Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Episode-by-episode: Curtain: Poirot's Last Case

(c) ITV

We have reached The End.

This adaptation was based on Curtain: Poirot's Last Case, first published in 1975, just a few months before Christie's death, but written during the war, in the early 1940s. The novel was adapted for television by Kevin Elyot (who also scripted Five Little Pigs and Death on the Nile) and directed by Hettie Macdonald (who also directed The Mystery of the Blue Train).


Script versus novel
The press pack to this final episode reveals that Kevin Elyot was asked by the production team to adapt Curtain more than ten years ago, when he wrote the scripts for Five Little Pigs and Death on the Nile. I'm not at all surprised they asked him. His script for Five Little Pigs is possibly the best of the entire series, and Death on the Nile proved that he wasn't daunted by the task of writing an adaptation most Poirot fans have been both eagerly waiting for and dreading at the same time. He had also demonstrated that he fully understood Poirot's character, and that he could handle the darker side of Christie without making unnecessary changes. In my opinion, he was the best man for the job.

SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE ADAPTATION YET I WOULD ADVISE YOU TO WAIT - READ THIS POST AFTERWARDS.


Elyot has made certain minor changes to the story. The murder cases that made Poirot suspect Norton are only alluded to throughout, and we don't see the newspaper clippings until Poirot's confrontation scene with Norton (which, by the way, is a brilliantly scripted scene). He has also done away with the notion of 'X' , and instead tried to keep the audience guessing. Most of Hastings' long monologue sections are deleted, which shouldn't come as a surprise given that this is a television version of a novel. Nearly all the central elements from these are kept, though. We learn of his wife's death (Elyot cleverly avoids using her name - she was called Bella in the series and Dulcie/Cinderella/Cinders in Christie's stories), his sadness, his 'simple' mind (all beautifully conveyed by Hugh Fraser through different facial expressions and brilliant acting). Some small scenes, like Hastings' visit to Boyd Carrington's manor, nearly all conversations with Nurse Craven, and Hastings' encounter with the old woman in the village, are also deleted, while others, like the inquest, are significantly shortened or moved around a bit. Some minor additions are made, like 'This is not a wheel-barrow, Hastings!' (a lovely unintentional (?) reference to Hastings' driving over the years), and 'You have lard for a brain!', mirroring several comments over the years ('Why is it the fate of Hercule Poirot to live among such philistines!'). 

The most significant additions, if you can call it that, are a couple of scenes in which Poirot is alone, speaking to himself. In all three scenes we see him praying (emphasising the religious subplot of the later series), and in two of them he's having small heart attacks (mentioned in the novel). The religious element shouldn't come as a surprise to those who have seen the more recent episodes. Suchet and the team have been slowly building up towards this very adaptation to make this believable. In the novel, Poirot discusses both the bon Dieu and his own doubts in his final letter to Hastings, so it's natural that this aspect of his character is emphasised here. Also, all his remarks are made in scenes that Hastings, who narrates the novel, could not have witnessed, so I'd consider this acceptable creative license. Personally, I'm also convinced that this adds an important dimension to Poirot, It's part of Suchet humanisation of the character, and it's beautifully done. His heart-breaking death scene in particular. 

Essentially, though, this is a very faithful adaptation. Most of the dialogue is lifted almost verbatim from the novel, and several elements are strikingly similar. See, for instance, the introduction of Daisy Luttrell. She wears garden gloves and mirrors, like the first appearance of Evelyn Howard in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Christie and Hastings comment on this in Curtain (the novel). Similarly, Poirot's first 'mon ami Hastings' feels like a throw-back to their first meeting in the post office all those years ago. Most importantly, Eloyt devotes almost a third of the episode to the aftermath of Poirot's death and his final letter to Hastings. It makes for an unusual and very moving denouement. The confrontation between Norton and Poirot is chilling. (I must admit, though, that I would have preferred Poirot to keep his fake moustache on. I realise it's what Christie wrote and it was necessary to pass as Norton, but I kept thinking I was watching David Suchet playing a killer, not Poirot killing a criminal. Oh well. As Tom, a reader of the blog, said to me: At least we know what Achille might have looked like!).

All in all, Kevin Elyot has done a magnificent job creating a moving, thoughtful, chilling and brilliant adaptation of one of Christie's greatest plot twists. It's so much more than we could have hoped for: near-perfection.

