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Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain. Poirot’s Last Case (2013)

December 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain. Poirot’s Last Case (2013) sees Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) called into action. He’s still mourning the death of his wife, Bella, but when Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) calls, who is he to refuse. When he arrives at Styles Court, he finds Poirot is now confined to a wheelchair. Fearing a murder is about to take place, our dying detective needs someone to be his eyes and ears. The fact that Hastings has nothing between his ears is not a factor to be weighed. When it comes to the last case, the old team must be back together. While he may not be able to prevent it, Poirot does at least hope to be able to catch the one responsible. To add extra emotional weight to the episode, we’re introduced to Judith Hastings (Alice Orr-Ewing), the daughter of the good Captain. She’s currently working for one of the long-term guests at Styles Court, now being used as a hotel. This is post-war England and Styles Court is well past its glory days. Whereas other mysteries in this series have been filmed in immaculate settings, both Poirot and this old house are approaching a melancholic and terminal state. Of course, the house could be repaired, given enough money. Those of us who long ago read the book know this restoration exercise cannot be applied to Poirot. With his heart playing up, he has only days left to live. The question, of course, is how he should spend these final days.

In this episode, it’s not surprising to see Poirot returning to his Catholic roots. In the television adaptations, it was featured in Murder on the Orient Express as the man wrestled with his conscience. There are times when the use of the little grey cells may produce results which are not quite as expected. For him, the problem is the considerable flexibility in the boundaries of sin and, as a thinking man, he cannot avoid the idea he may be guilty, if only of the sin of pride in his intellectual prowess. On the Orient Express, he’s returning from advising the army on a delicate matter in which a man died as a result of the investigation. Indeed, death has never been far from his preferred outcome. If you consider the ending of Dead Man’s Folly, he considers the death of the killer(s) by suicide an appropriate outcome. There was sufficient evidence for the killer(s) to have been tried but that would have been untidy. He feels it’s socially acceptable for killers to take personal responsibility for their actions and to save the state the need for a trial and potentially expensive life imprisonment. I suppose the classic examples of this are Death on the Nile which might be considered a more humane ending than that provided by the criminal justice system in Egypt, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. So when it comes to Curtain, it’s perhaps appropriate we should be continuing this exploration of suicide, encouraged or forced.

Curtain with Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) wheeling Poirot (David Suchet) into action

Curtain with Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) wheeling Poirot (David Suchet) into action

In Catholicism, suicide is considered a sin. Life is a gift from God and it’s not for us to breach the sanctity of life. So at the very least, Poirot is breaching his own credo by encouraging criminals to kill themselves. In criminal law terms, suicide was a crime in many jurisdictions at the time Agatha Christie was writing. In England, it would therefore have been an offence for Poirot to incite or aid, abet, counsel or procure a suicide, successful or otherwise. Of course, such secular concerns would never stop an author from producing the result her protagonist considered the most appropriate. Lack of accountability is necessary if her series character is to continue in business but, in the final case, he can be seen to consider whether St Peter is going to be waiting with welcoming arms. To get the best view of this final book in the Poirot saga, it’s convenient to assess Curtain and The Labours of Hercules together. In the latter, the narrative is triggered when Poirot gives his word and fails to protect a young woman being used as bait to trap a master criminal. When the thief not only steals the jewels but also kills the girl, Poirot feels intense guilt. In his pride, it did not occur to him that the criminal would evade capture. We should therefore see this episode as a quest for some level of personal redemption. Poirot must reach an accommodation with himself and the inevitable fallibility that lurks waiting to spring its trap.

Here we have a more existential issue. If The Labours of Hercules is personal, Curtain is repaying a form of debt to the abstract notion of justice. Whoever the detective, the imperative is the same. He or she must strive to bring the wrongdoer before a court for judgement. This provides the necessary social utility to justify the sometimes extralegal strategies employed by the detectives. The more the detective strays from the procedures mandated by the law, the greater the debt owed to justice. We can only forgive the detective his or her trespasses when the gains significantly outweigh the losses. Think of it as an application of utilitarianism. If we were being strict in our use of labels, the detective would step over the line and become a vigilante. Under normal circumstances, this would justify dismissal and probable prosecution for the breaches of the relevant laws. But a state might decide the ends justified the means. So if a major criminal network was disrupted and key organisers taken out of play, this might be taken as exculpation. When we get to the possibility of deaths being retrospectively decriminalised, the decisions are more difficult. If we treat the Christie canon as sufficiently “real” to be judged by actual laws, we might accept the state’s decision to ignore Poirot’s assisted suicide plans for identified murders as legitimate public policy.

