Tuesday 30 July 2013

Episode-by-episode: Murder on the Links

This episode was based upon the novel The Murder on the Links, first published in 1923. It was adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz and directed by Andrew Grieve.

Script versus novel

Horowitz remains faithful to Christie's text, making only minor (but in some cases significant) changes. To begin with, he adds a newsreel sequence as the opening sequence (which had almost become the norm for the episodes by now). The newsreel footage outlines the Beroldy case, revealing a major plot point very early on - perhaps too early. This first case is also reported to have occurred only ten years previously - not twenty as in the novel. Also, Poirot and Hastings arrive in Deauville ('Merlinville' in the novel) on their own account, since Hastings is taking Poirot to a golf hotel (a nice reference to Hastings's hobby throughout the series and the books). Consequently, there is no letter from Paul Renauld. Instead, Renauld (who is revealed to be the owner of the hotel, as well as being involved in the business in Santiago) consults Poirot at the hotel. Another significant change is the Hastings-Cinderella/Dulcie subplot. Here, the twins Dulcie and Bella are merged into one character (Bella Duveen), a sensible change, since the confusion as to their identity is nothing more than a red herring in the original story. Bella/Dulcie and Hastings don't meet on the train as in the novel. Instead, Hastings is spellbound by Bella at the hotel, as he watches her sing (she is a hotel singer here, not an acrobat). Then, throughout the episode, they meet each other on the beach (and have lunch), and go to lunch in a local Deauville restaurant. Since the twin is deleted, there is no need for the search for her back in London, so that section is cut, too. Apart from this, the subplot is kept more or less intact - but the romantic angle (and Hastings's eagerness to reveal far too much of the investigation) is obviously played up a bit, to great success, I would say. Finally, Horowitz has added a subplot to Jack Renauld's story - he is participating in a Deauville cycling race. Other changes are small and insignificant - like reducing the number of servants in the Renauld household, deleting some minor clues, e.g. the flower bed footprints and the gardener, deleting the letter from Cinderella to Hastings (instead, Bella explains herself to Poirot and Hastings), and letting the secretary, Mr. Stonor, replace Cinderella in catching the culprit. All in all, then, Horowitz's script is a wonderful take on the novel, remaining largely faithful and making sensible changes.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Andrew Grieve's directing is highly competent as usual. He makes great use of the Deauville location and creates a distinctly French and 30s atmosphere. The locations used include Normandy Barriere Hotel in Deauville (Hotel du Golf), the Tourville/Deauville train station and La Terrasse, Deauville (the swimming area). Christopher Gunning's soundtrack for this episode is particularly excellent and perfectly suited for the location. Sadly, it has never been released.

Characters and actors
It's lovely to see the Hastings/Bella subplot develop. This is, of course, a significant point in the series' chronology, and in Hastings's and Poirot's life. It's brilliantly acted both by Fraser and Jacinta Mulcahy, who plays Bella. As to Poirot, it's nice to see his many eccentricities and character traits brilliantly portrayed here, from his self-confidence (vis-a-vis Giraud) in a brilliant wager (in the novel it's "only" for 500 francs, here it's for the moustache / the pipe) to his matchmaking in the end scene. Suchet's facial expression in that final shot is so characterful - and a hint of the loneliness to come now that Hastings is entering married life.

Sunday 28 July 2013

Episode-by-episode: Hickory Dickory Dock

This episode was based on the novel Hickory Dickory Dock, first published in 1955. It was adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz and directed by Andrew Grieve.

Script versus novel
This was the first of the post-war novels to be adapted for the series and its established 1930s setting. In the years to come this would become a common occurrence - moving the plot of post-war novels back to that decade. Sometimes the transition is seamless (e.g. The Clocks, Mrs. McGinty's Dead), and sometimes not as much (Third Girl). Horowitz's script, I would say, falls somewhere in between. To begin with, the task of transforming a student hostel situation - post-war in its very nature - into a believable 1930s student rooms is not an easy one. Horowitz partly succeeds in that the 1930s student feel that we also got in the adaptation of 'The Case of the Missing Will' works quite well. He removes all the foreign students, including Mr. Gopal Ram, Akibombo, Elizabeth Johnston, Miss Reinjeer, Achmed Ali, Genevieve Maricaud, Jean Tomlinson and the two Turks (who, I assume, would be somewhat out of place as students in the 1930s - but, more importantly, they don't really provide important plot points, possibly apart from Akibombo, so it makes sense to delete them for time constraints reasons, too). A further change I don't quite understand is making all the residents of the hostel students - even Valerie Hobbhouse, who becomes a student of design and fashion. That seems a bit excessive, especially since the Series Five episode I mentioned (set at about the same time) covers the difficulty facing female students at universities. Anyway, I guess it works somehow or other.

