Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Episode-by-episode: Taken at the Flood


©ITV
This episode was based on the novel Taken at the Flood, first published in 1948. It was adapted for television by Guy Andrews (who also adapted The Mystery of the Blue Train and Appointment with Death) and directed by Andy Wilson (who also directed Death on the Nile and The Labours of Hercules).

Script versus novel
Setting a distinclty 1940s novel in the 1930s isn't easy. Guy Andrews makes a series of major and minor changes to Christie's story (as should be expected from him by now). I'll go into the added twists before I tackle the minor changes. There will be spoilers. First, Andrews adds a subplot involving malicious phone calls to Rosaleen that was not in the novel. Second, Lionel the doctor becomes a morphine addict, and David Hunter has made Rosaleen/Eileen an addict, too. Lionel steals some of her morphine, and consequently prevents an (added) attempted suicide from her part. Third, and most importantly, Hunter deliberately impregnated Rosaleen and forced her to have an abortion. As a 'simple Catholic girl' (in Poirot's words), she was so traumatised that she would do anything he said to make it right again. Fourth, Andrews adds a suggestion of dynamite to the denouement scene (a result of making David an engineer, which I will come back to shortly). Finally, an execution scene is added, in which David Hunter is hanged while reciting 'Your Baby Has Gone Down the Plughole'. Of minor changes, Poirot becomes an old acquaintance of the Cloades through Jeremy Cloade and Lynn (and he is told the story from Major Porter not during an air raid but before a dinner appointment with Jeremy Cloade). Lynn has become a missionary who administered a hospital in Africa (rather like Susan in After the Funeral). Also, Katherine, not Lionel, is the Cloade relative. Poirot has visited the pub and the village before (probably because of his connection with Jeremy and Lynn), and he asks Lionel to check up on Rosaleen at one point (thus allowing the addict to steal the morphine). Finally, David Hunter has become a road engineer, acquainted with dynamite, which is supposed to explain how he got away with the murder.

Some of these changes are a result of the fact that the episode has been set pre-war rather than during WW2. Consequently, the script writer has tried to come up with ways of explaining the crime (in the book, the explosion was blamed on an air raid - here, it is said to be an accident, a gas explosion) and the title ('Taken at the Flood', a quotation from Shakespeare) is supposed to refer to the opportunity the air raids provide for covering up the crime. Here, the closest possible reference to this is the abortion - 'your baby has gone down the plughole'). Making David an engineer is a further attempt at explaining the crime. I don't think Andrews succeeds, but if you don't know the actual novel, the adaptation should make more or less sense in itself. I would even suggest it makes David a much more creepy and terrifying character than in the novel. All in all, this adaptation is one of the less successful transformations of a war novel to a pre-war novel, but it's probably the best of Andrew's adaptations (which, in light of Appointment with Death, isn't necessarily that much of a compliment!).

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Andy Wilson's direction suits the story and the characters perfectly. I particularly enjoy the 'Hunter's moon' scene between Lynn and David, which appropriately captures the duality of the character and is almost Hitchcock-like in its setup. The production design for the episode is well done, with Poirot's new apartment coming to the fore. Locations used include Englefield House, Berkshire ('Furrowbank'), Chilworth Manor, Surrey (Adela's house) and The George Hotel, Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire ('The Stag Inn'). See Joan Street's location website for photos. Stephen McKeon's soundtrack is suitably dark. See his website for some tracks from the score.

Characters and actors
This is Suchet's first real attempt at Poirot's Catholicism. As I've discussed before (and will come back to in a later post on the topic of Poirot and religion), there are numerous clues to his faith in the Christie novels, and this particular novel has one of the more suggestive scenes (see Book II, Chapter 6 for his conversation with Rosaleen(Eileen). For this particular story (or should I say the way Andrews has interpreted the story), the emphasis on religion seems about right. Suchet said in an interview: 'The one big difference in this one, which is most exciting for me to play, is his Catholicism. This story is absolutely rooted in his faith'. Whether that's true or not, I leave for you to decide. But the fact remains that religion is an aspect of Christie's character, and it's great to see Suchet continue to develop the caricature into a rounded character. I should also make a note of the fact that this is the first appearance of Superintendent Spence, who would also appear in Mrs McGinty's Dead, but sadly not in Hallowe'en Party and Elephants Can Remember. Actor Richard Hope suits the character well, and it's nice to have a 'Japp' character (even if he is completely different in many ways) back in the stories. Of the other guest actors, the entire ensemble of great actors work perfectly together, but some extra credit should be given to Elliot Cowan as a particularly chilling David Hunter.