Direction, production design, locations, soundtrack
Hettie Macdonald's direction is such a contrast to her previous adaptation, The Mystery of the Blue Train. The floating shots and the experimental use of camera angles are more or less gone. In their place we get close-ups of faces and broader overview shots that work exceptionally well for the episode. There's also something about her 'peering' approach that simply works much better here than it did in her previous episode; Poirot is hunting down a ruthless sadist, after all, not just a jewel thief. The opening sequence is particularly well done. Scenes of Margaret Litchfield being hanged (she died in an asylum in the novel) are inter-cut with scenes of Elizabeth Cole (her sister) playing the Chopin piece to Poirot, as Hastings arrives in his taxi. The entire set-up is very reminiscent of Five Little Pigs, in which Caroline Crale's execution is inter-cut with Lucy Crale's memories from her childhood. Intriguingly, both hangings didn't appear in Christie's original novels. Litchfield died in an asylum and Caroline Crale died in prison. This was in keeping with Christie's golden rule - never let an innocent character hang, but I really think the story is much more effective because of the changes. Moreover, I was delighted to see the first shots of Poirot. The camera moves from his patent leather boots, to his hands, and finally to his head, in separate shots - a lovely homage to The Adventure of the Clapham Cook, the first episode of the entire series. 

Macdonald's direction, the colour grading and the excellent production design bring out the autumnal quality of both the setting and the story. Really, having watched this adaptation, I think an autumn setting suits the story much better than the summer setting of the book. I must admit than I am more than a little disappointed that the production team didn't use Chavenage House, the location in which The Mysterious Affair at Styles was filmed. The location was unavailable, apparently, but I don't understand why they couldn't have found a more similar 'country manor'. Was it really necessary to go for a castle? It doesn't look remotely similar. Having said that, I was pleased that the new location has a few similarities with Chavenage, and I really think it worked for this particular adaptation. It makes the characters look small in a vast space, and the house itself almost becomes a character - the ghosts of the past. 

Christian Henson's soundtrack for the episode is ingenious. Not only is there a perfect balance between eerie, almost Hitchcockian music and more melancholic touches, but the use of Chopin's 'Raindrop Prelude' (Op. 28 No. 15) is perfect. Again, this reminds me of Five Little Pigs, in which Gunning used Erik Satie's Gnossienne No. 1 as a running theme. The Chopin piece is extra poignant because it is used for Poirot's death scene. The music, combined with Suchet's superb acting, create an intensely moving atmosphere.

Characters and actors
The supporting cast for this episode is more or less perfect. Special mentions should be given to Helen Baxendale, Aidan McArdle, Anne Reid and Alice Orr-Ewing. They all manage to make their characters feel more human and/or chilling. The stars of the show, however, are David Suchet and Hugh Fraser. Let me start with Hugh Fraser. This is an actor who, for so many years, played a character whose emotional (and intellectual) range was very limited; a man who was famous for his 'I say, Poirot' and 'Good Lord!'. Fraser really comes to the fore in this adaptation; he is given so much more to play with. The grief over Hastings' wife, the concern for Judith (which will eventually drive him to attempt murder - a shocking moment, I'm sure, for several fans), and last but not least: the death of Poirot. The man who had been his closest friend, 'like a father'. Fraser does an absolutely outstanding job, and I sincerely hope he continues his career in the future.

Now - the leading man. David Suchet. What can I say? If you have ever been in doubt, then surely this is the moment to conclude: he is the definitive Poirot. What an unbelievably exquisite performance! I can only imagine what was running through his mind as he shot these scenes (or, actually, I can read about it, in Poirot and Me, published this month). The physical transformation is complete - down to the voice and the weariness of the man. The death scene is a remarkable piece of acting. Stunning and gut-wrenching at the same time. I am in awe of what this man has achieved in 25 years. He has made a cardboard cut-out a living, breathing human being that we actually care about. Given the previous incarnations of Poirot on stage and screen, that is quite an achievement. David Suchet, I salute you.

Au revoir, Poirot. (I can't say 'adieu' just yet).

53 comments:

  1. Couldn't agree more. A near-perfect adaptation indeed.

    My two very minor quibbles: I did miss seeing Luttrell's shame and regret after the attempted shooting and the lovely reconciliation between him and his wife, which also backs up the premise that Norton's puppets are not really murderers at heart.
    And I would have liked just a hint more that Hastings may find relief for his loneliness with Elizabeth - perhaps putting his arm around her in the wordless scene where he tells her about Norton - as I'm not sure those who hadn't read the book would have got that. Although they did rather elegantly suggest this in a way by repeating that moving scene of Hastings entering the room as she played piano and looking at her, before running upstairs to Poirot.

    Agreed also that Hugh Fraser was a revelation. Nice review!

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    1. Thoroughly agree. I'm sure Elyot would have included those if he didn't have to comply with ITV's time constraints.

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    2. I agree with Andrea about the Luttrells. I had been about to write that I was dissatisfied with the guest performances, but after reading Andrea's comment, I understood what I was really dissatisfied with. While condensing is always necessary when turning a book into a script, I think in condensing this one, they eliminated some interactions and conversations that were important for understanding characterization and relationships among characters. Not showing the aftermath of Daisy's near-death is a great example of that. I think we needed to see more of Daisy's tough facade, but also how the two really loved each other underneath, and how Luttrell's "failure" to kill her was really on purpose. Poirot didn't even clarify that in his final explanation.

