Thursday, 7 November 2013

Episode-by-episode: Dead Man's Folly

(c) ITV
This episode was based on the novel Dead Man's Folly, first published in 1956. It was adapted by Nick Dear (by now one of the 'regulars'), and directed by Tom Vaughan.

Script versus novel
Nick Dear's script is a very faithful retelling of the novel. Certain sections are moved around, some have a slightly different setting, and some sections are shortened down (especially the interviews), but most of the action is kept intact. Let's look at some of the changes. Obviously, the time setting has bee changed from post-war 1950s to pre-war 1930s. This doesn't manifest itself in any particular changes, apart from the deaths of Mrs Folliat's sons. Moreover, Dear adds an opening sequence that takes place a year before the investigation. The incident is based on conversations with Mrs Folliat and Merdell later in the novel. These opening sequences from the past that will later have an impact on the plot have become a norm on these productions over the years; a number of episodes have the same addition. Furthermore, the telephone call from Mrs Oliver in the opening chapter is removed, including Miss Lemon and the Whitehaven setting. Miss Lemon's absence makes sense, both because this episode isn't explicitly set after The Big Four, and because Poirot is in semi-retirement at this point of his career. George the valet could have made an appearance, but they probably decided not to include him because of availability issues or costs. Instead, Poirot has received a telegram from Mrs Oliver and is on his way from the station when we first see him. Some characters are deleted in the subsequent sections, including the Mastertons (though Mrs Masterton becomes Warburton's wife, and Warburton becomes a Member of Parliament), Sergeant Cottrell (his lines are given to Hoskins instead), the Chief Constable, and Mrs and Mr Tucker (Marlene's parents). None of these deletions really impact the story, and they are probably all a result of time constraints rather than creative decisions. A subplot involving Alec Legge and a man in a turtle-patterned shirt is deleted (probably due to time constraints, or possibly the fact that it doesn't really add anything to the plot). The incident in the camellia garden with Mrs Oliver and Poirot is deleted, and so is the police re-enactment of the possible drowning of Hattie.

Finally, the ending is changed. The setting from the denouement is changed from Folliat's lodge to the boathouse (they seem to have avoided the lodge throughout - I wonder if the location was unavailable or didn't suit the period setting?). Also, in the novel, the fate of the Mrs Folliat and her son is left open ('Will you leave me alone now? There are some things that one has to face quite alone...'). Here, Mrs Folliat asks Poirot to allow her to meet her son before she is arrested. He allows it, 'as a courtesy from an old gentleman'. She goes to James's study and tells him to do exactly what she tells him to do, for once in his life. Outside, two shots are heard, and they presumably commit a murder-suicide. Poirot seems to approve of this with the final word of the episode: 'Bon'. The new ending is intriguing. It gives the Folliats a more explicit fate, but we are not told who killed whom (reminiscent of Elephants Can Remember). Also, it's interesting to view Poirot's changed sense of justice since his encounter with the culprits in Murder on the Orient Express. The decision he had to make there has obviously affected his sense of justice (although he has 'allowed' suicides before - Peril at End House, The Hollow etc).

All in all, Dear has done an excellent job. The script is very faithful to its source material. He must know Christie pretty much inside out by now, having adapted a total of six episodes. That doesn't come close to Clive Exton, but his adaptations have generally done justice to the novels they were based on (possibly apart from the ending of Cards on the Table).

Direction, production design, locations, soundtrack
Tom Vaughan's direction really suits the atmosphere of the story and the location. He utilises the garden, the boathouse, and the woods to their utmost potential. They almost become a character of their own, helped along by the crows in the trees (reminiscent of The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor). The garden fête scene feels slightly rushed, but it does convey the hustle and bustle of the event. The production team have done an excellent job with the fête and the particularly colourful costumes in this episode. The main location used was Greenway, Agatha Christie's holiday home. It's a beautiful setting, and it really affects the way the story progresses. The house becomes a character of its own. Christian Henson's soundtrack works well for the episode (notice the minute hints to the theme tune every now and then). Some might find the muted brass instruments a bit too much, but I think they work for the atmosphere the adaptation is trying to create.

Characters and actors
Poirot is generally quite displeased with his skills this time around. That's partly based on the novel, but certain minute references are added to his 'grey cells' slowing down. Then there's his changing sense of justice, as evidenced in the end scene. It will be interesting to view this episode again when all 70 episodes have aired and consider the development of his sense of justice and morality. Of course, plenty of Poirot's eccentricities are added. He 'twirls his moustache to a ferocious couple of points' (the sentence, taken from the novel, was even a scene description in the script!), he struggles with the countryside and walking around in the woods, and he takes an instant dislike to the students in shorts. Also, there's a particularly funny scene with a large Kewpie doll, taken straight from the novel. Apparently, the scene was not intended to be included in the script, but Suchet asked for its inclusion (which reminds me of the scene with the marrow he insisted on for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd). The interaction between Suchet and Wanamaker is as brilliant as ever. Ariadne's incoherent police interview reminded me of the peacock scene from Third Girl. The afternoon tea between them in London was a nice addition. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Poirot called Ariadne back to Nasse by a telegram, the exact same method and the exact same meeting place (the battery). It highlighted the sense of humour between them. I only wish they had included the tiny reference to Hastings in that scene (but that's a minor complaint). The final exchange between them, on their two favourite methods (deduction and intuition) was also a nice touch.