13 comments:

  1. Hi Eiric, I very much enjoyed reading this post. To give your blog a plug, I did a post on it.

    http://loveforbeginnersmaryoregan.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/the-best-blog-on-agatha-christies.html

    Warmest Wishes,

    Mary

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    1. Hi Mary! Thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed it and I'm so pleased about your blog post!

      Best wishes,

      Eirik

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  2. "in the book, the explosion was blamed on an air raid"...I think the air raid in the book is for real...I don't think David Hunter did, in fact, blow up the house in the book. He induces (seduces?) Eileen into playing Rosaleen because the real Rosaleen's death is a huge DISadvantage to him - he needs a living Rosaleen to claim her husband's fortune so he can use it.

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  3. I never thought Rowley deserves the "forgiveness" Poirot doles out to him...both Poirot and Lynn are surprisingly cavalier about both Charles Trent's death (we might call it "manslaughter" today but it was still violence as opposed to accident) and Rowley's near-strangling of the woman he supposedly loved. In the book, there is a sense of the Cloads being just as bad as David...Lynn says so herself...I think they upped David's villainy factor for the adaptation, though.

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  4. I must not have seen the very last scene when I posted before...I always HATED that in the book, even after Rowley tried to strangle Lynn he turned out to be her "true love" and Poirot endorsed their getting back together. I never felt Poirot was nearly hard enough on the Claodes. (It's a hard book to read because you can't like or root for anyone!) SO glad that this version had Lynn, (as the series itself might say) ditch the whole bloody lot of them!

    This is another one where I'm glad Poirot is so moralistic...but I still feel he went too easy on the Cloades...he ended up focusing more on David's villainy.

    I said in my Hickory comments that the women in the series seem very modern, and, where, in the books, Poirot feels he has to pair everybody up, in the series, there are times he helps the women become more independent.

    That said, the whole business of David's manipulation of the women...doesn't convince. Lynn "loves" him when she barely knows him...she basically looks in his eyes once and is under his spell? You feel like it's almost a literal spell. (Granted that many romances in this 'verse are whirlwind, this takes the cake. Elinor Carlisle, at least, begins to fall for Lord after he's been her champion for a while.)

    And the business of how David controls Rosaleen...I get that, as a Catholic, she would feel guilty about the abortion and want to atone, but her believing that David (the very person who forced the abortion on her) would "save" her in the religious sense? I would think a deeply religious person would not believe that any mortal had the power to "save" another. And, she's atoning by obeying the same person she was obeying when she had the abortion?

    The whole thing's practically a feminist manifesto: ladies, obeying either men, your church, or your family will get you killed.

    I have said that Poirot sometimes seems like something of a supernatural figure...David, I guess, because the Satanic equivalent of that? Because his power over both women seems like something like magic. And I guess it's implied that either his relationship with the real Rosaleen, or, at the very least, his feelings toward her, were incestuous? In the book, David controls Eileen and kills her, but he probably didn't murder the real Rosaleen. It's suggested that his whole ruse with Eileen was because he couldn't use the Cloade money unless his sister lived to claim it as the Cloade widow.

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  5. I am still surprised, though, that Poirot doesn't seem to think Rowley is a murderer. Granted, he didn't plan a killing or do it on purpose, but it was through a violent attack.

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  6. Since Lynn (rather snidely) refers to her family as "rich" at the end, we can assume they ended up with the money after all?

    One of Christie's great talents as a writer was dropping VERY important information into dialogue that seemed irrelevant at the time. This is true in Major Porter's account of the blast in the book: he makes clear the ORDER of deaths - the young woman though at the time to be the maid, who was really Rosaleen, died before Gordon. This is important because, if it had gone the other way, Gordon would have been, albeit only barely and technically, survived by his wife. So the money would have gone - Gordon - Rosaleen - David.

    It's not made as clear in the adaptation, though.

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  7. I have never liked this novel. And I'm not fond of this adaptation, despite Elliot Cowan's first-rate performance. There seemed to be an uneven dispenser of justice in this story. Whereas David Hunter is punished for his crimes (quite rightly, I may add), Rowley Cloade avoids being punished for manslaughter and attempted murder. I see the fine, Italian hand of class prejudice on the part of Christie. And I'm disturbed that screenwriter Guy Andrews allowed it to occur in this movie.

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  8. @ Liz's Journal - I agree - and never mind Andrews - I was always surprised POIROT allowed it to occur.

    Suchet is forever saying that Christie was always criticizing the class system and the upper class, and that Poirot hates both - but I see him mostly playing along with it, certainly in the books. They change it to some degree in the series, but you're right, not so much here.