      I also felt we didn't see enough of Norton's "mechanisms." In the book, we don't necessarily pick up on what he's doing, at first, but the clues are there, as per usual with Christie. (Example - in the book, Norton told a story about someone shooting someone right after the Luttrells' fight over bridge. That was eliminated from this version.)

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    3. Another relationship issue that is obscured by condensing: why can't the Luttrells get divorced if they are BOTH so eager to be with other people.

      Divorce was supposed to be more scandalous in those days, but it was easy ENOUGH to do (with some younger characters not thinking it was a big deal) that Christie usually had to take some time explaining that one party is particularly old-fashioned, (even for the time!) or perhaps Catholic. She does this regarding John Franklin's moral standards and Carrington's old-fashionedness in the book - it's not explained here.

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    4. Re Hastings and Elizabeth - that was only VERY obliquely hinted at in the novel as well. Poirot advises that Hastings tell Elizabeth the truth about Norton "because it's not right that an attractive young woman like that should refuse life..." and then he goes on to comment about Hastings' attractiveness to women.

      Of course, Poirot did a lot of that kind of thing: pairing up two people who were innocent (at least of murder) but were greatly emotionally affected by the tragedy/murder. And I don't know if I'm getting more cynical as time goes on or what, but I've only recently started thinking, "Can that really be a happy ending?" They'll be less LONELY, perhaps, but would they (meaning, not just Hastings and Elizabeth but any couple who get together as the result of a murder) really be able to "move on"? Wouldn't they be reminded constantly of the situation that brought them together?

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    5. Whoops, I meant to say, above, "why don't the FRANKLINS get divorced." (Divorce was common enough that those who refused to do it got labeled "old-fashioned,", but, in the book, it is said that both Franklin and Boyd Carrington ARE that old-fashioned.) The Lutterells really did love each other, but we didn't see enough of that in adaptation either.

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  2. Such a great review!

    I was astounded by the ending. I've read 'Poirot and Me' and Suchet had already said a few things about the ending at the beggining of the book, so I wasn't expecting anything sad. I mean THAT much sad, of making all of us cry the whole night. The only thing I can say as an add to what you said is Aidan McArdle as Norton. He was brilliant. Not an Andrew Scott as Moriarty, but still very good. In particular, when he fooled Poirot and said "A shot in the dark, Poirot". The next scene is absolutely perfect. Because it's essential that Poirot offers him the chocolate and at the same time, he can't suspect anything. Suchet did a great job using an innocent face. Watch that scene again and feel you're in Poirot's position. And later Norton's. You couldn't have a better acting job than that. Perfect.

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    1. Thank you, Matheus! Aidan McArdle is perfect as Norton, I absolutely agree. That scene was brilliantly acted. Well, obviously he's not Andrew Scott's Moriarty (he's exceptional), but then Norton is a much more credible character. He's the sort of murderer that could almost exist, unlike the mastermind of Moriarty. In any case, you really get the sense that Poirot and Norton are analysing each other's actions and comments. It's a wonderful scene.

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    2. I was not totally satisfied with McArdle's Norton. I have always (well, as long as I have been old enough to read books analytically), had a very hard time swallowing the whole premise of Norton and his M.O. anyway. He is supposed to be motivated by a life where he has always been treated like a wimp, and the desire to feel powerful. I will buy that as a motivation - BUT in the book, when we "meet" him, he just doesn't seem capable of the manipulation and influence over people that Poirot ascribes to him. He just seems TOO "insignificant." No personality that really jumps out at you.

      I just don't believe that he is so dangerous and so perfect at what he does that he is the person for whom Hercule Poirot abandons all principal and commits murder!

      That said, in this version, I didn't like McArdle's "rakish" air. I got him and Allerton confused a few times, to tell you the truth. I would have preferred Norton to look more benevolent, and perhaps older and wiser (I thought he was a bit older - he seems to have been operating for a long time.) In fact, I think he should have looked something like a slightly healthier, but not too young, Poirot.

      What he did convey to me in the final scene was how alike he and Poirot potentially are. Not so much in what they want or their motives, as in their methods. Poirot's ability to know things - who wants what, who feels what, who is going to do what, and who has done what - is almost uncanny. He knows what has happened with a crime on NO evidence at all, most of the time. (In fact, his whole case against Norton seemed to be based on the fact that Norton knew all three of those families where murders had happened, and that was too much of a coincidence. Excuse me, Poirot, but you or Hastings have been friends with someone close to every case we've seen in this series!) Honestly, I can almost believe more easily that a wimpy guy like Norton just picked all the wrong friends than that he manipulated all those people into killing.

      But the point is, Norton operates much the same way Poirot does. He knows that Judith wants John, that Babs wants Bill, etc - even though there's really nothing concrete to show it.