In discussing this issue, I invite you not to be misdirected by David Suchet’s performance as the dying Poirot which was beautifully managed. You’re supposed to see him as a sympathetic character. That’s supposed to seduce you into approving his behaviour both in this and earlier episodes. Let me provoke you into thought. Is there any real difference in outcome between Poirot and Batman? One uses his little grey cells and the other his technology and fists to beat the opposition to a pulp. In theory, neither intentionally kills an opponent, but in self-defence or the pursuit of the greater good, criminals are injured and die. In this case, the real point of interest lies in the reason why it will be almost impossible ever to prove this person guilty of any crime. We’re actually given a practical demonstration of how malevolent he or she can be, but this is not behaviour easily prosecuted. The criminal law requires certainty of guilt and is better suited to simple murderous attacks with weapons to hand than this more subtle approach. Hence the need for Poirot to take more direct action, although not quite in classic Batman style despite the use of the Poirotmobile.

For those of you who like completeness, the cast features Elizabeth Cole (Helen Baxendale), Daisy Luttrell (Anne Reid), Major Allerton (Matthew McNulty), Dr Franklin (Shaun Dingwall), Stephen Norton (Aidan McArdle) and Sir William Boyd-Carrington (Philip Glenister). During the course of the episode, we have a death by poisoning, a suicide and Poirot’s death by natural causes. All is explained in a letter which Poirot leaves behind for Hastings. Without being oversentimental, Poirot’s death is handled well although it might have been more appropriate to have Miss Lemon and Japp show up for the funeral. If they could all make it for the fake funeral in The Big Four, it seems a little mean-spirited not to spare a few moments for his loyal friends to mourn his actual passing. I’m left feeling Curtain makes a fine swan song for the great detective and, more importantly, the production is one of the better efforts in this series. It’s always better to finish on a high.

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: 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 Labours of Hercules (2013)

December 4, 2013 Leave a comment

In Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Labours of Hercules (2013) (Season 13, episode 4) we find Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) depressed. He laid a trap for Marrascaud, the notorious thief and murderer. When the dust settled, the painting was stolen and the young woman who was bait wearing the jewelled necklace, was murdered. With a reassuring smile, he had promised the nervous young woman she would be safe. Her death is on his conscience and produces psychosomatic symptoms. He’s therefore driven to part with ten guineas for medical advice which is uncompromising. “Either get another case which puts your life in danger or give up the profession. You’ve had a good run. Yes, you’ve paid the price of not having a wife and children, but you’ve more than compensated in the good you’ve done. Go away! Better still, go on a holiday.” or words to that effect.

Leaving the doctor’s expensive surroundings, the agency car is waiting to drive him home. When he leaves it to Williams to drive him wherever he wants, the man breaks down and tells him a story of lost love. Overcome with quixotic romanticism, Poirot says he will travel to Switzerland to recover the young maid who has been so cruelly whisked away by a thoughtless mistress. As he waits for the funicular to take the guests up to the Hotel Olympus, the police warn him that Marrascaud is thought to be on his way to the hotel. It’s rumored the thief has stashed the loot in this retreat. For this to be one of the true labours of Hercules, our great detective must confront the greatest criminal Europe has seen for years. Indeed, in psychological (and mythical) terms, he’s the only one who can defeat this thief and murderer. Perhaps a Freudian psychologist should name a complex after Hercule to describe a man who sacrifices family and friendship in pursuit of one goal after another. For these purposes, it would not matter what the nature of each goal. It’s simply an obsession never to be beaten at whatever is attempted, no matter what the price to be paid in social terms. Obviously there have to be some boundaries in this pursuit. There are laws to be obeyed, the dictates of conscience to be observed. That Poirot himself may end up looking vain and smug when he succeeds despite these limitations, is just one element of the price to be paid.