    But at least, whereas in the books, Lynn actually goes back to Rowley with Poirot's approval (it is implied that she's more turned on by him after he tries to kill her because he's less safe and boring!) in the series version, Lynn definitely breaks up with Rowley and goes to Africa, with implications that she has recognized her family's despicable nature and is cutting herself off from them too. And the implication is that Poirot's guidance led her in that direction.

    We didn't find out what happened to Eileen (since she survived the overdose.) I would have liked Lynn to take Eileen to Africa with her. (There is actually a Marple adaptation, based on a novel that didn't have either Marple or Poirot, where two female characters go away together at the end, rejecting the male love interests that, in the book, they reconcile with.)

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  9. Stuart Farquhar19 March 2015 at 00:22

    It's odd that when David phones Rosaleen about the blackmailer, he says "I never met Underhay when you were married to him", as if he's forgotten she's not really Rosaleen! It's one of those scenes where characters say something they'd never really say purely to fool the audience: it's not playing fair and it's sloppy writing.

    Jeremy magically works out the time of death just by touching the body. Not a rectal thermometer in sight!

    It's a fairly significant change that David admits Arden was blackmailing him, whereas in the book he claims to have given him a fiver for his hard luck story. As the reader knows he's lying, this makes him look much more guilty.

    Another big change is we discover much earlier the tongs didn't really kill Arden, making the significance of Poirot's fireplace discovery more obvious long before the denouement.

    Both the above changes seem senseless and ill-advised, but the adaptation does retain the highly contrived moment when the previously arrested David suddenly walks in moments after Rosaleen's (attempted) suicide without any explanation for either his freedom or his conveniently timely arrival. (And he can't possibly have watched the suicide attempt because Poirot and Lynne run straight upstairs when they hear Rosaleen's cry.)

    Perhaps the biggest change, though, is that Rowley's dullness, on which the entire book hinges, is omitted here.

    This may be the one time when Poirot is justified in airing everyone's dirty secrets, as they've all committed crimes.

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  10. This is one of the worst episodes in this series. It is a murder mystery with several deaths, where in spite of Poirot pontificating at the end as if he solved it, he basically discovers nothing that actually leads to the solutions. Instead solutions are based almost entirely on confessions, or long available evidence being not acted on for no apparent reason until then).

    While some other episodes work as good drama or even tragedy, when they do not work as murder mystery, this one fails even in that front.

    Most of the faults, not all, derive from the book, and unlike in most episodes, adapters have failed to improve on the text. Most of the changes, due mainly to period change from 40s to 30s, makes makes it worse.

    I will point out some of the most obvious faults.

    Lot of the plot depends on recognition of man murdered in pub. How is it that a known explorer(known enough to deserve headlines on disappearance) has no photos? Or that only two people are available to identify him, and either one or other of them can definitely count on getting away with lying about the identity of a well known person?

    Why is it that police cannot question Rosaleen away from her alleged brother? There is no legal bar.

    Why didn't the Scotland Yard act on "expert forensic evidence", so easily available to Poirot on mere request, that explosion was not accidental? Why didn't the family or Major voice their suspicions which they must have had (Major certainly did in his opening description) to police?

    Rowley confesses to what can now be termed "manslaughter", but without that confession there is no evidence to implicate him for that death. Nor is there any evidence presented to implicate David for the attempted murder or any of the murders even if the explosion was planted by him.

    Only thing of worth Poirot discovers is the cleaned floor stones, but since we already know that "murder weapon did not kill him" and murder was staged after death, this is of secondary importance.

    How does the person who insisted on abortion, keep the guilt ridden aborter under his control, using same abortion, claiming she would be dammed without him? People who wrote this seems to be utterly confused and ignorant about Catholic theology and teaching.

    Why does David speaks to fake Rosaleen as if she is actual Rosaleen, when talking privately to her about Rosaleen's marriage to 1st husband?

    In spite of some good acting, all of the above and more, not to mention the 'cheats' (facts made known to audience at same time as 'solution'), sinks this episode irretrievably.

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  11. I've been going over the entire series on Netflix, and in this episode I actually had to stop at 1/3 because the characters were becoming unbearably repulsive. I loved the show so far but I am now wondering if the more recent installments have begun to focus too much on adding cheap shock values. David Hunter here is this flatly melodramatic stock character of "angry and insane" Irish man. The supposed love between him and Lynn Marchmont is just baffling - for goodness' sake the man had just humiliated and abused her mother. I think the episode already failed in that Lynn Marchmont was portrayed as what can only be described as a psychopath.

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  12. One change that you do not mention is in the relationship between Lynn and Rowley. In the book, she loved Rowley and in the end married him. The Lynn and David relationship is described more like an obsession.

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