The new apartment has been criticised by many fans, primarily because of the discontinuity between the two. As a viewer, one might ask the following questions: 1) Why was there a need to create a new apartment? 2) Why are both apartments situated in Whitehaven Mansions?, and 3) Why do they look so different?
I will try to answer these questions in due course.
Initially, though, I would like to draw your attention to the following paragraph in the current Wikipedia article on the television series. The article seems to suggest that the new apartment is a part of a significant 're-imagining' of the Poirot and Agatha Christie brand:
‘Following the launch of the ITV series Agatha Christie's Marple in 2004, the Poirot series was retitled Agatha Christie's Poirot. The previous titles and theme music were dropped. The visual style of these later episodes was noticeably different from earlier episodes: particularly, austere art deco settings and decor, widely used earlier in the series, were largely dropped in favour of more lavish settings (epitomised by the re-imagining of Poirot's home as a larger, more lavish apartment)’As the article accurately points out, Poirot’s home is now a ‘larger, more lavish apartment’. But in context, the description feels more negatively charged than I think is reasonable. In this post, I hope to convince you that there are, in fact, several reasons to prefer this apartment to the first one (if one of them has to be seen as "better"), and that there is a sense of continuity between the two apartments, both in terms of layout and design.
Let us return to the first question – why was there a need to create a new apartment? I think there are several possible answers to this. Firstly, I think the Wikipedia article is partially right in claiming that it has something to do with the new direction of the Agatha Christie brand. The new producers (post-2004) seem to have made a conscious decision to distance themselves from the previous series; these adaptations should be considered as independent feature-length films rather than episodes from a television series, and therefore a ‘more lavish’ apartment seems appropriate. (see more after the jump)
However, and secondly, there is also much to suggest that the decision was made because of the stories ahead. Keep in mind that David Suchet (who since 2004 has been an associate producer) has been keen to portray Poirot ‘absolutely as near as [he] can possibly get to the tone, the flavour and particular incidents’ of Agatha Christie’s stories and descriptions. In this sense, the series would, at some point, have had to abandon the ‘basic family unit’, as former scriptwriter Clive Exton once called it, of Hastings, Miss Lemon, Japp and Poirot. This is in keeping with Christie’s books, as the Wikipedia article points out: ‘The absence of their characters (Hastings, Inspector Japp, and Miss Lemon) is consistent with the books on which the scripts were based’.
A natural consequence of such a shift would be that Poirot goes into semi-retirement (as my chronology suggests) and engages George as his valet. Admittedly, Miss Lemon is present in a few of the books (but not adaptations) filmed after 2004, but her role is very small in the original text, and I would imagine that the producers would rather give David Yelland (George) a greater part to play (which is quite understandable, given that they secured an actor of his calibre). Also, considering that the previous producers excluded George’s part to expand Miss Lemon’s, I find this perfectly acceptable.
In other words, there is no need for Miss Lemon’s typing room, which was an integral part of the first apartment, and there is a need for a room for George. With these aspects in mind, I find it perfectly understandable that the production crew wanted a new apartment to build Poirot’s semi-retirement life around.
Finally, the decision to create a new apartment may have been made because production designer Jeff Tessler wanted to create a flat that was more faithful to Christie’s descriptions (though I do not claim to know his intentions). As I have detailed earlier, several (if not all) of Christie’s descriptions are taken into consideration in the new flat – everything from colours and layouts, to bookcases and desks. The similarity between what is described on paper and what is portrayed on screen is so striking that I refuse to accept that he has not taken these descriptions more literally than the previous production crew.
Whatever the reason, the fact remains that TV-Poirot has lived in two different flats in Whitehaven Mansions. Let us leave it at that, and appreciate the fact that they are both excellent representations of Poirot's domestic life.
Now, let’s move on to what this post is really supposed to cover: the similarities and differences between these two on-screen flats. See the floor plans of the flat below of the 1989-2001 apartment and the 2005-20?? respectively. The first floor plan is linked to its source and the second has been made by me (bear with me on my severe lack of artistic skills!)