As to plot changes, the list is actually quite long. First, we have the addition of Chief Inspector Japp (who replaces the book's Inspector Sharpe), and a subplot concerned with him coping (or not coping) at home in Mrs Japp's absence. He is eventually invited to stay with Poirot at Whitehaven - which, of course, gives room for some comic relief, like the bidet thing, but it all gets a bit too much, in my opinion. Especially that end scene in Japp's kitchen (faggot, phobie du faggot, spotted dick etc.). Second, the story is set around the 1936 Jarrow March (which occurred in October, not in April, as the lecture note at Hickory Dock seems to imply...a careless mistake), Sir Arthur Stanley becomes a leading Labour politician (and not a chemistry professor as in the novel), and Japp has a grudge against him because he investigated the death of his wife about ten years ago. Third, Miss Lemon's role is significantly expanded (which seems just right since her role is central to the story), and she is present throughout much of the investigation - and gets involved, too. Fourth, a couple of clues are removed partly as the result of the deleted student characters, including the silk scarf and the green ink. Fifth, Horowitz adds a subplot involving Customs and Excise, in which Sally Finch, the American student, gets a significant role. Sixth, the morphine that disappears was acquired by Colin McNabb, not Nigel Chapman as in the novel, probably in an attempt to widen the list of suspects (certain other additions, like Sally sneaking out at night and Len sneaking into Celia's room, attempt to do the same). Seventh, a further clue is added in the form of Valerie's peculiar stitch-work on a dress (and, of course, later on the rucksack). Eight, Patricia realises the connection between Nigel and Sir Arthur through a photo album at the hospital and not through conversations with Nigel. Finally, Horowitz adds the ever-present chase scene (this time at 'Hickory Road' tube station).

On the whole, even though Horowitz's changes are significant, the adaptation actually works as a more or less faithful retelling of the novel. The essential clues and plot points are retained, and even though the number of students is reduced, it's not something you would notice if you hadn't read the novel. In other words, apart from the odd anachronisms, including the student setting, the Fulbright Scholarship (not introduced until 1946) and the mistaken setting of the Jarrow March, the adaptation isn't half bad, considering the novel is very distinctly post-war.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Grieve's direction is as good as always, with a number of delightful references to the nursery rhyme and the mouse the student house name gets its inspiration from (notice, for instance, that both the opening shot of the living room clock and the shot of the clock in the denouement scene displays the time as one o'clock).
Hickory, dickory, dock,
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
The mouse ran down,
Hickory, dickory, dock
His direction works well together with Gunning's score, which repeats the 'Hickory, dickory dock' line. There is one issue with his directing choices, however. Several shots clearly reveal the identity of the murderer quite early on. Whether this is deliberate or not, I don't know, but it is quite evident if you know the story. The locations used for the episode include YHA, Carits Lane, London (the student house), Allen, the butcher, Mount Street, London (the place where Japp and Poirot buy meat), a car park entrance in Cartis Lane (the 'Hickory Road' station entrance), Brushfield Street, Spitafields (the store of Mr. Nicoletis) and Morden Station on the Northern Line (used as 'Hickory Road' station). See this link for photos.

Characters and actors
It's great to get some back story on Miss Lemon and her sister. Notice that Horowitz has given Mrs Hubbard a first name, Florence, to match Miss Lemon's (Felicity). Although I dislike some of the comic relief with Japp, it's nice to see their friendship develop further. Of the guest actors, I am most impressed by the fact that the casting director managed to find an actress so strikingly similar to Pauline Moran (Miss Lemon) as Sarah Badel (Mrs Hubbard). Not even that, Badel manages to match her in mannerisms and complement her just as in the novel. A delight to watch. Of the students, there are no real stand-outs, apart from Jonathan Firth (Nigel Chapman) of course. And naturally, there's the fun of watching a very young Damian Lewis of later Homeland fame.

