Thursday, July 01, 2010

Agatha Christie’s Poirot - Series 10

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
Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 6
Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 7
Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 8
Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 9

1. The Mystery of the Blue Train (first broadcast January 1, 2006): American millionaire Rufus Van Aldin dearly loves his daughter, Ruth Kettering, but recognizes how unhappy she is with her philandering husband, Derek. Rufus then gifts Ruth with the fabulous Heart of Fire ruby and promises, with the help of his secretary, Major Knighton, to rid Ruth of her husband. Ruth, for her part, is secretly involved in an affair with the Comte de la Roche, with whom she is deeply in love. She plans to travel with her maid, Mason, to the South of France by the Blue Train to be with the Count. Meanwhile, Katherine Grey, an English companion, inherits a large fortune from the lady who was formerly in her charge. A long lost cousin, the wealthy and well-known Lady Rosalie Tamplin, invites the former servant girl to stay with her and her daughter at the fabulous Villa Marguerite on the Riviera. Katherine decides, after a lifetime of hard work, she would like to travel and sets about to the south of France via the Blue Train. Also aboard the Blue Train is the renowned detective Hercule Poirot. Following the journey and upon arrival, it is discovered that Ruth Kettering has been brutally murdered. While Poirot assists the authorities in their investigations, Major Knighton finds that he has fallen in love with Katherine Grey.

First published in 1928, The Mystery of the Blue Train is an expanded version of the 1923 Poirot short story “The Plymouth Express,” filmed in 1991 during the third series. The major characters are very similar in both stories, with quite a bit more backstory provided, naturally, for Blue Train. The two stories even share the name of one of the guilty co-conspiritors. Like Murder on the Orient Express (1934) – and 4.50 From Paddington (1957) for that matter – the murder happens aboard a moving train and like Murder on the Links (1923) and Death in the Clouds (1935), the murder happens in France. France is indeed more picturesque in the telling here than the actual journey on the titular train. The author evidently struggled with the novel for some time before and after her famously mysterious disappearance (later chronicled in the fictitious film Agatha), expressing dissatisfaction with it very shortly after publication and, later, considering it one of the least favorite of her own novels. It is, to be sure, only a marginally satisfying thriller and not the sort of thing that ranks among the author’s best. While many of the story’s characters have backgrounds that are far too unbelievably bizarre and connections to one another that are suspiciously coincidental, the murder victim, Ruth Kettering, has a striking lack of personality. Even her aggrieved father, who spoils her in life out of a deep love for her, seems to care less for her fate than in seeking a long-standing vengeance upon his detestable son-in-law. Like the worst Christie, The Mystery of the Blue Train is not about justice or compassion for the victim. It’s about a clever crime and its ultimately brilliant solution. One thing the story does do well, however, is to suppose that the murder and the theft of the rubies might be two crimes, committed separately. But even this points out the obvious question. Why bother to kill Ruth Ketterling at all? And all the rigamarole about the imitation stones is plotted with such obfuscation as to be ridiculous in the end.

The screenwriter, Guy Andrews, probably recognizing the novel’s weaknesses made quite a number of sweeping changes to the story, retaining only the names, the train, the murder and the guilty culprits of Agatha Christie’s original story. Andrews, who also wrote the screenplays for Taken at the Flood (2006) and Appointment With Death (2008), concocts a fanciful story that puts nearly all the cast on the train, which, like Orient Express, deliciously ups the number of potential suspects. Poirot, introduced much earlier in the film than the novel and meeting the murder victim before her demise, here volunteers to serve as Katherine Grey’s “avuncular.” There is an elaborate birthday bash for Ruth, which first brings most of the characters together and an elaborate backstory involving Ruth’s mother, neither of which is in the novel and the “dancer” Mirelle is here involved with Rufus rather than Derek. All of the complicated background involving “The Marquis” and Demetrius and Zia Papopolous is thankfully dismissed in favor of changing Charles “Chubby” Evans to Corky, involving Derek in a gambling debt to the Count, creating a huge party/sensation at Villa Marguerite where “everyone” is invited, having Corky find the imitation ruby and fashioning an unlikely murder attempt on Katherine. Here, Poirot is witness to certain events on the train that Katherine is witness to in the novel and Ruth coerces Katherine to switch compartments on the train, which leads the detective to publically surmise that Katherine may have been the intended victim.

