Monday, February 08, 2010

Agatha Christie’s Poirot - An Introduction

I first discovered this great Granada television mystery series some 10 years ago by channel surfing past PBS’s Mystery! and catching a broadcast of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I was immediately struck by the stylish settings, the impeccable acting, the good writing and the engrossing story. I was hooked.

Discovering that Agatha Christie’s Poirot, aka Agatha Christie: Poirot and henceforth referred to here simply as Poirot, was a series, I hoped to catch further episodes on TV and only rarely ever did. Finally, after many a year of waiting for TV runs or re-runs, I was able to acquire the American-issued DVDs of this superb series. But while I was glad to finally be able to repeatedly enjoy and appreciate Poirot at my own pleasure, the American DVDs have turned out to be confusingly assembled and shoddily presented.

The basic releases include Acorn Media’s The Classic Collection (2005 - the 36 45-minute presentations) and The Classic Collection 2 (2007- the first 12 of the feature-length presentations) and A&E’s rather poor and poorly-titled packages, The Complete Collection (2002), The New Mysteries Collection (2004) and the Classic Crimes Collection (2006), each containing four feature-length Poirot films.

The Acorn Media sets have always looked terrible, as if they were taped onto VHS directly from TV. They’re also presented in no particular order – certainly not running order or historical order. And the A&E sets, while the quality is somewhat more substantial than the Acorn sets, are edited for no other reason than to allow more commercials during TV runs. And, no, the A&E DVDs do not restore any of the deleted footage – usually about three to five minutes worth of worthy material. Several naughty words appear to be silenced out of the mix too. But why not include any of this on the DVD?

Adding insult to injury, many of these packages have been reissued – as is – with different and stupid names and in different and stupidly conceived configurations.

The Acorn Media sets are now ALSO available in 4 different sets that feature nine of the shorter episodes and eight of the feature-length films. The fourth of these volumes, called The Movie Collection - Set 4, features only two of the four feature-length episodes from 2008 at a ridiculously ostentatious $50 retail price. The other two 2008 episodes are still – at this writing – not even available on DVD in the US. And the three A&E packages are now combined and available as something called The Definitive Collection (2009), which lists for a ridiculous $100.

Confused? That doesn’t even sum up all the differing variations of Poirot DVD titles available at the current time in the US. Acorn has 12 other varying and over-priced sets of Poirot shows with three titles each per disc (the whole of the shorter episodes). And then there are the strange Agatha Christie compilation sets forcing some of these Poirot films, with no logic whatsoever, into sets containing some other non-Poirot related Agatha Christie films/television productions. It’s ridiculous.

Then, ITV released the realistically-titled The Compete Collection in the UK (Region 2) in 2009, answering many prayers from Poirot completists such as myself. All 61 episodes of the 11 series produced up until that time are presented here on 28 discs in running order, with great clarity, in the proper film scope in a beautiful package with a “collector’s guide” booklet detailing the series’ entire history. It is a remarkable package and worth every penny for any fan of the series – and anyone with a multi-region DVD player. It amounts to about 70 amazing hours worth of tremendous television.

While the ITV booklet does a good job of briefly describing each and every episode, there is probably much more that should be known about each of the episodes and how they compare to Agatha Christie’s originals.

Aside from David Suchet’s remarkable and definitive performance as the Belgian sleuth, the magnificent Suchet himself has been steadfast about remaining true to the character as Agatha Christie wrote him and staying close to Christie’s basic plots – a sanctity that the recent Marple series has violated repeatedly (changing killers, motivations – and even injecting Miss Marple into Agatha Christie stories the character was never a part of).

Hastings is also treated with far more humanity and dignity by Poirot in the films rather than the books – a small change that probably comes from Suchet’s significant input.

Plot changes in Poirot either happen to fill out a full episode of a thinly-plotted escapade or to help make more sense of the human machinations Christie only had to sketch out for a story. Cards on the Table, for example, makes some of the most noticeable – and, more significantly, plausible – changes in its journey from book to film. Usually, Christie’s crime and its criminal(s) remain purely in tact throughout the entirety of the Poirot series.

Early on, the Granada series finds the great detective consistently aided – or, more properly, abetted – by erstwhile associate Captain Arthur Hastings, as portrayed by the excellent Hugh Fraser (who can be heard expertly reading many of the currently available Agatha Christie audio books), Chief Inspector James Harold Japp, as portrayed by the gallant Philip Jackson, and Miss Felicity Lemon, as portrayed by the regal Pauline Moran.

David Suchet, brilliant and definitive as the great Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, delivers a deep and abiding respect to these actors, which translates to their characters and is, of course, reciprocated in kind by these fine performers, offering a sort of grand sense of repertory theatre that also made Granada’s outstanding Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett (1984-94), David Burke and Edward Hardwicke such a definitive artistic success.

Later episodes of Poirot mostly did away with Hastings, Japp and Miss Lemon, although Hastings figures rather largely in Christie’s Poirot finale, Curtain, yet to be filmed. Stories featuring the redoubtable Ariadne Oliver (a jokey pastiche of Agatha Christie from the author herself), portrayed majestically by the fabulous Zoë Wannamaker, began to appear appropriately in the 2005 film Cards on the Table and Poirot’s occasionally-mentioned manservant, George (also as Georges), was finally introduced in the 2006 film Taken at the Flood in the person of British character actor David Yelland.

Here, I will endeavor – over time in some small way – to capture some of my thoughts on each of the individual shows and the corresponding stories. Many great actors, writers and directors have passed through this long-running series and it is significant to state their contribution to Agatha Christie’s remarkable invention of Hercule Poirot.

Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 1
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 2
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 3
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 4
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 5
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 6
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 7
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 8
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 9
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 10
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 11
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 12

3 comments:

mark said...

Thank for writing such informative, intelligent, detailed criticisms of each episode!

Like you, I discovered Poirot on PBS some years and caught them when I could. However, they don't get shown very often and, during a recent period of withdrawal, I tracked down the DVDs at a local library and have been watching them regularly ever since. Incidentally, I discovered your blog when searching Google to try to determine if the drug-suicide secondary plot in Murder in Mesopotamia was in the original book or was a screenwriter's embellishment. (It's the latter.) Now that I've discovered your blog, I'm going to read your thoughts on all the episodes I've already seen, and plan to read your thoughts as I see other episodes in the oeuvre.

an appreciative fan,
mark

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