Monday 3 June 2013

Episode-by-episode: The King of Clubs

The short story 'The King of Clubs' was first published in the UK in 1938. The adaptation, scripted by Michael Baker with Clive Exton as a script consultant, and directed by Renny Rye, became the next-to-last episode of the first series.

Script versus short story
Some changes have been made on the journey from short story to film. Most importantly, the 'impressario' Henry Reedburn becomes the owner and producer of a 1930s film studio, and the 'dancer' Valerie St. Clair becomes his leading actress. A director called 'Bunny' is added to the mix, and he's an old friend of Hastings's, so Poirot and Hastings visit the film set of the latest picture. Also, there's an older actor struggling to adjust to the era of the 'talkies' added to increase the list of suspects once the murder is committed. Prince Paul is here an old acquaintance of Poirot, who has helped his family in the past. He also funds most of the film Valerie stars in (which is why he's at the set on the day of their visit). Consequently, instead of asking Poirot for a consultation, he calls his old friend up at night, asking him to look into the business. Chief Inspector Japp is also introduced, having been called out to a report of "disturbance" at Mr. Reedburn's house (would a Chief Inspector be called out to such a minor affair? Probably not). Finally, a group of gypsies in the neighbourhood of Mr. Reedburn are included, a group that Reedburn has been trying to get rid of (again, increasing the number of suspects). Certain parts have been moved around a bit, but apart from the above changes, the adaptation stays true to its source material. One insignificant change that puzzles me is the fact that Poirot seems to get access to the scene of the crime both without Japp's help and the help of Paul (whose name he has promised to keep out of the business to avoid scandal). I just find it unlikely that he would be let in to these houses, even if he introduced himself as the great detective, acting in the interests of St. Clair.

The ending (both in the short story and the adaptation) has puzzled many Poirot fans. It's one of the few instances in which Poirot lets the culprits go. Though not as serious as murder, since this is essentially an accident, it's still difficult to understand why he would let them get away with it - when he's so hard on other culprits. Oh well, we can't really blame the series for that, though, since this is entirely Christie's choice.

Directing, production design, locations and soundtrack
Renny Rye directs this tale most competently, and he makes excellent use of the wonderful sets. Also, the sequences from the mock-1930s-film seem highly believable. I'm sure I could have been fooled if I saw that outside the context of the adaptation! The main locations here are a section of the Hoover building in Perivale, Middlesex (doubling as Parade film studios here - and as Farley's factory in The Dream!), and High & Over in Amersham, Buckinghamshire (doubling as Mr. Reedburn's house). See Joan Street's website for photos. The soundtrack is by Christopher Gunning, but it's not one of his most memorable.

Actors and characters
There isn't much character development for our main stars in this one. Hastings gets to comment on a car (owned by his friend Bunny - I find it interesting how many friends they seem to have added who could believably have been in the army with Hastings), and we get to know that Poirot has important friends and connections (but we already knew that, really). The main standout of the guest actors is Niamh Cusack as Valerie St. Clair. She certainly fills the role of a screen celebrity.


  1. This is another case where the adaptation improves on Christie's story by telling us what the secret was that Reedburn held over Valerie...and making it something many people would be ashamed of even today.

    In the original, we are frustratingly not told. I can only guess that it was her connection with the Oglanders...which meant she wasn't really an aristocrat, except that Paul (despite believing she was secretly an aristocrat) implied he wouldn't care anyway. And if that's the secret, it's something we really can't relate to today, today, we say, you tell your future spouse that kind of thing.

    But if Mr. Oglander was an embezzler, it does change things.

  2. I agree with viewers who have asked how Poirot can be so cavalier about a cover up here, and have so much trouble with it in MOTOE. It casts question on both Suchet's insistence that Poirot is the ultimate moral compass, and his insistence that Poirot hates the upper class and classism (because he seems to go along with the agenda of covering everything up for the sake of upper-class or aristocratic family reputation - which he does on a few other occasions. And he didn't even council Valerie to trust her husband enough to tell HIM the truth.)

  3. Love Hastings' appreciation of cubism then finishing with 'Trouble is they're half mad on booze and drugs most of the time.'

  4. Considering Reedburn was blackmailing Valerie into having sex with him, which is rape by coercion, I'm not bothered Poirot let the culprit go. A punch in the face is a far less crime (or no crime at all in this case) when compared to rape.

  5. While seeing Niamh Cusack as Beatrix Potter in The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends series may have introduced me to her, but this role from Niamh Cusack was stunning when i saw it for the first time

  6. I assumed that Bunny was a old school friend. This assumption was possibly influenced by Bunny Manders of the Raffles series, whose nickname was acquired at school.

  7. It is completely within the character of Poirot to "not solve" this case. 1) It was an accident/manslaughter. 2) Valerie has been blackmailed for her father's misdeed, so justice is done in the death of her tormentor. 3) Poirot always tends to leniency toward young women except when they are actually murderers. I don't see any leniency toward upper class people. The Oglanders are clearly not well off, as is seen by their home. Far from a cover-up, Poirot tells the Prince he must go to the police and be honest.

    1. I agree completely. It is demonstrative of the contingencies Christie consistently works into her plots to create a satisfying sense of fair play.

  8. Yes he let tbem go? Puzzling but it's Christies work. Thought Hastings will not get over tbis one.

  9. A clever character change-- in the end, Hastings is dressed with ascot and gold buttons, rather louche and lounge-lizardy, like he would like to be a movie star (and Hugh Fraser is certainly good looking enough!).


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