      In that last scene, I was very much put in mind of Sherlock confronting Moriarty, or even Magnussen, perhaps. I don't like how this series has begun to resemble Sherlock but I suppose that's not really the writers' fault, given that the character of Norton, and Poirot's confrontation with him, really were written by Christie.

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    3. And another point about the climactic confrontation: Norton was saying something I really wanted to say to Poirot: you've had an illustrious career full of saving people and doing justice - for Heaven's sake don't throw it all away by making your final act such a brutal one. You're lowering yourself to Norton's level.

      BUT, when you take into account Norton's usual M.O. - is it even possible Norton was using his usual reverse psychology methods to actually goad Poirot TO kill him? Isn't Poirot's killing Norton, in an insane way, the ultimate victory for Norton - because his methods that could goad anyone to murder even worked on the great Hercule Poirot? However, that would mean Norton was ok with dying, and I actually have trouble believing that of any character (including Sherlock's Moriarty.)

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    4. "I have always had a very hard time swallowing the whole premise of Norton and his M.O. He just doesn't seem capable of the manipulation and influence over people that Poirot ascribes to him. He just seems TOO "insignificant." No personality that really jumps out at you."

      That's the whole point. It's not his personality that inspires people to commit murder, it's what he says. He knows how to subtly push all the right buttons, and his insignificant personality means no-one suspects him of suggesting anything. He's being sympathetic and planting ideas for them to act on, winding them and letting them go. He HAS to seem insignificant for that to work.

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    5. "is it even possible Norton was using his usual reverse psychology methods to actually goad Poirot TO kill him? Isn't Poirot's killing Norton, in an insane way, the ultimate victory for Norton - because his methods that could goad anyone to murder even worked on the great Hercule Poirot? However, that would mean Norton was ok with dying"

      He isn't trying to goad Poirot into killing him, but Norton does say that even if Poirot succeeds, it would still be a victory for himself (ke Norton) because he'd be innocent in the eyes of the law while Poirot would be guilty. It's not his preferred outcome, but it's acceptable. (Although he's almost certainly just taunting Poirot with that line of reasoning because of the detective's apparent helplessness.)

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  3. I would not consider 'five little pig's have been the best of the entire series, considering the absurd changes it made to the plot, like making one of the characters homosexual. It was atrocious. 'Death on the Nile' took similar liberties. The earlier episodes were better, sticking more closely to the originals. The ABC Murders was very good, as was Peril at End House.

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    1. We'll have to disagree, then :) But I agree that The ABC Murders and Peril at End House are excellent episodes.

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  4. I can't wait to watch this. It's the end of an era. For me, probably only Clive Merrison's Sherlock Holmes is as definitive and satisfying, but CM's Holmes was a radio adaptation series, while David Suchet's Poirot was the complete experience. It seems that the "complete" collection which I purchased in 2005 was anything but, although that means that I have more episodes to look forward to. I personally loved Five Little Pigs too - the changes didn't really add anything material to the story, and we could have done without the drama with the revolver at the end as the murderess simply didn't deserve any attention. Death on the Nile was beautiful, but I always found it hard to watch because I felt too sorry for the murderess, and in this case it didn't help that she was exceptionally charming. I'm really looking forward to catching up with the episodes which came after 2005!

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  5. It's a pity that "CURTAIN" was never a favorite novel of mine.

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  6. I refuse to believe that Poirot is dead. In my mind, he will always be alive. Nobody can play him better than David Suchet

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    1. I have read some fans' vows that they will never read or watch Curtain, due to precisely the sentiment Selina just expressed. I myself have been putting off seeing it - because it's a sense of finality I DON'T want - I wasn't sure once I saw it I'd be able to go back to watching the other episodes in the same mood, if that makes sense - but now that I have seen it, I realize it wasn't Poirot's death I was afraid to see - it was more that I didn't want my image of the character shattered by watching on screen his - er, final act. Something that I still have trouble with believing Poirot would do (more on that, in other comments.)

      Incidentally, David Suchet himself has admitted he mourned Poirot's death after making the final series. In Poirot and Me, Suchet admits to a certain "Jekyll and Hyde" syndrome (although he doesn't use those words) - but he gives several examples of "the lines blurring" between himself and Poirot.

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  7. "I would have preferred Poirot to keep his fake moustache on. I realise it's what Christie wrote and it was necessary to pass as Norton, but I kept thinking I was watching David Suchet playing a killer, not Poirot killing a criminal."

    Completely agreeing! I couldn't have put this into words at the moment I was watching, but reading this sentence of yours brings into focus a reaction I couldn't quite pin down. I am biased, perhaps, by having read and heard Suchet talk about how the difference between him and Poirot often his the moustache - putting it on puts him into character, partly because with it on, he can speak ONLY in Poirot's voice.

