Friday 31 May 2013
Episode-by-Episode: Triangle at Rhodes
The short story 'Triangle at Rhodes' was first published in 1936 and formed the sixth episode of the first series of Poirot in 1989. The episode was directed by Renny Rye and adapted by Stephen Wakelam in his only Poirot outing.
Script versus short story
Quite a lot of the scenes in the short story have been restructured, that is to say some of them appear in a different order from the source material, particularly towards the middle of the episode. However, the adaptation stays very closely to the short story, and almost all the lines are kept intact. Some references are expanded, such as the arrival of the two couples on the ferry, a fact merely stated by Douglas Gold in the short story. One character is deleted, namely Sarah Blake. Instead, Pamela Lyall gets most of her lines and takes a leading role in the 'investigation' (much like other women Poirot takes under his wing in future adaptations, e.g. Jane Grey in Death in the Clouds). She also gets to point out the triangle shape, a task assigned to Poirot in the short story. A major addition to the story is a subplot concerning Major Barnes (General Barnes in the short story), somewhat reminiscent of Evil Under the Sun, a novel very similar to this short story. He is a secret agent keeping an eye on the Italians in the face of the Abyssinia crisis (we also see Blackshirts throughout the episode). Moreover, there's the added Catholicism of Douglas Gold - which is probably intended to explain why he is not the murderer. Also, Poirot's escape for peace and quiet on a mountain top (in the short story) here becomes an excursion, much in the same way as in the adaptation of Appointment with Death. Finally, Poirot intends to leave the island in this adaptation (probably to keep him away from the actual murder and enable the insecurity about the poison bottle) and gets mixed up with the police (reminds me somewhat of the exciting scene in the adaptation of Yellow Iris!). For anyone who claims Poirot is never angry - take a close look at this scene.The ending of the adaptation is quite different to its source, with Poirot and Pamela tracking down the poison used for the murder (with the help of the forensic officer, a "friend" of Major Barnes)- and then an extravagant chase scene with two fishing boats (I do understand that they need to fill out the episode, and they to add some excitement, but particularly in future episodes, these the-villains-try-to-escape scenes are actually quite annoying...).
(I think it's necessary to emphasise that the introduction of the Abyssinia conflict is actually somewhat in keeping with the source material. In the story, the men discuss "this Palestine business' at the bar, so to change that into 'this Abyssinia business' isn't too far off the wall. Also, the story was published in 1936, so to focus on an event from 1934-5 would also be quite accurate).
Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
This really is such a visually stunning episode. It's also the first episode to feature Poirot in an exotic location, and director Renny Rye utilises the location to its fullest potential. Scriptwriter Wakelam adds an opening scene outside the by now easily recognisable London home (in bleak autumn weather), which serves as the perfect contrast to the Mediterranean scenes that follow (in an added scene from the city market). Rye captures so many beautiful shots it's impossible to mention them all. I'll focus on the mountain top with the small church (capturing the magnificent view) and a wonderful image of Lyall, Mrs. Chantry and Mrs. Gold next to a temple at sunset - almost resembling Greek goddesses. An excellent use of the location. I don't know if it's been filmed at Rhodes (as I haven't been there), but it certainly looks authentic. I also like the police station, a very 1930s building. In terms of soundtrack, this really is one of the scores I would die to have on one of Gunning's releases. The version of the theme tune is lovely and it brings so much atmosphere to the story!
Actors and characters
A few bits on Poirot first. This is the only episode before Taken at the Flood in Series Ten that we are told (or, rather, shown) that Poirot is a bon catholique; he makes the sign of the cross after Mr. Gold and even explains to him later that 'your faith will be of great consolation to you'. This isn't completely off the mark from the story. In fact, Poirot mentions the bon Dieu to himself while on the mountain top (in the short story). Also, there's a small scene in which we see him tie his bow tie (fun fact: Suchet mentioned in Poirot & Me that he used to get tip off Americans from teaching them how to do their bow ties when he was a young and struggling actor!) and a small scene in which Poirot instructs a maid in how to pack his cases properly. Both instances excellently capture the personality from the stories.
Now, on to the guest actors. Frances Low is great as Pamela Lyall and a perfect "Hastings substitute" for the episode. Also, there's Angela Down as Marjorie Gold, who should manage to fool first-time-viewers into believing in the wrong triangle.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, post a comment on one of my blogs, or get in touch on Twitter @pchronology. (I used to call myself HickoryDickory)