The cast assembles for dinner

The cast assembles for dinner

Looking at this episode with a dispassionate eye, I think the script by Guy Andrews bites off more than it can comfortably chew for a single episode. As a collection of twelve unconnected short stories, it’s clever to be able to rework three of them together, “The Erymanthian Boar”, “The Arcadian Deer” and “The Stymphalean Birds” with lesser elements from “The Girdle of Hippolyta” and “The Capture of Cerberus”. But what starts well, increasingly lacks coherence as we work through to the end. The problem is structural. All our initial attention is focused on the malevolent Marrascaud as “The Erymanthian Boar”. “The Arcadian Deer” is grafted on as an improbable motive for Poirot to travel to this particular resort. The fact our master criminal has picked the same resort is a horrendous coincidence compounded by the presence of Harold Waring (Rupert Evans) whom we also meet in the set-up. He’s an awfully nice young man who works for the Foreign Office. When his boss gets into a little bit of bother, our innocent agrees to take the heat. So simply because the script needs a victim, he falls prey to “The Stymphalean Birds” scam, i.e. this element feels like padding to fill in time while we wait for Poirot to identify Marrascaud and recover the loot.

As to the Swiss resort, somewhat remarkably, the interiors and terrace scenes were shot in Halton House, Halton, Wendover, Buckinghamshire. Stock shots of the funicular at Saint Hilaire du Touvet were added where necessary with green screen work to create the illusion of snow-capped mountains in Switzerland. In the best Mousetrap tradition, all guests and staff are cut off from the outside world by an avalanche. This leave us with Katrina Samoushenka (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) under the care of Dr. Lutz (Simon Callow). Alice Cunningham (Eleanor Tomlinson) is revealed as the daughter of Countess Rossakoff (Orla Brady) which reignites old memories in our hero. Had they become lovers, Alice could have been Poirot’s child. Thematically we’re into the realm of redemption and the extent to which love should influence our decision-making. When he was young, Poirot let the young Countess Rossakoff go. He spared her not because he was her lover, but just because he was Poirot. It was the sense of what might have been had they not been set into their roles — there’s a nice touch with the cuff links at the end.

In this story, the unsophisticated and love-lorn driver stands in for the young Poirot. The driver’s naive loyalty and trust is rewarded once the couple overcomes the limitations of their social status and roles in life. We’ve seen an older overconfident Poirot fail to keep his promise to a young woman. Hence, even though he catches the villainous Marrascaud, it doesn’t make him feel any better. At its best, the arrest is nothing more than revenge. Fortunately, the world-weary Poirot finds a balm for his depression in the romantic love of these youngsters. This leaves us his final discussion with Countess Rossakoff. She asks him for one more favour. For a few seconds, he’s tempted. Had he chosen differently all those years ago, they might have shared a great love. Then his little grey cells reassert themselves. He sacrificed romantic love and the sentimentality that can go with it so he could become a better detective and, by his standards, a more honourable man. Once he might have redeemed her. Now she’s a career criminal and cannot avoid arrest this time. In a sense this makes a very appropriate penultimate story to Curtain. Here Poirot has all the evidence needed and let’s the law take its course. In Curtain, he confronts the limitation of his role if he’s forced to acquire sufficient evidence to gain a conviction in court. So what here begins with failure in brightly lit London opulence, explores options in a rather dark and sombre hotel, somewhat in need of refurbishment, and ends in bright sunshine back in London. There’s a different and altogether darker ending in Curtain.

Putting this together, The Labours of Hercules slowly runs out of steam as the plot limitations are exposed, but it succeeds rather admirably as a vehicle for exploring Hercule Poirot’s strengths and weaknesses as a human being. In metaphorical terms, the Swiss hotel that has seen better days captures the now fading grandeur of the detective whose pride went before his fall.

