Agatha Christie’s Poirot – An Introduction
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
1. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (first broadcast January 1, 1995): The wealthy and tyrannical invalid Simeon Lee reunites his family for a “grand” Christmas get together at his manor home of Gorston Hall. Lee, who made his fortune mining diamonds in South Africa years before, has long had strained relationships with every member of his family, which includes eldest son Alfred and his wife Lydia, both of whom live at Gorston Hall with old Simeon; son George, an M.P., and his wife, Magdalene, who benefit by an allowance provided by old Simeon; son Harry, who long ago left the family home to travel the world; and granddaughter Pilar, the adult child of Simeon’s deceased daughter, Jennifer, a young lady no one in the family has ever met (estranged son David, a painter, and his wife Hilda are left out of the film version as well as Stephen Farr, the alleged son of Simeon Lee’s former business partner). It turns out that Simeon Lee has gathered the family only to anger everyone about changes he wants to make about living arrangements at Gorston Hall and, more importantly, to his will. When the family questions the decisions he has made, he angrily dismisses them all as worthless wastrels that he has no time for. On the night before Christmas (it’s a different night in the film), Police Superintendent Sugden appears at the house collecting for the police charity and Simeon Lee permits him to his quarters. Shortly after the policeman leaves, a terrible commotion and a loud scream emits from Simeon Lee’s room. After the family breaks his locked door down, they discover furniture, ceramics and all sorts of bric-a-brac scattered through the room and Simeon Lee lying dead, his throat cut and blood everywhere. Sugden appears on the scene almost immediately and begins an investigation. Poirot realizes that the death could only be the result of murder and that the murderer was a family member.
First published in 1938 and published in the US as Murder for Christmas (1939) and again as A Holiday for Murder (1947), Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is another one of author Agatha Christie’s famed locked-door mysteries. Similar to any number of Miss Christie’s “manor murders,” Hercule Poirot’s Christmas draws very distinct inspiration from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s sagas (one of the story’s characters even laments this fact), notably The Crooked Man and even something of Hound of the Baskervilles thrown in for good measure. Like The Theft of The Royal Ruby, it is another of Poirot’s holiday investigations, though the film version of this particular adventure finds Poirot rather inconceivably invited to spend the holidays at Gorston Hall by Simeon Lee before his death (in the book, Poirot is visiting with his friend, Colonel Johnson, when Johnson is called to the scene of the crime and invites Poirot to accompany him in the investigation, a similar method Christie used to involve Poirot in The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman). The story is also similar to other Christie “blood will out” novels like A Pocket Full of Rye or Crooked House where a tyrannical patriarch is dispatched (or a matriarch in the case of Ordeal by Innocence) by one of their own. Here, Miss Christie goes out her way to remind the reader that the offspring bear uncanny traits of their parentage.
Clive Exton’s dramatization is remarkably faithful to Agatha Christie’s novel, even using large chunks of the book’s dialog to tell the story – particularly during the film’s third act. Exton’s script also does away with several unnecessary characters, including Colonel Johnson (replaced, of course, by Inspector Japp), and transfers Stephen Farr’s interest in Pilar to Harry, who expressed a rather lascivious attraction to Pilar in the book. But the film makes some rather sweeping changes that probably do more to spice up the story than Miss Christie’s rather unbelievable yet undeniably engrossing yarn initially permits. First and foremost there is the film’s South African prologue, not in the book and nicely getting in a brief cover of Miriam Makeba’s famed “The Click Song” (pretty cool for 1897!), which finds Simeon Lee killing his diamond-hunting partner and, after getting wounded in the struggle, being nursed back to health by a lone woman with unusual markings. He has sex with the woman and then suddenly disappears. The film also finds Simeon Lee inviting Poirot to Gorston Hall, claiming his life is in danger (something that is never properly explained). In the book Simeon Lee never meets or talks to Poirot. The request, explains Simeon Lee in the film, is made, rather amazingly, at Superintendent Sugden’s suggestion – placing Poirot, unbelievably again, right at the scene of the crime (the book never suggests that Sugden and Simeon Lee have previously met either).