    The first time I ever saw a picture of Suchet out of costume I was astounded by his NOT looking like Poirot but as far as that final scene you are right - without the moustache, it was David Suchet!

    However, I think part of the "I felt I was watching David Suchet play a killer, not Poirot," reaction comes from the fact that that whole scene is un-Poirot anyway. I have a hard time believing in his killing anyone (more on that later), let alone using a weapon so likely to produce a MESS, but even aside from that, I have trouble believing in Hercule Poirot carrying out feats so physical as carrying and wheeling anyone! I felt that when reading the book, but to see it played out on the screen magnifies it.

    And Poirot passing as Norton is hard to swallow anyway. They really DON'T look alike, though that part was made a bit BETTER by seeing it on screen because you could see how dark it would be, and how bad of a view Hastings would have...still, you would think Hastings would be more likely to recognize the person he was closest to...particularly given that Hastings actually seemed more "on the ball" here than ever before, somehow. Or at least, he seemed more definite, somehow, with his own agenda, not just Poirot's follower.

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  8. Agatha Christie wrote about imagining conversations with the character she grown to dislike:

    "I remind him that with a few strokes of the pen I could destroy him utterly. He replies 'Impossible to get rid of Hercule Poirot like that. He much too clever.'" Going by the way fans like Selina feel, I would say, Poirot won that battle!

    And I think he largely owes that victory to Suchet. It's ironic, because Suchet never stops professing his loyalty to Christie, but I think that, because of Suchet, Poirot exists independently of Christie, now. (That sounds like it should make no sense, but it probably will to fans of Poirot devoted enough to follow this blog!)

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  9. There is a part of me - probably a selfish, irrational part - that wishes the series had ended without this episode ever being made - or that the ending had been drastically changed. I acknowledge that's selfish and irrational because I know that it was important to Suchet and others to make all the episodes.

    I just don't want my, so to speak, final memory of Hercule Poirot to be of him killing someone! And I felt that way even more strongly with the series than with the books, because the series has - I want to say "sanitized" or perhaps even "idealized" him.

    Think about it: hasn't the series eliminated most of his more off-putting acts and dialogue? (His complicity with political corruption in Augean Stables, for instance; his reconciling Lynn with a guy who nearly killed her in Taken; and his more sexist dialogue, including the line from book-Curtain about how marriage is what God made Judith for - yes, that one bugged me!) And he's done a lot of amazing, almost magical, things throughout the series.

    I thought, even if Norton is as evil as Poirot believes, surely, the great-bordering-on-divine Poirot could have stopped him some other way? Look at how he foresaw that Norton would manipulate Hastings into trying to kill Allerton - and how he (Poirot) did just the right things to prevent that - and the "spell" broke and Hastings confessed! That was borderline-supernatural on Poirot's part. Come to think of it, criminals usually break down and confess the minute they're confronted by Poirot, even if he really has no evidence. Couldn't he have staged some public scene to make Norton admit everything?

    By committing a murder, I feel like Poirot has sunk to Norton's level, making Norton, in a weird way, the victor. (I felt this about Sherlock when he "had" to kill Magnussen, too.) Though actually, even the killing of Norton and Poirot's subsequent death feel somehow idealized and more of a sacrifice compared to the book.

    Some of Poirot's final words, "I will not try to save myself...I will offer my soul to God," sounded Christ-figure-esque.

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    1. To clarify on the idealization point: there have been lots of little moments that felt like Poirot had done something magical (disappearance at the end of Appointment) or had come by his knowledge supernaturally. And he seems to either redeem (in the spiritual sense) or empower (in the sense that feminists use the word) just about everyone he meets!

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    2. Re: Poirot's comment about Judith being made for marriage: I think modern readers should consider that, because of the culture they live in now - very different from the 30's and 40's - they may be a bit biased. Poirot was a man of his age, via Christie. Therefore, the screenwriter and/or critic should be wary of trying to either "upgrade" a story by interjecting modern ideas or denigrate it because it is indicative of the times in which it was written. Poirot was a gentleman always, we must remember.

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  10. I had one issue which may amount to a criticism of Suchet's acting - but I actually think it is less Suchet's fault than the fault of how the writers condensed the script:

    I don't think we saw Poirot conflicted enough. He was too decisive. He felt guilty about what he was doing, for sure, was unsure if it was right, but it felt like made up his mind to do it pretty early on. I didn't see any real torment, at least not of the "do I do it or not" kind.

    I have always felt that both Poirot and Hastings' voices were different in the book Curtain than in any other book. They don't sound like the same people. Hastings seems too mature, smart, and on the ball (maybe it's because Curtain is the first time we've met him as a father?) There’s just so much about what they both do in Curtain that I just can't (or is it "don't want to") believe.

    I wrote out these points and it ended up being too long for one post. I'll have to post them a few at a time. Some of these points were helped by the adaptation, some weren't.