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: 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: Elephants Can Remember (2013)

November 20, 2013 Leave a comment

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Elephants Can Remember (2013) (Season 13, episode 1) sees the return of Ariadne Oliver (Zoë Wanamaker). While on a book tour, she’s buttonholed by Mrs. Burton-Cox (Greta Scacchi) who’s concerned her son is about to marry Ariadne’s god daughter, the allegedly unsuitable Celia Ravenscroft (Vanessa Kirby). The problem lies in the potential mental instability in the family. Her parents died in an apparent murder-suicide, and Mrs Burton-Cox wants to know whether the wife killed the husband or vice versa. Even though offended by the pushiness of this woman, Ariadne’s curiosity is piqued and, despite being warned off by Poirot, asks her god daughter what she remembers. The girl was twelve when the tragedy happened and was away at boarding school. Once the question is asked, however, she also asks Ariadne to find out what happened. So, with Poirot called into another case by Doctor Willoughby (Iain Glen) where his eminent father was killed in his own sanatorium, she sets off to Eastbourne to find elephants who might remember what happened all those years ago.

David Suchet begins what is billed as the final season

David Suchet begins what is billed as the final season

This Oliver safari leads us to an old friend who knew the Ravenscroft family in Sussex and an even older woman who was a nanny with ex-pat families out in India who knew the family. It seems there were troubles in Amritsar. One or more children may have died. The poor old thing keeps falling asleep. Who knows whether what she says is real. Then there’s the lady that used to char for the family in Sussex. She confirms the first woman’s story about Lady Ravenscroft wearing a wig and adds the snippet she went to Harley Street for treatment. Mental troubles, it seems. When Poirot’s attention can be diverted to the case, he and Ariadne talk to the now retired policeman who dealt with the case. He thinks it ought to be a murder-suicide, but worries there was no note. Aroused from his stupor, Poirot asks about the wigs and directs Ariadne to the shop to continue asking questions. Lady Ravenscroft had four wigs which was unusual. Most people only have two. And then three weeks after she took delivery, she died. Finally, Poirot talks with the surviving daughter. He offers the insight that the truth can be cruel given old sins leave a long shadow. Despite this warning, Celia Ravenscroft is determined she should know what actually happened. This leads us to a very effective piece of television.

Full credit must go to Nick Dear who wrote the script. To understand the man’s triumph, we need to consider the strength of the novel. This was published in 1972 by which time Agatha Christie was well past her best. Indeed, there are many signs her memory was beginning to fail, something that makes the choice of subject matter ironically appropriate. The idea of any investigator interviewing elderly people who can’t remember much about anything was something Christie herself was coming to understand. The relevance of elephants is twofold. We have the idiom in the title which is the supposed capacity of elephants to remember faces and places. In this instance, we’re to accept that old people “never forget” or have a memory like an elephant. However, the second use of elephants in this story reflects a folk tale from China and India in which a small group of wise but blind men enter a room containing an elephant. They each touch a different part of the beast and so come up with radically different descriptions of what beast is sharing their space. So here we have different people who each have a set of experiences of the past involving the same family. Each one therefore sees only a part of the larger picture and it’s not until all their views are collected and analysed that the key elements can be extracted from the mass of irrelevant detail and put together to form the complete picture.

Zoë Wanamaker talks with one of the elephants

Zoë Wanamaker talks with one of the elephants

So Nick Dear significantly tidies up the plot of the novel as designed by Christie and then adds a completely new subplot with a new murder in it. The result is coherent and compelling. Were she alive today, you have the sense Christie would have approved this expansion to her novel because, for once, it shows a rather tender side to Poirot. Too often he’s dismissive if not actively contemptuous of others. Here we see a mellower side, a man who might have married and protected his children. David Suchet gives a more restrained but powerful performance, offering emotional support to a family and those who were involved in a great tragedy. His interview with Zelie Rouxelle (Elsa Mollien), the French au pair now returned to Paris, is pleasing.

If there’s a fault with the adaptation, it’s the rather pointless melodrama of the attempt on Celia’s life towards the end. Having the police turn up in the nick of time is the ultimate cliché and spoils what was otherwise a well-paced plot. It’s also a relief to see Zoë Wanamaker given proper prominence in the first half of the episode. Ariadne Oliver is in the novel and Zoë Wanamaker deserves the space to develop the character. It’s sad the character has to slip quietly into the background once Poirot’s interest is engaged, but it’s his show rather than a partnership. She’s just a sidekick, albeit one with more brains than Captain Hastings. For once we get to see Whitehaven Mansions in their full glory with the south coast scenes, both contemporary and in flashback, done with appropriate style. Indeed, the flashbacks are essential to make the motive plausible. Unless we’re convinced this is a couple born and still espousing the cultural morality of the British Raj, we’re unlikely the find this plot scenario plausible. Having met such people as I was growing up, I can confirm this type of behaviour, while unusual, would have been possible. In a society where reputation was everything, families would go to unreasonable lengths to cover up indiscretions or worse. While this is extreme, it feels credible from what we see and hear about the couple. The relevant people might very well have gone along with this deception for a short time. . . until the burden became too much. All of which makes Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Elephants Can Remember a very impressive start to what’s billed as the final season of adaptations.

