had come over to England as Marsh’s housekeeper. When Hercule Poirot comes to meet the family again, Marsh tell him that the will is to be changed and our detective hero is to act as the executor. The intention is to remove the bequest of the bulk of his estate from a medical foundation, and to leave everything to Violet. Before he can make this change, he’s found dead.

Rowena Cooper as a loving mother and loyal friend

So far, so good. There’s a good command of the two different periods with the Cambridge scenes particularly well done. There’s also a nice moment in the London underground. A researcher must have found one of the older style escalators. Except the plot left me somewhat confused. When the family and Hercule Poirot come to the offices of the family solicitor, he announces that the will has gone missing. At no point thereafter does there seem to be any serious attempt to find the will. The police are not informed. It’s just assumed the property will now pass on intestacy. Frankly, this is incomprehensible. There are innumerable witnesses to attest to the terms of the will and the solicitor would confirm that his client had given no instructions to destroy or otherwise revoke the will. The fact the will had evidently been removed from the solicitor’s office without permission would fuel a murder enquiry. The Probate Court would have granted probate on the original will, giving all the property to the medical foundation. If anyone tried to establish a claim based on intestacy, this would have been taken as prima facie evidence of the murder.

Anyway, Hercule Poirot defines the terms of the investigation to decide which of the three children is Marsh’s illegitimate heir. Since I was having real difficulty in distinguishing between the two young men (even though one was at University and the other was in the army) I rather gave up trying to follow who might be the child of whom or might have been the killer. If I had watched this from the DVD, it would have been easy go back through the episode to work it out after the event. But since I’m watching these episodes rerunning on a terrestrial channel, I’m left with an imperfect grasp of what happened. I understand how and why the murder took place but, even now, I can’t honestly say I care. This is one of the worst episodes of all time. If a scriptwriter is doing nothing more than adapt an existing plot, he or she can blame the quality of the source material if the adaptation faithfully reproduces it. But if you are writing an original, then a professional writer researches the law and gets a plot to make sense. Then, in the casting, we should get people more easily distinguishable.

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: The Blue Geranium (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Caribbean Mystery (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Endless Night (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Greenshaw’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Murder is Easy (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Pale Horse (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye (2008)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Secret of Chimneys (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: They Do It with Mirrors (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2009)
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 Big Four (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Chocolate Box (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Clocks (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain. Poirot’s Last Case (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Mirror (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Elephants Can Remember (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Hallowe’en Party (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Labours of Hercules (2013)
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)

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Underdog (1993)

March 11, 2012 4 comments

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Underdog (1993) (Season V, Episode 2) is a wonderful example of what a television company can do with a slight short story if it decides to go all out. This first appeared in 1929 as “Under Dog” and so is more than ready for the full-blast of an art deco adaptation. The opening scenes in the factory is completely stunning. It actually reminded me of Mon Oncle by Jacques Tati which has a wonderful sequence in which Monsieur Hulot confronts modern architecture and loses. He accidentally damages the tree espaliered to the wall of the monstrous house and returns at night to cut it into a more symmetrical shape. When a noise wakes the Arpels, the owners, their heads appear in two circular windows making the house look like a face. In Underdog, a burglar comes down a beautiful multiple horseshoe staircase inside the factory. With the stairs backlit, he moves up and down in synchronisation with other employees until he can get to the floor he wants without being seen. It’s a wonderful moment with which to start the show, as are all the remaining scenes inside this factory. Similarly, the house chosen for occupation by Sir Reuben Astwell (Dennis Lill) is breathtaking. These locations are stars in their own right. Although I know the building that stands in for Whitehaven Mansions, the home for Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) in London, is actually called Florin Court and is to be found in Charterhouse Square, it would be good to discover where these other buildings are located. I would pay to go on a charabanc architectural tour. Now, courtesy of Ian Clark, one of my readers, I’m able to reveal the factory is in Nottingham. What we see is owned by Boots the Chemists, now part of Alliance Boots. The external scene is the D6 building. The interior staircase scene is actually from the D10 factory unit next door.

The staircase and real star of the show

Anyway, back to the story, we have Hugh Fraser reprising his role as Captain Hastings and Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon. The good Captain is off to play in one of these gentlemen’s golf competitions while Hercule Poirot is invited to view the Astwell collection of Belgian miniatures — statues that are notorious for being the largest miniatures ever made. This gets us into the house where the unlikeable Sir Reuben is struck down in his study. This interpretation of the plot gives the impression we’re looking for a nest of Nazi spies intent on stealing the formula for this new synthetic rubber. Except it appears Sir Reuben was intent on selling the manufacturing rights to IG Farben, the major German chemical company of the day. So perhaps we’re looking for a hero who wanted to keep the secret for the British military. Or perhaps everyone who knew Sir Reuben recognised a deeply unpleasant man and wanted to kill him. This would make the synthetic rubber a red herring — a fish endowed with great tensile strength. Lining up as obvious suspects are the research scientist doing the work, Horace Trefusis (Bill Wallis), the brother Victor Astwell (Ian Gelder), Lady Astwell (Ann Bell) the wife in a loveless marriage, and Charles (Jonny Phillips), the son. There’s also the dodgy companion, Lilly Margrave (Adie Allen), and the burglar apparently called Humphrey Nailor (Andrew Seear).