Exton also does away with the unrealistically huge quantity of blood at the novel’s crime scene. This allows Christie to throw suspicion on one of the family members with the oft-repeated quote from Lady Macbeth, “Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” There’s far too much blood in the novel – which was intended (it is also never properly explained how the two different types of blood that were present were determined to be different) – and hardly any in the film itself. In both versions, though, the killer manages to inconceivably escape without getting stained or marked by any blood at all. Although Exton’s script maintains the same killer as Christie’s story, the film changes the vengeance behind the crime to a spurned mother, almost suggesting Hitchcock’s Psycho. This individual, created for mere story-telling purposes, also does not appear to pay in any way for her involvement in the crime that took place at her behest. Exton also does away with Poirot’s surprisingly total lack of respect for Superintendent Sugden throughout the novel, which is probably much aligned with David Suchet’s kinder, gentler portrayal of Poirot (though he delivers some rather sour zingers – right out of the novel – when detailing all the people who could have killed Simeon Lee). Director Edward Bennett, who, like dramatist Clive Exton, was present for the very first of the Poirot films, The Adventure of the Clapham Cook, stages a typically efficient mystery with many lush, wintery scenes that surely were filmed in early 1994 – even though this film was first seen on New Year’s Day 1995. The ensemble cast does a decent job of bringing Miss Christie’s story to life, even overcoming the herculean task of many having to look as if they descended from Simeon Lee. Vernon Dobtcheff (Simeon Lee) also appeared in the 1974 film of Murder on the Orient Express (with Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot) as well as the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, which also featured Brian Gwaspari (Harry Lee). John Horsley (Tressilian) also appeared as Professor Wamstead in the 1987 Miss Marple film Nemesis and as Mr. Spragg in the 1980 TV film Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?.
2. Hickory Dickory Dock (first broadcast February 12, 1995): Miss Lemon’s sister, Mrs. Hubbard, who is matron of a youth hostel on Hickory Road owned by a Greek woman named Mrs. Nicoletis, consults Hercule Poirot about some items that have gone strangely missing at the house. Most of the items are fairly worthless, but several of the items strike Poirot as rather strange. These include an expensive stethoscope, a diamond ring that is later discovered in one of the residents’ soup and a rucksack that turns up torn to shreds. The hostel residents, who include American Sally Finch, Celia Austin, Patricia Lane, Leonard Bateson, Colin McNabb, Nigel Chapman and Valerie Hobhouse appear as baffled and disturbed by the missing items as Mrs. Hubbard. Poirot consents to visit the hostel, which enrages Mrs. Nicoletis. But shortly thereafter, Celia Austin confesses to taking some – but not all – of the items. As it appears that all is resolved, Celia is discovered dead. It is quickly ascertained Celia has been poisoned and her death is nothing less than murder. Mrs. Nicoletis is horrified that this death brings more policemen to her hostel. But she too is soon discovered dead, also the victim of murder. As Poirot investigates, he unravels a mystery involving international smuggling and a murderer of long standing living at the house on Hickory Road.
First published in 1955 and published in the US as Hickory Dickory Death, this Poirot novel is the first of the Poirot novels to feature Miss Lemon, who appears only in several of the Poirot short stories. Here, she gets a rather substantial role in the story and Poirot is as surprised by some of what he learns about Miss Lemon in the book as we are by watching her life outside the office unfold in the film. Although the book’s title comes from the well-known children’s nursery rhyme (as does Miss Lemon’s sister, “Mother Hubbard”), only the story’s hostel location on Hickory Road ties back to the title. The book provides several casual references to the nursery rhyme to make the connection. But the film provides the pervasive presence of a mouse at the hostel (and quite a few clocks) and a piece of cheese at the end to tie the story to its odd title.