This analysis only skims the surface of the changes the film makes to the novel. But it comes off pretty well, all in all, in the end. Andrews fashioned a reasonable script that simplifies the original in mostly appropriate ways. Directed by Heddie MacDonald, who directed the feature film Beautiful Thing (1996) as well as the 2008 Marple film Murder is Easy, The Mystery of the Blue Train benefits by a fair bit of attractive location shooting in Nice and some generally good performances from its exceedingly well-chosen cast. The train platform exteriors where shot in England at the same place that houses another blue train, Thomas the Tank! Unfortunately, the direction suffers from a bit too much handheld camera work, which was no doubt used to provide the spying sense that “you are there” while things are happening. After a while, though, the cut-off heads and jiggly-frame dynamics just become distracting and annoying.

The cast is well chosen and well highlighted by headliner Elliott Gould, the great American actor known for many films such as M.A.S.H., the Oceans films and, most notably, as Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman’s brilliantly seductive 1973 film The Long Goodbye - not to mention his numerous TV appearances. As Rufus, he brings the right amount of pathetic paternal love to his role, even if he seems not the type to have been the crafty possessor of the Van Aldin millions – the exact opposite of Vernon Dobtcheff, who portrayed the appropriately named pater familias, Simian Lee, in the 1995 Poirot film Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. The exquisitely handsome and exceptionally talented James D’Arcy, who is perfectly cast as the devilishly attractive Derek Kettering, also appeared in the 2006 Marple film The Moving Finger while Nicholas Farrell (Major Knighton) also appeared as Donald Fraser in the 1992 Poirot film The A.B.C. Murders and Lindsay Duncan (who plays Lady Tamplin perfectly like Absolutely Fabulous’s Edina Monsoon) also appeared as Marina Gregg (!) in the 2010 Marple film The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side. Jane How (the unnamed, gossipy lady at the birthday party) also appears as Lady Veronica in the 2009 Poirot film Cat among the Pigeons.

2. Cards on the Table (first broadcast December 11, 2005, in the US, and March 26, 2006, in the UK): The mysterious and wealthy eccentric, Mr. Shaitana, proposes to host a dinner party and invites four acquaintances who he believes have escaped justice for their murderous crimes: Dr. Roberts, Mrs. Lorrimer, Major Despard and Miss Meredith. To this party Shaitana also invites four “detectives,” a police officer, a secret service agent, a writer of crime fiction and Hercule Poirot, who by his own admission, is the greatest detective in the world. A discussion of murder naturally ensues over dinner. Afterwards, Mr. Shaitana invites Dr. Roberts, Mrs. Lorrimer, Major Despard and Miss Meredith to the drawing room for a game of bridge. In another room, Shaitana sets up a bridge game for the other guests, but declines to participate himself. At the conclusion of the evening Mr. Shaitana is discovered dead in the drawing room, with a stiletto rammed clear through his heart. Clearly a case of murder, the detectives set about determining which of the four card players in the drawing room could have possibly committed the murder without detection. It emerges that the investigation will need to determine the validity of Mr. Shaitana’s claim that each of the suspects has a murder in their past and whether Mr. Shaitana’s murder was committed to keep this fact from emerging.

First published in 1936, Cards on the Table is one of Agatha Christie’s most clever and well-plotted novels. Perhaps it succeeds so well since, like Five Little Pigs, another one of the author’s best, there are only a limited number of suspects; in this case, four. Astutely constructed like a card game, the story presents the machinations of each character as if they’re players in a game. Bridge factors frequently throughout Agatha Christie’s work (“The Incredible Theft,” “The King of Clubs” and Evil Under The Sun) and the author is fond of using the psychology of card playing as a metaphor as she does in Thirteen for Dinner (chapter 14) and The Hollow (chapter 8). Here, though, there are literally and symbolically two games at play: one among the suspects and one among the detectives. The book’s title probably refers to the literal game among the suspects that disguises the story’s primary crime as well as the symbolic game among the detectives, where each gathers information using their own methods and puts their “cards on the table” for the benefit of the other investigators. Poirot’s method allows the others to do the legwork while he regards bridge scorecards and cunningly asks each suspect to describe the room where the murder occurred. This permits him to assess the character of the suspects, determine what kind of a killer each is and match Shaitana’s murder to his murderer.