Thursday 25 July 2013

Episode-by-episode: Hercule Poirot's Christmas

This episode was based on the novel Hercule Poirot's Christmas, first published in 1938. The story was adapted for television by Clive Exton and directed by Edward Bennett (returning from Series One).

Script versus novel

As is almost always the case with Exton, the script remains largely faithful to its source material, with only some minor and largely understandable changes to the main plot. To begin with, he adds an (almost necessary) prologue in South Africa, set in 1896, in which we see Simeon Lee kill his partner Ebeneezer (not in the novel) and being rescued by a woman, Stella, in the desert (not in the novel), who later turns out to be the mother of one of the illegitimate children mentioned in the novel. Moreover, he adds some scenes in which Poirot and Japp (who replaces the local Colonel Johnson in the novel) prepare for Christmas - and a subplot concerning the presents the two give to each other (this change in fact becomes an important plot point, as it leads to Poirot's visit to a village store in which he sees the pig balloons and the fake moustache). Third, the character of Stephen Farr is deleted (he was no more than a red herring), and instead Pilar's romantic sentiments are directed towards Harry Lee. Fourth, the playing of the 'Dead March' on the piano is deleted and replaced with a dining room quarrel. Fifth, the Lady Macbeth quote is removed (probably because the crime scene is much less blood-filled (to avoid PG rating, possibly?)). Other minor changes include the discovery of the diamond case in George Lee's room (planted there by Sugden, we are told), and the fact that Stella from the opening sequence is Sugden's mother. Generally speaking, however, the script is faithful to its source. Some of the interviews are shortened and several sections are moved around, but essentially the story is very recognisable.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack

Edward Bennett's directing is competent, and he manages to convey the proper Christmas atmosphere (which is quite an achievement - the episode was shot in April!). The colour grading is noticeable here, too, since the light is particularly harsh and white (reflective of the wintery setting, I suppose). The locations used include Chilham Manor, Kent (the Lee family home), Chilham village (the pub and Sugden's house), Chilham Church. See this link for photos. Christopher Gunning's soundtrack is as good as ever, with a nice seasonal touch to it.

Characters and actors

Suchet gets to display many of Poirot's character traits, like his love of (Belgian) chocolate (also seen in 'The Theft of the Royal Ruby'), his concern for the central heating and general dislike of cold weather and cold manor houses (see, for instance, 'The Mystery of Hunter's Lodge'). The scenes with him at the cold station are reminiscent of the Murder on the Orient Express adaptation, too. Of the guest actors, Vernon Dobtcheff does a particularly exceptional job as the dislikeable family patriarch.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Episode-by-episode: Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan

This episode was based on the short story 'The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan'. It was adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz and directed by Ken Grieve.

Script versus short story
Horowitz remains more or less faithful to the short story, with several important additions and changes. First, the reason for Poirot's and Hastings's stay at the hotel is that Poirot needs rest (one of his overworked/hypochondria/retirement moods). Second, he adds an unnecessary running joke concerning 'Lucky Len', a character from a newspaper, which looks remarkably like Poirot. Third, the Opalsen couple are using the pearls for a play, called 'Pearls Before Swine', and they are very concerned about publicity (both getting it and keeping it). This gives the adaptation a set of new characters, like Andrew Hall, who has written the play and knows Celestine well (a suspect for the theft eventually) and Hubert Devine, an actor, who explains that the Opalsens are keen to succeed with the plat due to money trouble. Fourth, Celestine, the maid, isn't French (instead, there's a reference to her mother being French), and Saunders is a chauffeur and not a butler to Mr. and Mrs. Opalsen. Fifth, Japp - who is mentioned in the story - is added as the investigating officer. So is Miss Lemon, who gets to question different people in London (she finds out that the pearls would have been too famous to be sold in the UK and would have to be smuggled to the US). Sixth, there's a separate clue added, in the shape of the mysterious Mr. Worthing (who later turns out to be one of the culprits in disguise) - and Poirot partly solves the case through a reference to 'The Importance of Being Earnest' (where the character is called Worthing - much like Arden in Taken at the Flood and Murder on the Orient Express). All in all, though, the adaptation seems to work, and the changes are - for the most part - understandable.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Grieve's direction is competent. I particularly enjoy his use of cameras inside the drawer and the vase at the theatre. The production design is faultless as usual. Locations used include Butlins Ocean Hotel, Saltdean (now converted into luxury flats), the Eastbourne Pier and the Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne. Gunning's soundtrack is memorable and well executed. It has not been released.