It’s a mess of a story. Like The Adventure of the Clapham Cook (1923), Hickory Dickory Dock starts with a seemingly trivial event that turns into serious crime by the story’s end. There is also the hint of matricide that Agatha Christie would explore much more fully – and better – with Ordeal by Innocence (1958). Rarely, though, has Agatha Christie scripted such a whodunit that reads like a soap opera. First, it’s completely over-populated by suspicious characters and, rather unpleasantly, with too many questionable “foreigners” that are questionable because of their foreignness. Second, the meat of the mystery takes far too long to kick into gear. By the time the real mystery is revealed – or, guessed at, by Poirot – and it is determined that everything is a cover for a rather unlikely smuggling operation (about two thirds of the way through the book), the reader hardly cares anymore. Still, Agatha Christie fans will have fun picking up references in the novel to previous Poirot adventures. The scene in Chapter 4, where Poirot first engages with the students at the hostel, provides references to such previous Poirot stories as Mrs. McGinty’s Dead (1952) and the strange series of short stories known as The Labors of Hercules (1947). There is also a rather oblique – possibly inaccurate – reference to After the Funeral (1953) in Chapter 21.
Anthony Horowitz’s dramatization does much to alter Christie’s crazed conundrum. First, he takes the novel’s mid-fifties setting back to the Poirot series’ mid-thirties timeframe. Thankfully, this allows the scripter to dispense with the many mentions of communism and all of the various issues that go along with that and those that would be on the mind of many in the mid-fifties. Next, Horowitz surgically removes many of the needless characters in Christie’s story including “Mr. Chandra Lai” (as he is always referred), Gopal Ram, Miss Reinjeer, Mr. Akibombo, Genevieve, Rene (?), Elizabeth Johnston (Black Bess), Ahmed Ali and Jean Tomlinson as well as the hostel’s “Italian” servants, Geronimo and his wife, Maria. Horowitz mercifully simplifies any number of odd plot points from Christie’s novel. He does away with the complicated maze of false passports from the novel and shredded scarf. He only uses one stolen poison, rather than Christie’s set of three stolen poisons. Horowitz doesn’t complicate the stolen diamond ring issue by having it replaced with a fake, as is done in the novel. The whole issue of the spilled green ink, which figures largely in the novel, is fortunately missing and Valerie Hobhouse’s mother is never named in the film (which might have helped make some of the motivations clearer…but they’re not all that clear in the book either).
Some of the changes Horowitz makes in the film are rather inspired. For example, The American, Sally Finch, is allegedly in Britain on a Fulbright Scholarship, specializing in Keats (one of Horowitz’s many poetic/literate references) – but she knows nothing whatsoever of Keats. Sally Finch turns out to be someone else altogether. The dying Sir Arthur Stanley, seemingly renowned in the book as a research chemist, becomes a famed M.P. in the film, a hero of the Labor party and the Jarrow marchers, and someone Patricia Lane quite admires (which, of course, leads to her downfall more realistically than it does in the novel). Valerie Hobhouse works for a design house (named “Sabrina Fair,” which comes from Milton, as the book references, but is also the title of a popular Broadway play of the time, that was turned into the popular film, Sabrina the year Agatha Christie’s book was published) where she has developed stitch work of a particularly singular signature that helps Poirot unravel the crime. Horowitz also replaces the novel’s Inspector Sharpe (and Sergeant Cobb) with Chief Inspector Japp, who is frazzled by his wife’s absence, which allows Poirot to invite the policeman to stay with him and enjoy his particularly odd cuisine and, comically, discover the benefits of a bidet.