Dennis Lill as the unlovable Sir Reuben Astwell

There are moments of silliness, of course. For example, the chase to London is based on the hypothesis that a criminal would give his correct home address when signing the register to stay at a hotel. Miss Lemon suddenly being recruited as a hypnotist is also memorably risible. But, taken as a whole, this is probably the best shot Bill Craig could make to stretch everything out to an hour, allowing for ad breaks. The answer comes by a process of elimination. When you have everyone in the same room and work your way carefully through what they actually did, there’s only one person left. The reason is not something we could have known. Poirot knows because he read a file but forget to tell us what he read.

In the end, Captain Hastings is allowed to get a hole-in-one (not in the least due to Miss Lemon’s powers of hypnotism, of course) while the good Hercule Poirot looks on through his telescope, proud of the little people he surrounds himself with. Underdog makes good television.

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: The Blue Geranium (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Caribbean Mystery (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Endless Night (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Greenshaw’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Murder is Easy (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Pale Horse (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye (2008)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Secret of Chimneys (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: They Do It with Mirrors (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2009)
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 Big Four (2013)
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: Curtain. Poirot’s Last Case (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Mirror (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Elephants Can Remember (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Hallowe’en Party (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Labours of Hercules (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Three Act Tragedy (2011)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Yellow Iris (1993)

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb (1993)

March 11, 2012 2 comments

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb (1993) (Season V, Episode 1) shows the good and bad sides of television adaptations. There are times when you can see the production values have been cut. This is usually because it’s not economical to spend more money in producing a more leisurely version of the story on the screen. Corners are cut to get the story out there, allow time for the ads, and hopefully keep the purists happy. In this case, ironically, we have more than enough material for a “one-hour” package, i.e. about fifty minutes actual running time. Why? you ask. Because this is bringing a short story to the screen. Whereas the purist’s angst might jump up (or should that be down?) to levels of major despondency if a full novel is abridged to fit into the straightjacket of less than an hour, this generates similar levels of despondency, albeit from the opposite end of the spectrum. Frankly, even taking the most generous view of the source material, it’s a slight story. If you were sitting around a campfire on a dark evening around Halloween, telling this tale would occupy no more than ten minutes — and that’s with the storyteller taking time between paragraphs to munch on half-a-dozen of the marshmallows toasting over the flames. That’s ten paragraphs and six marshmallows — you do the arithmetic. Some storytellers will do anything to impress their listeners.

Why Halloween? you ask. Well, this is Agatha Christie flirting with the supernatural. Yes, it’s a mummy’s curse apparently killing off the members of an archaeological team digging in the Valley of the Kings. When they break into a tomb, Sir John Willard, the team leader, lasts two minutes and then keels over. He’s dead before he hits the floor. Cue ominous music and awestruck expressions from the remainder of the team. The diggers and guards are for running away, but all the “while folk” put on a brave face and allay the fears of the superstitious locals. Amusingly when Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) and Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) arrive on the scene with Sir John’s son, Guy Willard (Grant Thatcher), we also have the shadow on the tent trick. As if Anubis would actually be stalking around the campsite looking for a late-night snack (possibly of marshmallows). All this is particularly shallow stuff in supernatural terms — although being fair to Agatha Christie, she wrote these stories in the early 1920s at a time when people were much more inclined to suspend disbelief and accept mere hints of the paranormal as a full story. Indeed, Poirot approaches the case with implicit scepticism. He’s much more interested in the credulity of people. For him, in the wrong hands, the force of superstition could become a murder weapon.

David Suchet and Grant Thatcher acting Egypt

So now we have to sympathise with Clive Exton who drew the short straw for adapting this tale for the screen. He has to spin out this thin gruel into a feast without spending a fortune on everyone flying out to Egypt for several month’s location shooting. We begin auspiciously with Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) in her office in London with tarot card turning up death, and then with Hastings using the planchette board. Later the good Captain explains Miss Lemon has been depressed by the death of her cat and is trying to reach her on the other side. Thoughtfully, on his way back from Egypt, Hercule Poirot stops at one of the tourist stalls and buys her a reproduction black cat. He then convinces his gullible secretary she can use it to feel closer to her dead cat.

Once in Egypt, we have stereotyped Americans and Egyptians milling around in tents with the odd camel and other geographically appropriate props available to give the scenes credibility. All I can say is thank God for Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings who brave all hazards to dress for dinner and maintain a proper sense of decorum at all times. Put this together and you will understand how truly dreadful all this is. Despite the best efforts of the indefatigable David Suchet and the always reliable Hugh Fraser, the nature of the puzzle to be solved is trivial. Not that death is ever trivial, you understand. But it does not take many little grey cells to see who must be responsible. In this instance, the ending of the original story has been changed slightly to add a moment of drama. There’s also an early use of the telephone to gather confirmatory evidence. But all to no avail. Unless you are a completist determined to watch every episode regardless of quality, The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb is not worth bothering with.

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: The Blue Geranium (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Caribbean Mystery (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Endless Night (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Greenshaw’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Murder is Easy (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Pale Horse (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye (2008)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Secret of Chimneys (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: They Do It with Mirrors (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Big Four (2013)
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: Curtain. Poirot’s Last Case (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Mirror (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Elephants Can Remember (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Hallowe’en Party (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Labours of Hercules (2013)
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)

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.

Deborah Findlay and Vera Filatova as the au-pair

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.

Julian Rhind-Tutt sporting some big hair

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: The Blue Geranium (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Caribbean Mystery (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Endless Night (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Greenshaw’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Murder is Easy (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Pale Horse (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye (2008)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Secret of Chimneys (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: They Do It with Mirrors (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2009)
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 Big Four (2013)
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: Curtain. Poirot’s Last Case (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Mirror (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Elephants Can Remember (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Labours of Hercules (2013)
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)

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