Cards on the Table marks the very first appearance of Ariadne Oliver, who in chapter two is credited with writing a book called The Body in the Library, a title her creator would use for a 1942 Miss Marple novel. In this film, and later ones, Mrs. Oliver is perfectly portrayed by the wonderful Zoë Wannamaker. The novel also reintroduces Colonel Race, who first appeared in the author’s The Man in the Brown Suit (1924) and would later appear in Death on the Nile (1937) and Sparkling Cyanide (1945). As James Fox, who appeared as Colonel Race in the 2004 Poirot film Death on the Nile, was unavailable for this film, the character’s name was changed to Colonel Hughes and he was portrayed by actor Robert Pugh. The author also brings back Superintendint Battle from The Secret of Chimneys (1925) and The Seven Dials Mystery (1929) for his only foray with Hercule Poirot. Among the many sweeping changes Nick Dear’s screenplay makes to Christie’s characters, the stolid Battle for some reason here becomes Superintendent Wheeler of a suspiciously dodgy character. Aside from a reference to The A.B.C. Murders in chapter 2, it is interesting to note that the knife Poirot wants to show Rhoda Dawes in chapter 23 of the novel is the very knife used in Murder on the Orient Express (1934) – something the film is unable to reference since the series had not yet got around to this particular story. Agatha Christie also presents Shaitana, in many descriptions, as the polar opposite of Hercule Poirot – two different sides of the same coin – an interesting, though only speculative, idea of consideration.

Scripted by Nick Dear in his second Poirot outing, the 2005 film of Cards on the Table gets an interesting and mostly feasible overhaul. Without changing the story or Shaitana’s murderer, Dear changes quite a number of other facts from Agatha Christie’s original novel. Most notably, there are the name changes mentioned above and the introduction of a number of homosexual suggestions. There are also reasonable changes to the nature of relationships between Ann Meredith and Rhoda Dawes, Mrs. Lorrimer and Miss Meredith and Dr. Roberts and Mrs. Craddock. In all cases, Dear provides a great deal of sensibility that improves upon Agatha Christie’s structure, especially given Mrs. Lorrimer’s confession of guilt in the murder of Shaitana. The nature and methods of both Major Despard and Miss Meredith’s earlier crimes (making them both much more guilty than the film) and Mrs. Lorrimer’s remarriage (explaining the difference in the names in the film between her and her daughter) are also quite different in the film and, again, quite a bit more sensible than in the novel. Dear’s additions, however, don’t always succeed as proven by the absurd sleeping draught in Shaitana’s drink, the break-in at Shaitana’s home after his death, the suspicion (and the guilt!) thrown on the supervising investigator and the whole issue of suspicious photographs and the presence of the curiously flaming “art” photographer Serge Mureau (Douglas Reith). Fortunately, Dear provides wholly different fates for Mrs. Lorrimer and Miss Meredith than Agatha Christie originally conceived, - and leaves out the ridiculous “witness” Gerald Hemmingway – but leaves in quite a lot of the author’s witty dialogue, most prominently Poirot’s line to Mrs. Lorrimer, superbly delivered by Suchet with righteous indignation: “Always I am right. It is so invariable that it startles me.” But all of the best and most memorable dialogue – and delivery – here come from Zoë Wannamaker’s pristine Mrs. Oliver.

Cards on the Table was directed by Sarah Harding in her only Poirot outing. It is a handsomely mounted and most eloquent production, with several moments of artful grace, such as the gallery scenes and the scene of the four detectives as they alight from Shaitana’s home the morning after the murder. Funny to note here that Shaitana’s house is also the same house where Lord Edgware resides in Lord Edgware Dies. In only his second Poirot film, composer Stephen McKeon notably melds Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No. 2 with notable Philip Glass-like highlights to create a most enchanting score that adds immeasurably to the proceedings.