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    1. Oh, and I don't think they dealt much with the issue of whether Poirot's not taking his amyl nitrate when having an attack amounted to the sin of suicide. (It's not like he purposely brought an attack on, and the illness itself was natural.) Some religious people might disagree...but I don't see Poirot having that conflict.

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  11. 1) - the big one - Poirot committing murder - especially the murder of someone I really just was not convinced was dangerous. Again, even Poirot admits that he can't prove in a legal sense that Norton intends to induce other people to commit murder (since he never directly suggests it). So how does Poirot himself know it with such certainty? Again, it really seems like he has to have a sixth sense. And again, Poirot has trapped criminals in the past that he had about as little evidence against - surely he could have found some way to trap Norton?
    Once again - many of the series adaptations gave Poirot or Hastings a friendship with someone close to the case (Charles Arundell, Charles of the Under Dog, Lynn Marchmant and her father) - so why can Poirot, all of a sudden, not believe that Norton could have been friends with three different families where murder took place?
    I accepted Poirot committing murder a LITTLE more easily after watching the series than I did after I first read Curtain, just because I had seen him let some murderers go and be sympathetic to others - especially if they were ill or willing to kill themselves. It's almost like he has a rule that it's ok to commit murder if you're willing to sacrifice your own life.

    2) In the book, I had trouble with Poirot's readiness to die - I think the adaptation improved on that by letting you see how bad of shape he was in. And, to a lesser extent, by letting us see his world-weariness and disillusion after MOTOE and Labours. I think Curtain is the most believable it can be if you believe it happens right after MOTOE - his actions in Curtain then become the next step after those in MOTOE.

    3) The actual actions involved in the murder of Norton. Actions Poirot would never take - not in the moral sense but in the physical one: first of all, he carried and wheels Norton, in his state of health? If he's kind of faking, not as bad as he's let Hastings believe, that takes me back to my last point - then he shouldn't be so ready to give up on life. But then there's the shooting. Leaving morals out of it, shooting is too physical, and too messy for Hercule Poirot. Even if he aims for the center of the forehead, shouldn't he have been worried about Norton's head exploding and bleeding everywhere (and by the way, I was struck by how unreal the neatness of the actual result was, even though I know that's done a lot in mysteries.) And by the way Poirot was able to compromise his morals at the end, but not his passion for symmetry - it really made me feel like he's gone insane, I have to say. It's like he does have an evil twin, after all.

    In the book, we learn it's not in fact the first time Poirot has shot someone - as he makes an off-hand reference to having shot down a desperate sniper during his police force days. That reference, out of the blue, doesn't ring true either. You just can't associate Poirot with physical acts. For most of the series, he couldn't even defend himself when under attack. Hastings has had to pull a few criminals off of him over the years, and in Labours, he was totally helpless when Marrascaud pulled a gun. (About the only other time we see him take physical action is Halloween Party, when he attacks Miranda's almost-murderer with his cane. Strange that he's getting better at physical action as he gets older.)

    And when Poirot is explaining what he did to kill Norton, I was struck by how much it sounded like the explanations given by many of his murderers over the years.

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  12. 4) I find it bizarre how Poirot utterly absolves those who committed the murders (or almost did) physically - Freda Clay, Mrs. Etherington, Maggie Litchfield, Luttrell - he considers it all Norton's fault, and thinks the do-ers were actually Norton's victims too, and none of them would have done any of it but for him. Apparently, Norton has this satanic-magical power that would work on ANYONE - even Hastings. In the adaptation, he spends less time talking about this than he does in the book, but he actually says Norton was making people do things they didn't want to do. This attitude on Poirot's part doesn't seem in character - he usually holds people more responsible for what they do (remember what he says to Jane about Barbara's suicide in Mews - even though Eustace was blackmailing her that doesn't mean he "made" her commit suicide.)

    But then when Poirot says, "By killing Norton I have saved innocent lives," I'm going "but what lives are innocent? You're telling me anyone would commit murder under Norton's influence. So, the people you saved could have been murderers just as easily if they'd been the ones Norton picked to work on!"

    5) Hastings - honorable, innocent Hastings who can't even bear to look through keyholes - poisoning someone? In cold blood? I could see a moment-of-passion fatal assault by Hastings. I can see a scene where Allerton is making a move on Judith, Hastings walks in and decks him, and Allerton hits his head on something marble. When he assaulted Edwin Graves in Italian Nobleman, Graves fell in the bay and COULD have drowned. But Hastings PLOTTING murder? Under Poirot's nose? Never.

    But then, I think Hastings' voice is somehow "off" in the book Curtain anyway - Too serious? Too smart? Too assertive, maybe? Maybe I'm just not used to him as a parent? Also, he talks at the beginning of the book about how he was glad to send Judith to university - after being for so long, in his own words "not a fan of the so-called new woman." Maybe he's just evolved, and that should be an improvement, but it just felt like someone else talking, at that point in the book.

