Monday, 17 June 2013

Episode-by-episode: The Cornish Mystery

This episode was based on the short story 'The Cornish Mystery', first published in The Sketch in 1923 (in fact, it was published directly after the short story that formed the previous episode of Series Two, The Lost Mine). The story was adapted for television by Clive Exton and directed by Edward Bennett.

Script versus short story
Some elements are added to the original story, but for the most part, Exton stays true to the words of Agatha Christie and creates a faithful adaptation. The additions include the introduction of Miss Lemon (who tries to persuade Mrs Pengelley to come in) and Japp (who investigates the murder), a fitting subplot between Poirot and Hastings on pancreas exercises, digestive systems and Oriental food (picking up the thread from the previous episode perhaps?), a short visit to the dentist office (implied in the story), and a scene in which Miss Lemon and Hastings attempt Chinese fortune telling. Some plot elements are visualised quite well, like the funeral wake, the exhumation and the court proceedings. There's also a slight change in the denuoument scene, in which Hastings get to draw attention to the two men outside the window (a task assigned to Poirot in the story), and Poirot doesn't give Radnor a 24 hour start after all.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Bennett competently utilises the location (Dunster in West Somerset, see photos here and here). There's also a nice overhead shot of the three umbrellas as Poirot, Hastings and Mrs. Pengelley meet in a rainy park. The attention to detail is incredible. Peter Haining describes how the area was dressed for the shoot: 'The high street was closed off for a weekend, the numerous gift shops camouflaged and all modern signs removed. Lace curtains were even specially hung in the windows of several shops to create the illusion of private houses. (...) In addition, forty local people found themselves work as extras for the crowd scenes' (p. 51). The soundtrack is quite effective (again, I think we have Fiachra Trench at work), but it has not been released on CD.

Actors and characters
It's nice to see Poiot upset again (note: for anyone who complains that he was never upset until the last couple of series: you should have a second look at some of these episodes!), lamenting the unnecessary loss of Mrs Pengelley and the imbecility of his mistake. There's also his anger towards the doctor. Hugh Fraser once again gets to display Hastings's weakness when faced with the opposite sex. Of the guest actors, Amanda Walker (Mrs. Pengelley), John Bowler (Jacob Radnor) and Derek Benfield (Dr. Adams) all portray their characters effectively.


  1. There's a nice subtle closure at the end when Poirot tells Japp that he's going to the Indian restaurant with Hastings, demonstrating the modesty which the I-Ching claimed him to have.

  2. One of the more enjoyable episodes to watch. The clever story is faithfully told and beautifully filmed. The rain and mist and the town of Dunster make for great atmosphere and the ever-present trains add period authenticity. (The steam train preservation groups must love this series.) I like the touch when Poirot says, "I represent, not the law, but Madame Pengelly." This helps to explain how sometimes Poirot feels he has to act not strictly within the confines of the law.

    1. You are so right. He was a day late and knew he had to find out the truth. Very good episode.

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  4. I did not understand the house-keeper Jessie Dawlish's part of the story. She twice said that she saw the Husband Edward Pengelley put the poison tin can on the shelf while making food for his wife. Was she an accomplice to the murder?

    1. I think she was meant to represent how gossip can alter how people recall certain events even the ones they witnessed. The house-keeper was always shown hysterical as an indication that she was easily manipulated by the towns gossip

  5. I have an intense love of the 2nd season mostly from a nostalgia point of view as I watched them several years ago and had some on some tapes. I love now to see the remastered versions of these that has brought new life. The opening of this episode is one of my favorites of all Poirot with the rain in the background, and Hastings meditating, and the back and forth about rice. We still say "The government in my country is determined to stamp it out!" every time we have rice at home. Love this episode.

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About Me

I'm a passionate fan of Poirot, Agatha Christie and the ITV series. If you have any questions, comments, suggestions or requests, please e-mail me at, post a comment on one of my blogs, or get in touch on Twitter @pchronology. (I used to call myself HickoryDickory)