Friday, 19 July 2013

Episode-by-episode: The Yellow Iris


©ITV
This episode was based on the short story 'Yellow Iris', first published in 1937. It was adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz and directed by Peter Barber-Fleming.

Script versus short story
Christie's original story is particularly short, and it is certainly a testament to Horowitz's skill that his considerable additions and changes largely do seem to work. Most importantly, perhaps, he adds an entire back story of a coup d'etat during a general strike in Buenos Aires, witnessed by Poirot and the other dinner guests (Poirot is almost faced by a gun squad at one point!). This seems to be inspired by the real-life 1930s events in the country. He then goes on to link this back story to the one in the original short story, concerned with Barton Russel's speculative investments together with Stephen Carter (in the adaptation, they engage in some shady business dealings with the Argentinean military on oil fields). Also, as I have already implied, Poirot is present at both dinner parties in two near-identical Jardin de Cygnes restaurants (one in Buenos Aires, one in London). Horowitz also adds a section of the story set shortly before the second dinner, in which Poirot interviews all the dinner guests. Some other less significant changes are made, too, like expanding the potential love affair between Lola Valdez and Barton, and adding a scene in which Hastings visits the Wetherby solicitor in Reepham. Finally, and rather cleverly, Horowitz adds a denouement in which Pauline dresses up as a waitress after her "death" and serves the other guests coffee while they listen to Poirot. That is a nice way to make the "one never looks at a servant" clue somewhat more believable, since all the "suspects" are easily misled. All in all, then, I'm inclined to say that Horowitz's adaptation is a success, even if his choice to include a South American visit for Poirot does seem like an out-of-character thing for him to do.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Barber-Fleming's direction is highly effective, particularly in those flashback scenes to Buenos Aires. The production design here is certainly impressive, with sets ranging from abandoned hotels to cabaret theatres in London. The episode was presumably shot largely on location in Spain (together with  'The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb'), with most interior scenes shot at Twickenham Film Studios. Gunning's soundtrack is highly effective for the episode, but it has sadly not been released. Particularly memorable is the song, 'I've Forgotten You', based on Christie's lyrics (it was presumably orchestrated by Neil Richardson (who did most of the orchestrations for the first six series).

Characters and actors
Hastings and Miss Lemon are added to the story, admittedly in very minor appearances, but their presence does actually work quite well. Of the guest actors, no one really stands out, but Geraldine Sommerville (known to many as Harry Potter's mother) is memorable as a "murder victim" / motive.

6 comments:

  1. I didn't think of the South American visit being out of character because the idea was for Poirot to visit Hastings. But I did think it was weird that this whole coup took place while Hastings was there and it's not shown to have affected Hastings at all at the time. I was also struck by Poirot's covering up the reason he never made it to visit Hastings...I can see that being deported "like a common criminal" was an affront to his image of himself as one who SOLVES crimes and intrigues...but I doesn't Poirot tend to preach against holding things back out of embarrassment?

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    1. "I didn't think of the South American visit being out of character because the idea was for Poirot to visit Hastings."

      Absolutely. In The Big Four novel he's on the verge of doing just that.

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    2. Well, yes, absolutely! My point was that up until that point they've highlighted Poirot's fear of seasickness (e.g. The Million Dollar Bond Robbery). In The Big Four I get the impression that he is determined to make the boat trip work, despite his fears, because it's the only way he can get in touch with Hastings again. In this adaptation, it seems to me that he's taking the boat to South America for no apparent reason, and his seasickness isn't referenced. Yes, he's supposed to be visiting Hastings, but there's no way Hastings could have been living there in 1934/1936 anyway.

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  2. "No, No, No! The Belgian Embassy!" Poirot is often not thrilled when people get his nationality wrong...but here...it REALLY mattered.

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  3. I get the humiliation factor a little, but you'd think he'd realize how lucky he was to 1) be getting out of Argentina when he did, and 2) not have the military do something much WORSE to him.

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  4. The song has stayed with me. Seems a recording is not available.

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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 poirotchronology@gmail.com, post a comment on one of my blogs, or get in touch on Twitter @pchronology. (I used to call myself HickoryDickory)