    6) The series, at least, painted Poirot and Hastings as both pretty anti-drug. And now they're using sleeping tablets so cavalierly.

    7) This wasn't something I got from the book - I thought Poirot was too mean to Hastings here - it put me in mind of Simeon Lee!

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    1. Norton managing to manipulate Hastings and others who "really" weren't murderers...kind of makes you wonder what might have happened if he had known Caroline Crale, or Elinor Carlisle.

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    3. I agree with most of your points, but:

      4) I think the innocent lives refer to the potential murder victims, not the murderers.

      6) There's a difference between illegal, dangerous drugs and prescribed medication. Yes, some of the uses the sleeping pills are put to here aren't their intended medical ones, but that's part of the "would Poirot or Hastings commit murder?" debate. I don't think his anti-drug stance would preclude Poirot from taking sleeping pills.

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    4. Oh, and 5) - Norton deliberately prevents Hastings from assaulting Allerton in a moment of anger, so his resentment festers and he has to find another outlet. A punch isn't enough for Norton - it has to be murder, and it has to drag a good person to the depths.

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    5. The point about innocent lives: in any situation where Norton worked on A and goaded them to murder B, he could just as easily have goaded B to murder A.

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  13. As much as Poirot's activity and movement were more limited than ever before, due to age and illness, there were times during this episode I felt like he was too active for how sick he was supposed to be, if that makes sense. But then again, he was pretending to be in worse shape than he was.

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  14. In the book, Poirot explains in his final letter to Hastings that "It's a good thing I have hardly any time to live. I might come to believe I was appointed to kill people who should be killed. But fortunately, I don't have enough time for that to happen. While this is implied in the adaptation, it is not laid out as explicitly. Granted that they probably had to condense Poirot's letter, that part was pretty important.

    Because I think it showed that Poirot was beginning to act more like his opponents over the years - operating in rather sneaky ways, even when he's doing good things. Example: the rather manipulative way he prevents Hastings from committing murder, as opposed to confronting him directly.

    The final letter actually sounds a lot like other Christie murderers who explained themselves at the ends of books.

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    1. Personally, I think when Hastings came and confessed his almost-murder, Poirot should have explained at that point how Norton manipulated him to it.

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  15. The series also eliminated the book's off-hand reference to Allerton having a wife and being estranged from her but unlikely to get divorced to marry someone else.

    Something of a red herring, admittedly, but a rather significant one, because it allows for Hastings' admonishment to Judith, "There's no future with him - he's a married man," to be capable of a couple of interpretations. We know Hastings refers to Allerton. Judith is in fact in love with a different married man, but because he IS married, she has no reason to say anything to tip Hastings off that it's NOT Allerton. So everything she says and does validates her father's fear that she has feelings for Allerton.

    (Yet, perhaps, the reader familiar with Christie's work will guess that a woman in Judith's position is most likely to be in love with the scientist/doctor/eminent personage whose assistant she is. And frankly, Hastings has seen enough of that in his cases with Poirot that he should have guessed. Miss Lemon probably would have.)

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  16. I had this crazy idea - which only remotely works in the universe of the novels - that Stephen Norton is Claude Darrell / Number Four! Who did not die in the explosion, (something that is somewhat hinted at in the novel Big Four) and came back with a new identity and a new way to get the power he craves without officially breaking the law (power and evil for their own sakes do seem to be the motivations of both Darrell and Norton.)

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  17. Hastings is asked "Did you see much action [in the war]?" and he replies, "No, gammy leg." Is he referring to the FIRST World War? Because wouldn't he, by the second one, have been too old for "action."? (Hastings was supposed to have been much younger than Poirot, and to have served for a while in WWI, and then been injured. But he really never seems disabled except in Styles. And in fact, Fraser is only a few years younger than Suchet.)

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    1. By the end of the war, men in their 50s were being call up to fight in ww2. It's not inconceivable that Hastings would be a veteran of both wars.

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    2. I mean to say many men (who were once in the military) were "re-activated" in their 50s...

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    3. "Hastings is asked "Did you see much action [in the war]?" and he replies, "No, gammy leg." Is he referring to the FIRST World War?"

      He says "Not allowed to THIS TIME AROUND" ie WW2. His gammy leg from the first war prevented him taking part in the second.

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  18. I really feel like MOTOE should be the last case before Curtain...because somehow, Poirot's decision to condone murder in MOTOE feels like a precursor to this, preparing him and us for it.

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  19. There's a whole thing in the book about how Poirot gets a key to Norton's room by originally occupying the room himself and having a duplicate key made. It's pretty hard to follow actually, in the book - but it's not included here at all. Here there is NO explanation of how he can so easily get into Norton's room.

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  20. Another line from the book, removed from the adaptation, not really important to plot but very significant as to character: Hastings: "Hercule Poirot was dead, and with him died a good part of Arthur Hastings."