Of the guest actors, Sinead Cusack stood out as Mrs Folliat. Sean Pertwee did a good job as Sir George, and several of the actors in minor roles suited their characters perfectly. The lack of an Italian accent (or small grammatical mistakes) in Stephanie Leonidas' Hattie was something of a plot hole. Similarly, Fransesca Zoutewelle's Dutch accent seemed a bit overdone, but then again the point of her character is to stand out as 'foreign', so perhaps it was necessary.

35 comments:

  1. Very easy to read, I love it!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great review of a great episode. By far my favorite 90-minute episode of the series.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Matheus! It's a great episode!

      Delete
  3. “I don’t normally drink, but Poirot gave me this for the shock.”
    There's not much i can add that hasn't already been expressed elsewhere. It really is the textbook for how adaptations should be done.

    Eirik are you likely to ever do version comparisons when your episode by episode breakdowns are done, like comparing Ustinov’s terrible version of this with Suchets version, Finney's MOTOE with Suchets and so on?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha! Yes, I could have discussed loads of other aspects of the episode, but I decided to go for brevity after the last couple of long episode-by-episode posts ;) Brilliant script!

      I have considered doing comparisons, but I must confess that I'm not much of an Ustinov-Poirot fan, so I have a feeling those comparisons would be rather biased! But never say never - it's still on my list of ideas for further posts!

      Delete
    2. Copamarison between other versions (Not only Ustinov) and Suchet would be intersesting. For exmple beetween Suchet A.B.C., 1960s comedy version . and 2004 Japanese anime version (I have heard that there was also an Indian version)

      Delete
    3. Yes, I'll consider doing it. I don't have any of the other versions, though, so it might be too big a project to take on. We'll see :)

      Delete
    4. Suchet captures the look and mannerisms so much better than Ustinov. Now, that may be due to things about Ustinov's appearance he can't help, but on the other hand, Suchet looks very different in costume than out, which proves that some things can be done to change appearance.

      Ustinov conveys a sense of Poirot being BIG, which is not how Christie envisioned him and I believe she herself commented on a trend toward casting large men as Poirot (pre-Suchet.)

      Delete
  4. This "new ending" with Poirot approving final word (Bon!) killed the great adaptation! His approving is nonsense, honestly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd suggest in future you turn it off when the book stops and before the added scene.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    4. I was clearly joking with you.
      Honestly grow up, it's just a TV show.

      Delete
    5. Removed cause by mistake (system bug), not cause I was anrgy, chill out and grow up yourself!

      Delete
    6. I'm not the one ranting and raving and deleting things after people reply to them, then blaming my own mistake on a magical "system Bug". I didn't think you deleted it because you were angry or “anrgy”, you made the reply in anger, then deleted it.

      Delete
    7. O, yeah, you see through me!.. Dude, save your great clumsy jokes and arrogant knocks, be polite and relax! Bonne chance!

      Delete
    8. hypocrisy at its finest.
      I'm bored of this now, so i will let you clog up the comments with the last word.

      Delete
  5. It's so actually sad that you don't wanna hear something quite opposite for your dithyrambs.

    I didn't want to hurt you. And I normally don't care too much about added scene, but this particular scene is just nonsense, it's seem forced (and exсept for this rubbish it was a very very good adaptation indeed), it's such a departure from the Poirot character, and a departure in wrong direction caused actually by wrong interpretation of the plot in the very last Poirot case ("Curtain"). This particular added scene is the same nonsense that they did in "The Murder on the Orient Express" (disaster of epic proportions, I would simply ask how the director is going to make Poirot bring himself to kill a man in "Curtain" if he had qualms to let the 12 walk free?). It wasn't Poirot (at least the one we have known and loved). So...

    Oh, and I wanna alert you in advance that I hate the new version of the Contess Rossakoff that we all saw in the last episode.

    And I'd suggest in future you do not try blogging when the opposite opinions are so frustrating for you.

    Delete

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Sybarite! Since I'm the writer of this blog, I just want to say that I'm always open to hear dissenting opinions. I don't agree with your views (I'm an avid supporter of Suchet's interpretation of Poirot's mindset), but I value your opinion. That is half the point with a blog like this - to create an arena in which fans can read about and discuss the series we all love.