The film, directed with aplomb by series veteran Andrew Grieve, is only marginally more successful than the novel. The scenes featuring the mouse are wonderfully well shot, as far as filler goes, but there isn’t too much that the director or the dramatist could do to make this presentation anything more than a stage-bound presentation of a rather too talky piece of mystery ephemera. The presentation hints at the inspiration behind many of the Italian gialli. But this is surely one of the few Poirot novels that hardly justified its feature-length presentation. There is, however, some fine acting here, particularly from the great Jonathan Firth as Nigel Chapman, Damian Lewis as Leonard Bateson and Sarah Badel as Mrs. Hubbard. Rachel Bell (Mrs. Nicoletis) also appeared as Jennifer Fortescue in the 1985 Miss Marple film A Pocket Full of Rye while Granville Saxton (the mysterious Mr. Casterville, Sally Finch’s weird and rather inappropriate boss) also appeared in the 1983 episode of Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime titled “The House of Lurking Death” as Dr. Burton. The great David Burke (Sir Arthur Stanley) is, of course, best known for his appearances as Dr. Watson in the 1984-85 series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
3. Murder on the Links (first broadcast February 11, 1996): Millionaire Paul Renaud asks Hercule Poirot to meet with him in order to avert a perceived threat. Before the two can meet over the life-threatening issue, Renaud is murdered. The murder, though, is most peculiar. Masked intruders apparently stormed Renaud’s house, the Villa Geneviève, located in an exclusive region of Northern France. They bind and gag Renaud’s wife, Eloise, and force M. Renaud to reveal his “secret.” When he is unforthcoming, the bandits abduct him from the house and disappear into the night. The next morning, Renaud is discovered lying dead, stabbed in the back, in an open grave located by a nearby golf course (the links of the title). It is determined, as investigations persist, that Renaud was involved in a relationship with his neighbor, Madame Daubreuil, or – possibly – a mysterious woman named Bella. It’s possible that Renaud could have even been involved in some sort of blackmail scheme with one of these two women. Poirot discovers that on the day he was murdered, Renaud inexplicably sent his son, Jack – who was involved with Daubreuil’s daughter, the beautiful Marthe, “the girl with the anxious eyes” – to work in South America and dismissed his driver for a holiday. Poirot is surprised at the reaction Renaud’s wife has to her husband’s death and the similarities this crime has to an earlier crime of his recollection.
First published in 1923, The Murder on the Links (“the” prefaces the novel but not the film) is a genuinely perplexing tale of a bizarre murder which apparently mirrors an earlier crime. It is the second Poirot novel following The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) and, most interestingly, is dedicated to the author’s first husband, Archibald Christie, whom she divorced only five years later – and the man who is responsible for Christie’s mysterious disappearance in December 1926 that became the subject of the 1979 Michael Apted film Agatha, starring Vanessa Redgrave (who appeared earlier in the 1974 all-star production of Murder on the Orient Express), Timothy Dalton and Dustin Hoffman. This nearly Shakespearean tale often harkens back to the terrible-things-out-of-the-past tales of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle such as The Adventure of the Speckled Band (1892) and The Adventure of the Crooked Man (1893). There are several references to Sherlock Holmes throughout the novel, including Hastings’ narration that says Poirot “has a certain disdain for tangible evidence, such as footprints and cigarette ash,” the very things that helped Sherlock Holmes solve his baffling crimes. Poirot is said to be more of the hunter type and the hunting dog that so many policemen and detectives are, using his “little grey cells” to solve crimes, therefore disdaining any of the legwork or the action that American detectives of the period might employ or American readers of the period might expect in such a telling. There are also hints – but only hints, grand or as elusive as they may be – toward such Shakespeare stories as Macbeth, Othello, King Lear and Hamlet. Naturally, such previous Poirot adventures are recounted in the novel, including The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), referenced in chapters 1, 2, and 7, and the short story The Plymouth Express (1923), noted in chapter 2. Like The Cornish Mystery (1923) and the later How Does Your Garden Grow (1935), Poirot’s assistance is requested here by a victim who is murdered before outlining the investigation they want Poirot to pursue.