(Let me clarify a few things first: The floor plan in black is from a Japanese fan site. I have renamed the rooms from Japanese (without knowing the language!), so any mistakes are entirely mine. The image is linked to its source. Also, the exact location of Poirot's bedroom is somewhat of a mystery in the first flat, but I feel fairly certain that it is next to the living room (i.e. where the 'office' of the second flat is located). See, for instance, the ending of the adaptation of 'The Third-Floor Flat'. Finally, in the second flat, there is some uncertainty as to the location of the kitchen. In 'Third Girl', George seems to be walking towards the red room, while in 'Three Act Tragedy' we see him exiting (presumably) the dark grey room on the floor plan. I find the second option more likely than the first.)
I want to start with a specific aspect of the living room; the niches/alcoves on each side of the fireplace. In the first flat, this is where Poirot’s bookcases (if you can call them that) are situated. These have, intriguingly, become “entrances” to Poirot’s office. In my opinion, that is an ingenious solution for two specific reasons. First, we can assume that there would indeed be a room behind that wall in Poirot’s first apartment (see the floor plan above, linked to its source), and those niches could easily be transformed into the openings we see in the second flat. Also, if the new flat is a slight ‘upgrade’ of apartments within the same building (which I find likely), it would be natural that the layout of this slightly larger flat would be based on the same structures and walls as the ones above or below it. Finally, by using these niches/alcoves, the production designer not only creates a link with the first flat, but he almost makes the “office extension” into a part of the sitting room – which again is in keeping with Christie’s descriptions! Quite impressive, if you ask me.
Another structural similarity is the placement of the doors to the sitting room. Both in the first and second apartment, there are two sets of doors (see below). They are slightly different in layout (but remarkably similar nonetheless), and this could easily be explained by the fact that Christie describes a redecoration and restructuring of the flats in The Clocks (see my last blog post). The only addition in the second flat is a door leading to Poirot’s ‘office’ further down the corridor – which. again, is quite acceptable if one considers this a slightly larger apartment in the same building.
Any other structural similarities should be evident from the two floor plans above, outlining the two flats.
Let us move on to the main layout of the living room itself. Apart from the desk area (which has been given a separate ‘room’), nearly all elements from the first apartment have been maintained (though mostly not in their original shape and form) in the second apartment. Firstly, the dining area (see below). A large table with chairs is situated in almost exactly the same spot as in the first flat.
Secondly, the sitting area. In both flats, this is situated close to the fireplace. The chairs seem to have changed throughout the series run in the first flat, but they have remained the same in the second. The chairs and sofas all have similar rounded (and square) shapes.
Thirdly, the ‘office’ area. Despite the new location in the second flat, there is a remarkable sense of consistency. Notice, for instance, the green desk sets in both flats. Not identical, but they contribute to a sense of continuity. Also, the two desk lamps and the jacket stand/hanger (see below); dissimilar, but still a continuity of sorts.
Finally, let me address some elements of décor. As described in the earlier blog post, Poirot’s taste in art is highlighted in both flats. Moreover, the second flat builds on the first flat’s use of (white) ceramic figures and bronzes (see below). Notice also the folding screen behind Poirot’s desk in the first flat, and then behind the dining table in the second flat.
Also, notice that the two tables/shelves/cupboards behind the table in the second flat seem to be inspired by the sideboard behind the sofa and the sideboard behind the table, both in the first flat. The two vases/lamps are also strikingly similar to the two vases in the first flat (see below).
To conclude, there are significant continuities between the two on-screen flats; doors, layout and objects. They are both faithful to Christie's description (as outlined in a previous post), and both can believably exist within the same building (almost - there's not enough windows on the outside to match the second flat, but I will ignore that and file it under 'artistic liberty'). All in all, there is no reason to dislike any of the flats as they showcase different elements - and phases - of Poirot's domestic life.