The sterling cast suits Agatha Christie’s novel to a tee, from Zoë Wannamaker’s Mrs. Oliver to each of the four suspects. Alex Jennings (Dr. Roberts) also appears as Inspector Curry in the 2009 Marple film They Do It With Mirrors while Lucy Liemann (Miss Burgess) also appears as Sonia in the 2008 Poirot film Third Girl. Lyndsey Marshal (Miss Meredith) also appears as Amy Gibbs in the 2008 Marple film Murder is Easy while both Zoë Wannamaker (Ariadne Oliver) and Robert Pugh (Colonel Hughes) appear in the 2005 Marple film A Murder Is Announced.

3. After The Funeral (first broadcast March 19, 2006, in the UK, and March 26, 2006, in th US): After the funeral of Richard Abernethie, his family gathers for a reading of the will. Although Richard’s death was sudden, it was not unexpected, but everyone is shocked when Richard’s eccentric sister, Cora, suddenly announces that Richard Abernethie was murdered. While no one has seen Cora for many years, everyone still thinks she’s as “batty” as she was when she was younger, saying anything she felt, whether it was appropriate or not. But was Richard Abernethie’s death really murder? Even though every one in the family benefitted equally by Richard Abernethie’s will, each had very specific needs and wants for their portion of the vast estate and, subsequently, a motive for wanting the old man dead. The very next day, Cora’s companion, Miss Gilchrist, discovers that Cora herself has been brutally murdered. Since Cora’s death was clearly murder, an investigation begins. Shortly soon thereafter Miss Gilchrist receives a piece of cake laced with arsenic. She doesn’t eat enough of the poisoned cake to die, but Hercule Poirot begins to make sense of the maze of the murderous intention that infects the Abernethie family after Richard Abernethie’s funeral.

First published in 1953, After the Funeral was published in the United States that year as Funerals Are Fatal. It is a peculiar mystery that uses post-war Britain as a primary setting and one, notably, for criminal motivation. One could say the title might actually stand to represent England “after the fall.” Even though the author’s saga is set, as so many often are, among the gentry – or former gentry – it is clear that she means to communicate the very real toll the British people suffered after WWII. While After the Funeral is, sadly, one of the author’s less noteworthy efforts, a number of favored themes are revisited here, particularly in the use of disguise as deception and specifically that of a domestic disguised as the person they serve such as is portrayed in The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928) and Taken at the Flood (1948). After the Funeral also twists the author’s notion from Death in the Clouds (1935) that nobody pays attention to a servant. The issue Christie rasies with the nuns is a little confusing and questionably meaningless as presented here but the whole idea of mirrors reflecting and reversing clearly recalls the denoument of Dumb Witness (1937), though not 1952’s They Do It With Mirrors, as this particular title might suggest. The novel received its first film treatment with 1963’s Murder at the Gallop, replacing Hercule Poirot with Margaret Rutherford’s somewhat ridiculous Miss Marple and any suspense with sight gags and belabored slapstick comedy. The novel was also published under this title in 1963 to help promote the film.

The Granada film is markedly more faithful to Agatha Christie’s source novel than the previous film but benefits by a number of Christie-like embellishments that, rather remarkably, strengthen the basic story. Devilishy well-scripted by Philomena McDonagh in her only Poirot outing, After the Funeral is completely stripped of its post-war atmosphere by being set, as the bulk of the Poirot series is, in the mid 1930s. This refocuses attention away from the author’s overwhelming social commentary back to her skillfully derived murder mystery. The changes made to the story show that McDonagh knows her Agatha Christie quite well. References are made to other stories, in dialogue (“properly putting the cat among the pigeons”) and even in the story’s plotting. A will is forged (recalling “The Case of the Missing Will”), a question of paternity ensues (recalling They Do It With Mirrors, which, like After the Funeral, also has a theatrical angle, and Hercule Poirot’s Christmas) and papers go missing (“The Case of the Missing Will” again). Even the character of Susan changes here to Susannah, a missionary (similar to Taken at the Flood’s Lynn and a cross between Angela from Five Little Pigs and Violet from, again, “The Case of the Missing Will”). Other modifications the film makes to the book include changing Cora Lansquenet, a French man’s widow, to Cora Gillaccio, whose Italian ex-husband serves a role in the film given to Alexander Guthrie in the book. George Crossfield becomes George Abernethie, the private investigator, Mr. Goby, is left out altogether and Poirot’s deception as M. Pontarlier is well dispensed with here. The script also does away with sending Miss Gilchrist to her next “situation” at Timothy Abernethie’s and changes the hidden Vermeer painting to a hidden Rembrandt painting, probably because Rembrandt’s name has more cache than Vermeer’s to a contemporary audience.