Scripted, as was the previous Hickory, Dickory Dock, by the great Anthony Horowitz, Murder on the Links is an exceptionally colorful telling of Agatha Christie’s magnificent story. Here, Poirot is conned by Hastings to a golf hotel in the real French province of Deauville (the book’s locale is the fictionalized Merlinville) where Poirot meets M. Renaud, the owner of the hotel, and Hastings first encounters his beloved, Bella Dulveen. In the book, Renaud’s letter commands Poirot to France. Poirot, of course, insists that Hastings accompany him. Horowitz also nicely changes the initial meeting between Hastings and his beloved, “Cinderella” as he considers her through most of the novel, from a meet-cute on a ship voyage which opens the novel to a more realistically bewitching musical performance at the French hotel. The dramatist also morphs the Dulveen twins into the magnificent Bella, who is a much more human concoction in the film than she is on the page, particularly as portrayed by the lovely Jacinta Mulcahy in her only appearance in the entirety of the Poirotseries thus far. The film also finds Jack Renaud as a Le Trophe Cycliste de Deauville bicyclist (he had no such interest –or any real interests – in the book), giving him a stronger reason than Marthe to want to stay in France. The film also changes, rather meaninglessly, the book’s timings of when the Renauds and the Daubriels move to their luxurious French digs. Horowitz also ups the wager between the lead investigator on the case, Giraud of the Sûreté, and Poirot by changing a 500 franc bet at who will solve the crime first into a call between Giraud giving up his famous pipe (a la Sherlock Holmes) if he fails to solve the crime first or Poirot shaving off his moustache if he fails. Guess who wins? As an aside, this particular situation reminds me of the 1944 Sherlock Holmes film The Spider Woman where Basil Rathbone’s Holmes’ faked death causes the surprisingly grieving Inspector Lestrade (Dennis Hoey) to request one of the investigator’s famed pipes from Holmes’ long-time comrade, Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce), as a remembrance. It’s not the same thing, of course. But there is the same sort of reverence and respect to each of the scenarios - and something of Horowitz’s amazingly referential writing.
Like Horowitz, director Andrew Grieve returns here to mount this particularly well-staged production. The story beautifully begins with a Citizen Kane-like introduction – a perfect way to introduce the viewer to the story. (David Suchet also starred in the excellent 1999 HBO film RKO 281, recounting the making of Citizen Kane, where he expertly portrayed the very different-than-Poirot American film-lord Louis B. Mayer.) It probably takes more than one viewing for the film to clarify itself. But that’s ok. As is, it is skillfully presented. Hardcore Christie readers might disapprove of putting the back story up front like this. But such a presentation is visually and temporally necessary to explain something the audience would not be able to know as familiarly as the characters in the story. Additionally, historical facts can unfold as they are discovered in a book. In a film, this would require so much exposition that it would be laborious and unbelievably coincidental by the time it was presented. As such, Horowitz and Grieve conspire to present the story’s “past” rather ingeniously here. Henrietta Voigts (the maid Leonie) also appeared as Alice in the 1987 Miss Marple film At Bertram’s Hotel and this was the last of news reader Richard Bebb’s (1927-2006) six heard “appearances” in the Poirot series.
4. Dumb Witness (first broadcast March 16, 1996): Unable to sleep one night, the elderly and often sleepless Emily Arundell wanders outside her bedroom, trips and falls headlong down the stairs. The whole house is awakened by the fall, including Miss Arundell’s companion, Wilhemina (Minnie) Lawson, and such houseguests as nephew Charles, niece Theresa and another niece, Bella, and her husband, Dr. Jacob Tanois. The elderly lady survives the fall but it is suspected she tripped over the ball her pet dog, Bob, a fox terrier, often plays with. Emily Arundell doesn’t believe Bob or his ball was at fault and becomes fearful for her life. Unbeknownst to everyone, Emily Arundell changes the will benefiting her family, leaving everything to her companion, Wilhemina. Several weeks later Emily Arundell does die. Poirot finds the circumstances leading up to Emily Arundell’s death very suspicious and investigates.