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  21. To me, it almost seems there are at least two whole different Poirot shows, starring David Suchet (the earlier, lighter seasons, versus the later, darker ones, starting with Season 9.) A case could even be made that there are three (the mostly-light, most short stories; the only-somewhat darker middle seasons, 7 and 8, and then from 9 on.)

    But at times, Curtain seemed to be a different show entirely from any of them. Maybe it's because Hastings was either there as comic relief in the early ones, or not there in the later ones - and he's here, in Curtain, but taken seriously? He narrates the novel Curtain, but sounds very different from the Captain Hastings we're used to.

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  22. A theme of Poirot being "God's instrument" runs through the series...at least according to Suchet. Now, am I the only one who thinks Curtain took that to the ultimate conclusion by playing it for a strong sense of "sacrificing himself to save humanity?"

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  23. There are lots of posts here discussing various problems with the book and/or adaptation, and I agree with several of them, but the two that bother me most are the wheelchair and the false moustache. Besides suggesting Poirot must have planned Norton's murder long before coming to Styles, they're completely unnecessary. They're not needed to convince Hastings it's Norton he sees that night (he doesn't even see the figure from the front), and they play no other role in the proceedings. If anything, the wheelchair ruse hampers Poirot's investigation as he can do so little himself. They're just a contrivance, both of which had appeared in Poirot novels before (After the Funeral and The Big Four) and serve no real purpose except to surprise the reader/viewer, who could never have guessed them because there were no real clues or reasons to suspect.

    Having got that off my chest, Norton is one of my favourite Christie murderers because his MO and psychology are so interesting. And the idea of Poirot finding the perfect murderer at the end of his life, and being unable to catch him and therefore resorting to the one solution he has spent his life fighting against, seems a fitting end.

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  24. The religious element shouldn't come as a surprise to those who have seen the more recent episodes.


    Actually, the religious elements were only obvious in the films made around 2008.

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  25. one has to be a brainless fan of cristie and poirot(in either the books or series who are somewhat different) to enjoy this episode.

    episode is a faithful adaptation of the book in main story points, skillfully fitted to character of poirot, with his blinkered morality, developed in later 'darker' episodes of the series.


    from moral point of view, lousy logic used by poirot to justify his murdering, and absolving of other murderers who have freely chosen to commit crimes, testify to either severe deterioration of his much referenced 'little grey cells', or cristie's ironic revenge after developing a strong dislike for the character's smug pseudo rationality. adapters did point to rather hypocritical moral compass of poirot in several of the later episodes, such as 'the clocks'. however they never seem to have the courage to carry it through to the end in any of them, and always dropped the ball before exposing the absurdity of poirot's pontificating. they succeeded better when there is a distance between poirot and characters going through a murder induced moral crisis, as in 'the murder on the orient express'.

    here too adapters fail to challenge poirot's irrational murder. nor do they leave the story at the superficial moral level cristie displays in books. unlike her, they raise the moral issues explicitly and seriously, but instead of confronting them in their complexity, they let poirot getaway with absurdity.

    by the way, adapters in later part of series tried to imply that poirot's blinkered morality is due to his pious catholicism. however some of his moral positions do not fit with the catholic teachings. if he is confused it due to his brain being confused.

    actors were good in the episode, but unlike in almost episodes in series, till season before final, production design was bad.

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  26. When Poirot is young, he thinks and acts as the young do-- with certainty and absolutism. One of the genius aspects of Mr. Suchet's acting is that, in Curtain, he shows the world-weariness, the age of Poirot.
    In "Dead Man's Folly", he allows the mother to do the "honorable" thing-- which is in keeping with a certain kind of old, old English justice, I think. It is also a very Roman kind of justice; the criminals pass sentence on themselves.
    He pays for it, though, doesn't he? In "Curtain", he, as a warrior for Justice (and I would think more a Roman goddess here, rather than our modern version of it), must "fall" on his sword in the killing of Norton. Who is the true murderer, who the puppet, and who the victim-- all these questions are asked in this episode of the murderer with a poisonous tongue.
    Rather like Adam and Eve in the Garden, it is the snake who murders innocence, using the woman as puppet, with Adam as the victim. The puppet is no different from a more conventional weapon-- a gun, a noose, poison--- but the effect is the same as if Norton had pulled the trigger himself.
    As for the wheelchair---- well, it is my thought that Poirot wanted to make himself as non-threatening and as "insignificant" as Norton claimed to be, thus allaying suspicion. After all, what can an old man in a wheelchair do? (yes, this is sarcasm)
    I thought the performances were brilliant, especially Hugh Fraser as Hastings. It was a fitting end for a stellar series.

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  27. What was the Chopin piece?

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    1. Chopin Prelude No.15 in D flat (op.28) "Raindrop".

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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)