Maurice Philips’ direction here is outstanding. Rife with wonderfully well-composed shots that offer much movement and energy, it would seem that this is one of the few Poirot films that was storyboarded. The gracefully choreographed tracking shot at the beginning of the film during the post-funeral scene at Enderby recalls Orson Welles’ still-stunning opening scene from Touch of Evil (1959). The camera swoops around the rooms, in between people and among conversations, like a bird taking it all in. Absolutely appropriate, that, as the scene’s central character, “Cora,” is not only described as “bird like” but flutters around like one and is considered cuckoo and batty by even her own family. Philips prominently plants the wax flowers in his mise-en-scene much as Christie plants all her significant clues for astute readers in the books and does a much more effective job of suggesting the importance of the nuns to the story than even Christie does in the book. Filmed on location at the uniquely magnificent Rotherfield Park mansion in Hampshire, which serves here as Enderby and has also served as Manderley in the 1997 film of Rebecca and as the site of the Scottish wedding in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), there’s a grand opulence that probably wasn’t right for suggesting a decaying, dysfunctional family such as the Abernethies. Still, it’s all very beautiful and Philips does a marvelous job taking full advantage of the home’s inner and outer beauty.

After the Funeral contains some commendably fine performances and an especially impressive cast that includes Geraldine James (Ghandi, Jewel in the Crown and Blott on the Landscape with David Suchet), Robert Bathurst, Michael Fassbender (300, Inglourious Basterds), Lucy Punch (Hot Fuzz) and Julian Ovenden (Foyle’s War). But no performance here matches or exceeds the excellent one Monica Dolan delivers as the mad-as-a-hatter Miss Gilchrist. The film probably shortchanges Ms. Dolan of some of the scatty dialogue she gets in the book: boring stories about her tea shop and always getting cut off when she begins to talk about her aunt. But Ms. Dolan’s delivery effectively conveys these misconnections with an economy of words. Simply listen to the astoundingly arch way Ms. Dolan says “sorry” each of three times. Monica Dolan’s performance, particularly during the shivery denoument, ranks among one of the very best in all of the Poirot films. It is a magnificent performance that leaves the viewer gaping with the same amount of utter shock as the Abernethie family. John Carson (Richard Abernethie) also appeared as Sir George Carrington in the 1989 Poirot film The Incredible Theft while Anthony Valentine (Giovanni Gallaccio) appeared in the 1982 TV film Murder is Easy and Benjamin Whitrow (Timothy Abernethie) appeared in the 1983 Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime episode “Finessing the King.”

4. Taken at the Flood (First broadcast April 2, 2006): Major Porter tells Poirot the story of the wealthy Gordon Cloade who take a young wife, Rosaleen, herself the widow of an associate of Porter’s named Robert Underhay. Porter elaborates that just before Cloade’s family could meet Rosaleen, his London flat was decimated by a blast that killed Gordon Cloade and all his servants. Only Rosaleen and her brother, David Hunter, escaped the blast with minor injuries. Gordon Cloade had always devoted himself to taking care of all the financial needs of his brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. But as Rosaleen and David have taken residence in Furrowbank, Gordon Cloade’s home, the Cloades, to their dismay, discover Rosaleen is completely under the control of her brother David, who refuses to give the Cloades any of the money they want or ask for. There are hints and hopes that Rosaleen’s first husband, Robert Underhay, isn’t dead as previously presumed and one of the Cloades engage Poirot to track down Underhay to invalidate Rosaleen’s marriage to Gordon so that the Cloades can gain control of Gordon’s vast estate. Suddenly, a man calling himself Enoch Arden contacts David Hunter suggesting that Robert Underhay is indeed alive and in need of costly medical attention. Arden proposes a blackmail scheme in order to keep the Cloades from knowing the truth of Robert Underhay’s existence. Hunter agrees to pay. Then Enoch Arden is discovered murdered, with his head bashed in. It is revealed that Enoch Arden is a false name and as it is a symbolic choice, it is surmised that the man is in fact Robert Underhay. At the inquest, Rosaleen confirms that Enoch Arden was not Robert Underhay. But Major Porter convinces the coroner that the man was indeed his friend, Robert Underhay. Since only David Hunter had a motive to kill Enoch Arden, he is arrested for the murder. But then Major Porter commits suicide. Poirot begins to untangle the web of death that is “all the wrong shape.”