First published in 1937, Dumb Witness was also first published in the US as Poirot Loses A Client, a dumb title that hides an early American fear of political incorrectness (it’s also known in its serialization as “The Mystery of Littlegreen House”). The “dumb witness” obviously refers to the dog that knows all but is unable to speak. But as the dog is not present as a witness in the novel and the sheer number of animal references Agatha Christie’s story attributes to the sorry lot of humans she conjures up here (dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, etc.), the author may have been implying a sort of double meaning with the potentially offensive adjective. (With the story’s inevitable hints of Sherlock Holmes, a better title might have come from the 1893 Conan Doyle tale Silver Blaze regarding “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time,” which was used as the title to Mark Haddon’s wonderful 2003 novel.) It is the last of the Poirot novels to be narrated by Captain Hastings until the final novel, Curtain (1975), written during World War II. It is, indeed, a most curious tale with a conclusion that is as baffling as the sequence of events that lead up to the dénouement. In considering the nature of unsuspecting individuals he has encountered in the past, Poirot recalls in the novel’s regrettably titled eighteenth chapter previous adventures when he says “I am reflecting on various people, handsome young Norman Gale (Death in the Clouds), bluff, hearty Evelyn Howard (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), the pleasant Dr. Sheppard (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd), and the quiet, reliable Knighton (The Mystery of the Blue Train).” But as Hastings wasn’t there for most of the adventures, the names mean nothing to him. It is Agatha Christie’s way of suggesting that the guilty culprit will not be the person she is setting you up to believe it is.
The novel unfolds considerably differently than the film that was adapted by Douglas Watkinson in the third of his three Poirot adaptations. The book finds Poirot receiving a rambling, near incoherent letter from Emily Arundell, dated two months earlier and requesting his assistance. Intrigued, Poirot goes to visit Miss Arundell in her village of Market Basing, only to find that the old lady died shortly after writing the letter – which makes its sudden appearance even stranger – and that Littlegreen House, her home, is now up for sale. With Hastings’ assistance, Poirot assumes various identities to learn from the people of the village that Miss Arundell’s death was in no way suspicious and that her companion, Miss Lawson, has quite surprisingly inherited the old lady’s house and her large fortune.
The film, stylishly directed by Edward Bennett in the last of his ten Poirot adaptations (he also directed the very first, The Adventure of the Clapham Cook), finds Hastings rushing Poirot off to see an old school chum, Charles Arundell, break a water speed record. This helps introduce “Battle-a,” as in “Battle of Hastings,” the nicknamed Hastings, and Poirot to the Arundell family. After Aunt Emily’s fall down the stairs, it is Poirot who suggests the elderly lady change the will that benefits her family equally to one special friend that no one knows about. While the script does away with the novel’s Dr. Donaldson (and Theresa’s engagement to him), the dreadfully gossipy Miss Peabody and Ellen, the Littlegreen House maid (who is replaced in the film by a briefly seen character named Sarah), it adds a break-in at Littlegreen House, Dr. Grainger’s affection for Miss Lawson (and his subsequent death) and the up-charged significance of the “dumb witness,” Bob. The film character of nearly all the book’s personalities differs quite substantially too. The Greek Dr. Tanois, the elderly Dr. Grainger, the companion Minnie, gadabout Charles Arundell and even Poirot, who is unusually deceptive throughout, are quite different in their film roles than they are presented in Christie’s novel. And Bob, of course, takes a distinctly more important role in the film than the book. While both stories essentially end the same way (except the murderer commits suicide in the novel), they go about their telling in quite different ways. Both are entertaining. Miss Christie’s novel is an entertainingly light read – but makes much of the machinations a bit more sensible than the film. The ITV film is an equally entertaining visual delight, with a tremendously well-cast set of actors to bring the somewhat ridiculous story to life.
Norma West (Wilhemina Lawson) also appeared in the 1987 Miss Marple film The Murder at the Vicarage as Mrs. Lestrange and in the 1983 episode of Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime, “The Ambassador’s Boots” as Estelle Blaney while Jonathan Newth (Dr. Grainger) also appeared in the 1985 episode of Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime, “The Case of The Missing Lady.” Pauline Jameson (Isabel Tripp) also appeared in the 1964 Miss Marple film Murder Most Foul while Muriel Pavlow, who nicely appears as Isabel’s sister Julia, also appeared in the 1961 Miss Marple film Murder She Said.
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