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: 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 Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (1993)

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (1993) (Season 5, episode 8) first appeared as a short story under the title, “The Curious Disappearance of the Opalsen Pearls” in 1923 and, by any standards, it’s a fairly slight case. Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) and Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) are staying at the Grand Metropolitan in Brighton where they meet the Opalsens. He made his money in oil and she spends his money collecting jewellery. When she tries to show off her latest acquisition, a necklace, they discover it has been stolen. It seems one of the maids is responsible but, quick as a flash, the great Hercule Poirot unmasks the real villains.

Hermione Norris looking guilty as the companion

Now we come to the adaptation by Anthony Horowitz which takes this thin gruel and spins it into a delightful period piece. This time, the location and props departments have outdone themselves in transporting “Brighton” back in time — it’s actually Eastbourne standing in for its more celebrated cousin, but we can gloss over this inconvenient fact. It’s quite wonderful to see the streets so full of period vehicles, the costumes are magnificent and the use of locations superb. So now to the new story. According to the doctor called to examine our great detective, he’s been working too hard and therefore must be despatched to Brighton to take the sea air. This will dispel the sore throat and sniffles, and generally restore the little grey cells to their usual vigour. With relief, Miss Lemon (Paula Moran) waves him off. We’re then introduced to a nice running joke for, as Hercule Poirot leaves what’s supposed to be Brighton railway station, he’s immediately accused of being Lucky Len and the reward claimed. For those of you not of an advanced age, newspapers used to promote themselves by sending out reasonably distinctive people and, if a person holding the newspaper correctly challenged them using specified words, they could claim a reward. Needless to say, wherever Poirot goes, he’s immediately challenged. We get a sight of the actual Lucky Len at the end of the show.

David Suchet and Hugh Fraser examine the drawer

Life at any seaside resort would not be complete without a “theatrical” experience or two and Brighton was, and is, no exception to this rule. The Theatre Royal and Pavilion Theatre have been beautifully preserved. This adaptation has Mr Opalsen (Trevor Cooper) as a theatrical impresario with his wife, Margaret (Sorcha Cusack) the leading lady. To maximise the publicity for his latest play, Mr Opalsen has purchased a famous set of pearls. We meet the playwright, Andrew Hall (Simon Shepherd) who’s having problems in clearing his gambling debts, the companion Celestine (Hermione Norris) and Saunders (Karl Johnson), the driver. The padding is spectacularly brave with Hercule Poirot seeing Mr Worthing book into the hotel, then realising the solution to the robbery lies in The Importance of Being Ernest, and finally framing Mr Opalsen for fraud, in part as payback for exploiting his name to get additional publicity for the play. Miss Lemon also gets back into the action, this time talking to London fences about jewellery.

Paula Moran collects evidence in London

Quite frankly, the audacity of it all is remarkable and the results are wonderful. This is completely in character and, although I disapprove of the romantic ending (which would be doomed to failure given Andrew Hall’s gambling addiction), this is yet another successful adaptation cum dramatic expansion of a short story to add to the others in this series. The only fly in all this ointment is the likely legal consequences. Mr Opalsen has been wrongly accused and arrested for fraud. This would give him actions in tort for false arrest and false imprisonment against the police. More excitingly, he could sue Hercule Poirot and bankrupt him in libel for, no matter that impresarios live and die by publicity, an accusation of fraud just before his theatre company is about to take off for a tour of America is hardly likely to bring in the audiences. Counterbalancing this defamation is the return of the pearls so audiences might come to see them, worn six nights per week and one matinée by the leading lady. The only other comment I would make is as to the box in which the pearls were stored. It actually looked no more substantial than something you could buy at Woolworths and the key itself was so small with one simple lever that anyone with a hair grip could open it in five seconds. It was not a secure box and, worse, kept in an unlocked drawer. That said, since it was under “guard” most of the time, the screams of Celestine would alert all those around her to the presence of a robber with a gun in the hotel bedroom. Well, I did say the adaptation of The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan was audacious. Perhaps entertainingly foolhardy would have been a better choice of words.