First published in 1948 in the U.S. as There is a Tide and later that year under Agatha Christie’s originally preferred final title Taken at the Flood, this story’s two titles originate out of the same quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in a speech by Brutus in Act IV: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads to fortune.” The quotation, spoken aloud by Poirot himself in Book II, Chapter 14 (and again in Chapter 16), philosophically muses upon the interaction of fate and free will. As both Agatha Christie and her American publisher have explicity referenced the text in the story’s title, the meaning relates specifically to a significant choice David Hunter has made and generally reflects upon the choices of each Cloade, who has sublimated responsibility for their own fates to the money Gordon has always provided. The American title, which was also one of the draft titles Christie herself used, simplifies the reference by suggesting the money everybody needs to “tide” themselves over – or, possibly, the overwhelming nature of “bad tidings” each of the characters have for one another - rather than enforcing the guesswork that might go into the artistic but abstruse nature of the British title. Like After the Funeral, the narrative of Taken at the Flood is very much affected by post-war Britain. But rather than war taking something away from the criminally minded as suggested by After the Funeral, Taken at the Flood postulates war providing opportunity for crime. While even Poirot recognizes the Shakespearean elements of the story, the nature of the Hunters also strongly evokes the Stapletons from Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, a common reference point for many of Agatha Christie’s stories. The literary references don’t end there, though. The “Enoch Arden” character takes his name from the 1864 Tennyson poem where a man goes off to sea for many years and returns to find his wife, presuming he has died, has married his childhood rival (it has since assumed the name of a marriage law in the United States). Taken at the Flood is certainly one of Agatha Christie’s most intricately plotted murder mysteries and one of her most entertainingly perplexing reads. Although she peoples yet another dysfunctionally detailed family unit of the British well-to-do, she creates remarkably unique characterizations and recycles very little from previous plots except the question of Enoch Arden’s identity revisiting a “who is the corpse” question the author also successfully posed in the plot of One, Two, Buckle my Shoe (1940). The author also introduces here Superintendent Spence, who would again appear in Christie’s very next Poirot novel, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead (1952) and later returns for the Poirot adventures Hallowe’en Party (1969) and Elephants Can Remember (1972).