      Delete
  6. The BFI Q&A session (or at least part of it) has been posted on YouTube where Suchet makes mention of and defends the new ending. Also included in this lengthy clip are two humorous anecdotes where Suchet (in full costume and remaining in character) encounters members of the general public.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKpeBHIGxrw

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks a lot! Great find! :) Some of the anecdotes are from Suchet's "Poirot and Me" book - a great read.

      Delete
  7. Great read. I have always been fond of the adaptation of Dead Man's Folly with Peter Ustinov, despite its flaws. This episode has surpassed that, however. The direction and music were breathtaking.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the episode! And I agree, it's breathtaking. Very impressive.

      Delete
  8. That accent was so overdone, I couldn't believe the actress was Dutch

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha ha, yes! I noticed that, too, and I'm not even Dutch. It was definitely overdone.

      Delete
  9. Was there a version of this with Ustinov?

    Poirot's angrier and more moralistic attitude toward Mrs. Folliat, compared to the book, felt satisfactory to me. I think her behavior with regards to her son is a little ridiculous, and deserves the moral outrage. I felt that way about Simon Doyle in this series' Nile, too.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Not sure my last comment showed up-- I think Blogger ate it. What a monster. ;)

    Anyway, delightful to find this website! I often feel quite alone in the Poirot Fandom and it's nice to find so many others!

    I had a question for you; do you happen to remember which episode it is besides "Hercule Poirot's Christmas" that includes Christmas at some point? I know in the back of my mind that there is one, even if the plot doesn't revolve around it.

    Much obliged. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Stuart Farquhar10 May 2015 at 20:48

      The Theft of the Royal Ruby

      Delete
  11. Stuart Farquhar10 May 2015 at 20:46

    Considering it's one of the later episodes, this is surprisingly faithful to the book but what a shame the butler isn't as artistic with the gong!

    Shouldn't Hattie have at least some hint of a Jamaican accent?

    One significant change not mentioned in the review is De Souza's arrest after Hattie's ring is planted on him.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good point! I'll go back and add the arrest to the changes (this was written shortly after the episode aired, so I must have left it out unintentionally.

      Delete
  12. Dead Man's Folly was the only episode I hadn't read the book nor watched the adaptation, until yesterday. I do have some regret about watching it before reading the book, in spite of being a great episode. The music is fantastic and the place is just beautifully stunning.

    *SPOILER* When Sir George Stubbs brings Hattie home, we just have a glimpse of her face, but we don't really see her; immediatly I suspected that she wasn't the real Hattie. Then I was sure when she gets that upset because of De Souza's visit. I think it's pretty obvious for first-watchers, especially if you're a fan like me and get to know almost every Ol' Agatha trick. Instead, I like to think that I used my little gray cells.

    ReplyDelete
  13. another unbelievably stupid impersonation plot by cristie, faithfully adapted for most part. it is one thing for her to run out of ideas, but only fans with their brains removed will not spot the many many holes in the whole story, and the absurd rehashing of all of the worst cristie clichés.

    even non regular viewers should be able to realize, before half way through, at least one person who was falsely pretending to be another. the changing of ending, which seems to imply that poirot actively encouraged a murder suicide, is unnecessary, and against the spirit of books where he is rather morally indifferent, and rest of the tv series, esp in later 'darker' ones, where he is shown to be piously catholic and highly moralistic.

    some of the other episodes in final season display a certain falling off in quality of production design that this series was known for (and justly praised for), but by restricting locations that particular new failing seems have been averted in this episode. that is the only good thing i can say about it, unfortunately.

    ReplyDelete
  14. It’s true that the Lodge is not used much in this episode other than being where the hitch-hikers are dropped off at the entrance to Nasse / Greenway and it does probably make more sense to use the Boat House as it is a much more atmospheric building. After the initial views of the front of Greenway, I was completely perplexed when the next views of it (at the fete) were on a large lawn in front of the house whereas the lawn in front of Greenway drops dramatically down to the River Dart. Living in Devon, I am relatively close to Greenway (Christie’s summer residence) and know the building and estate reasonably well and therefore assumed the producers had done some really clever CGI jiggery-pokery in order to make the house appear behind the lawn - but then realised it was a different building altogether (although almost perfectly matched in style). After doing a bit of searching on-line, I finally found that this other building is in fact High Canons in Borehamwood (Hertfordshire) - which has been used for some other classics including "The Avengers", "Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)" and the very camp Vincent Price film, "Dr Phibes Rises Again”. The scenes on the staircase (where the false Hattie Stubbs is taken upstairs) and the scenes in the Library were also filmed at High Canons. A very clever feat of continuity in order to make this work so seamlessly.

    ReplyDelete
  15. can anyone tell us who played the real hattie stubbs seen once on the stairs?

    ReplyDelete

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)