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 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: Dead Man’s Mirror (1993)

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Mirror (1993) (Season 5, episode 7) is an adaptation of a short story that first appeared in 1932. It was then expanded for inclusion in Murder in the Mews, a collection published in 1937. Such is always the way with an author. You write something one day and then see a way in which it can be improved the next. Except, of course, the expansion does little to help a modern television company looking for a one-hour show. The challenge for Anthony Horowitz as scriptwriter, therefore, is to remain faithful to the spirit of the original while adding to it. In many ways, the strategy adopted here for filling out the content is rather clever. The textual story begins with Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) peremptorily summoned by Sir Gervase Chevenix-Gore (Iain Cuthbertson) and, when he arrives, he finds his client dead. Since the key to the case is the eponymous mirror, the television version has Sir Gervase outbid Hercule Poirot for the mirror at an auction and then use the mirror to lure the detective to his home and accept a commission to investigate an initially unspecified fraud. In other words, Hercule Poirot would not usually have forgiven the man for his rudeness, but would swallow his pride if he thought he would get the mirror in part-payment for his services.

Vanda (Zena Walker) asks her spirit for guidance

So, Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) set off into the countryside by train. We have backstory showing Ruth (Emma Fielding) has already married Lake (Richard Lintern) with Ms Lingard (Fiona Walker) secretly observing, and our dynamic duo meet Susan (Tushka Bergen) on the train. Hugo (Jeremy Northam) meets them at the station and we see his workshop where he’s trying to develop stainless-steel framed furniture for the market. Sir Gervaise is threatening to cut him off without a penny which would leave him unable to pursue his commercial dreams. When we arrive at the house, Sir Gervaise wants Poirot to investigate Lake for an apparent fraud. More interestingly, we then come to another Agatha Christie supernatural element. The wife of Sir Gervaise is called Vanda (Zena Walker). She believes she has a spirit guide from Ancient Egypt who has warned her that a death is coming. Hercule Poirot is fascinated and gets details.

We then follow the plot of the original story except now Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings are house guests. Captain Hastings hears the gong for dinner, but Hercule Poirot does not. They both hear what they assume to be a shot and, when they break into the study, find Sir Gervaise has apparently shot himself in the head holding a gun in his left hand. This looks to be a suicide with the mirror broken by the bullet. When Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) arrives on the scene, he’s all for it being self-inflicted, but Hercule Poirot points out that the man was right-handed and he’s curious as to where the bullet is.

Hugo (Jeremy Northam) and Susan (Tushka Bergen) talk about furniture

We then have some nice padding involving Lake’s fraud and get into the ending where Anthony Horowitz has outdone himself to flesh out the supernatural element into a full-blown manifestation of the Egyptian spirit. It’s all magnificently silly but it does nicely bring us to the hour mark (allowing for ads) without it looking too forced. The pleasing thing about this particular episode is that, for once, the adaptation is meticulously fair in showing us all the minor hints and clues in plain sight. Too often, the answer turns on something only the great detective would have known. This time, we get every detail and have the same chance to work out who must have done it. Equally of interest is the supernatural element. As I have commented elsewhere, Agatha Christie was writing at a time when table-turning and other spiritualist events were common. She could therefore hint at current social trends and be more immediately understood. Today, we’ve moved away from accepting spiritualism as real and now indulge our interests in more extreme forms of the supernatural. What would have been considered really spooky ninety years ago would be far too tame for today’s audience. That means the modern scriptwriter is working on a knife edge to keep the sense of the original while making it less naive for our sensibilities. Finally, a word must be said about Iain Cuthbertson who contrives to be rather magnificently unpleasant in such a short space of time before being bumped off. The rest of the cast do enough to be distinctive without distracting our attention from David Suchet and Hugh Fraser. Overall Dead Man’s Mirror proves to be one of the better episodes with Hercule Poirot seen to be relying on key people to be gullible when he pushes their buttons.

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: 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 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)

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