Scripted by Guy Andrews, who previously dramatized The Mystery of the Blue Train, Taken at the Flood feels remarkably faithful to the original text, but has endured many changes to Christie’s original. Most notably, in order to keep the Poirot films located in the 1930s, the blast that kills Gordon Cloade and others is caused by considerably different forces in the film than the book – resulting in a now pointless title and a far more evil criminal than even Agatha Christie conceived. But it does tie the murderer back to the murderer of The A.B.C. Murders, who murders many innocents to disguise the murder of just one person. The film does away with several deceased and unnecessary characters from the book and oddly changes “Kathy Cloade” to “Kathy Woodward,” making Kathy and Adela sisters, though both she and her husband, Lionel, are listed in the film’s end credits as Cloades, as they are in the book. Here, Lynn has had a long-standing relationship with Poirot, which acquaints the detective with the Cloade family, a relationship that did not exist in the book. Also added to the film are threatening phone calls to Mrs. Gordon Cloade, Rosaleen’s drug habit (which makes a great deal of logical sense to the story) and the nature of Rosaleen’s fate – though the individual responsible for her murder in the book is the same as the one who attempts to induce her to commit suicide in the film. Major Porter’s suicide is handled a little differently in the film, probably to make it easier for viewers to understand how Poirot arrives at the reason behind the suicide. But this “spelling it out” of Poirot’s methods is confounded by the script having the detective surmise about the identity of Enoch Arden and Eileen Corrigan without essaying any of the investigative background to substantiate his conclusions. Other “fixes” include the changes of the “clue” left in Arden’s room and who left it there, the budding but unrequited relationship between Rowley and Rosaleen, the young widow’s abortion, the phony threat David Hunter makes at the film’s denoument (not in the book) and Lynn leaving for Africa rather than reuniting with Rowley. Several of Andrews’ clever additions include the alibi of the two sisters playing the symbolic game of hangman – hanging punishes a murderer in the film who does not hang in the book – two important references to the music hall song “Your Baby’s Gone Down The Plughole” and some clever dialogue such as Poirot’s reply to Kathy’s assessment of “a lot of unresolved indigo in your aura”: “Yes, I know. It is a problem.” Andrews also finally introduces George(s), Poirot’s butler, in to the film series. George is portrayed by David Yellan, who previously played Laverton West in the 1989 Poirot film Murder in the Mews and would go onto play George in further Poirot episodes.

Taken at the Flood was directed by Andy Wilson, who also directed the earlier Death on the Nile, and concludes what is unequivocally the best series of Poirot on record. The four films that comprise Series 10 are among the best examples of what the Granada series has accomplished. The Wilson-directed Taken at the Flood marks a grand conclusion to this series with some subtle but astounding displays of virtuosity including a vertiginous set piece recalling Alfred Hitchock’s still-brilliant Vertigo (1958) where Lynn is shown to begin a dizzying and confusing freefall into love with David Hunter and flashbacks with a blood-red filter that recall the hazy dream sequence from the self-same Hitchcock film.

Another perfectly superb ensemble cast was assembled for Taken at the Flood, prominently highlighted by Elliot Cowan, perfectly cast playing the “dangerous and attractive” David Hunter. Cowan also appeared – very differently and far too briefly - in the 2009 Marple film They Do It with Mirrors. But the rest of the cast is flawless, at the peak of form – especially as a tremendously collective ensemble – and includes Penny Downie (Frances Cloade), Jenny Agutter (Adela), Pip Torrens (Jeremy Cloade), the excellent Celia Imre (Aunt Kathy) , the accomplished Patrick Baladi (Rowley Cloade) and the always perfect Tim Pigott-Smith (Dr. Lionel). Jenny Agutter, Pip Torrens (who also plays Major Rich in the 1991 Poirot film The Mystery of the Spanish Chest) and Celia Imre (who also has an uncredited role as a maid in the 1978 film of Death on the Nile) all appeared in the 2004 Marple film 4.50 from Paddington. Patrick Baladi also appeared in the 2010 Marple film The Blue Geranium. Tim Pigott-Smith also appeared in the 1986 TV film Dead Man’s Folly. Richard Durdan (Pebmarsh) also appeared in the 2004 Marple film The Body in the Library and as Dr. Pritchard in the 1993 Poirot film The Case of the Missing Will. Finally, Richard Hope reprises his role as Superintendent Spence in the next Poirot film, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead (2008).

Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 11
Agatha Christie's Poirot - Series 12

1 comment:

The Rush Blog said...

" Meanwhile, Katherine Grey, an English companion, inherits a large fortune from the lady who was formerly in her charge. A long lost cousin, the wealthy and well-known Lady Rosalie Tamplin, invites the former servant girl to stay with her and her daughter at the fabulous Villa Marguerite on the Riviera."

Lady Tamplin WAS NOT wealthy. In fact, she barely had a pound to her name. She befriended Katherine in the first place for cash.

Katherine Grey WAS NOT a former servant. She was a companion. If Katherine was a servant, she would have been a maid.

I was happy with some of the choices Guy Andrews made to Christie's story. And I was unhappy with some of his other changes. "THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN" was a mixed bag for me.