Characters and actors
Of the guest actors, Sorcha Cusack* (Mrs Opalsen) and Hermione Norris (Celestine) stand out.

*The Cusack family is an interesting one in the Poirot universe. Sorcha appeared in this episode, Niamh Cusack in 'King of Clubs' and Sinead Cusack in Dead Man's Folly. That's quite extraordinary!

Episode-by-episode: Dead Man's Mirror

This episode was based on the short story 'Dead Man's Mirror', first published in 1932. It was adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz and directed by Brian Farnham.

Script versus short story
This short story is one of Christie's longer endeavours, so it would have to be somewhat reworked to fit in a 50 minute time slot. Luckily, Horowitz more or less succeeds in maintaining the important plot points and character details. He does, however, make several significant changes. First, there is no letter from Chevenix to Poirot (he's called Chevenix here, not Chevenix-Gore). Instead, the two meet at an auction where they both bid on the same mirror. Second, Satterthwaite is removed and Hastings and Japp are added (in keeping with other episode in which characters like Satterthwaite, Goby and Arons are present). Hastings tags along on interviews and gets to discover certain points like "the first gong" some of the guest thought they heard. Third, Hugo Trent makes furniture here (very much in Poirot's style) and is upset because he can't get the financial backing from Chevenix. Lake (John Lake in the adaptation) has become an architect who has persuaded Chevenix to invest in a development project. This also allows for Poirot to be involved in the case at an earlier stage, because Chevenix invites him down to find out if he is a victim of fraud. Eventually, this leads Poirot onto a red herring at Northgate Development, the deserted building Lake has used for his fraud (leads to a somewhat dramatic rescue scene!). Fourth, several characters are removed, including Colonel Bury, Mr. Forbes, Godfrey Burrows and the doctor. Fifth, Ruth's background, with the unknown mother, is more obvious here. Sixth, Chevenix is something of an eccentric art historian, and not a 'Sir', but his interest in family and family history is still present. Miss Lingard works for him as a research assistant - they are preparing a book for the Museum of Modern Art (an important addition, because a painting leads Poirot onto the murderer). Finally, the murderer used a champagne bottle rather than a paper bag to create the illusion of a shot - and she even tries to convince Vanda that she killed her husband by appealing to her superstitious nature. All in all, though, the adaptation is largely faithful and the end result is a dark episode of the series.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack

Farnham's direction is competent, with good use of the locations and the occult angle to the proceedings (Gunning's music similarly plays on this element). The house used as Chevenix's house is 'Marylands' in Surrey

Characters and actors
The most memorable guest actor here is Iain Cuthbertson (Gervase Chevenix), but Jeremy Northam (Hugo Trent) and Richard Lintern (John Lake) should be familiar to many. The latter would make another appearance in Mrs. McGinty's Dead.

Episode-by-episode: The Chocolate Box

This episode was based on the short story 'The Chocolate Box', first published in 1923. It was adapted for television by Douglas Watkinson and directed by Ken Grieve.

Script versus short story
The extraordinary thing about the short story on which this adaptation is based, is that it consists entirely of a monologue by Poirot, with certain comments from Hastings. It recounts a case Poirot conducted while he was a member of the Belgian police force - his failure. Douglas Watkinson's script is a wonderful attempt at bringing this story-within-a-story to life. Most importantly, he creates a completely different framing story that enables Poirot to be back at the scene of the crime, so to speak, in Brussels. In the adaptation, Hastings is replaced by Chief Inspector Japp, who has been appointed a Companion de la Branche d'Or of Belgium, one of the country's highest distinctions, for his services to the Belgian police force ever since the Abercombie forgery case (mentioned in Christie's novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles as the first time Japp and Poirot collaborated). Poirot accompanies him to Belgium, since his wife Emily (mentioned throughout the series, but she never appears) is unable to come. As a result, Poirot is back in his home country, which in itself is a joy to watch, but more importantly, that enables him to reacquaint himself with Claude Chantalier and Jean-Louis Ferraud, old friends who worked with him on the case. Poirot and Chantalier start discussing the case, and Poirot recounts the story to Japp as a 'disinterested party'. These changes are very sensible, and they bring the story vividly to life. Another important change is to expand the hints of a love interest between Poirot and Vergine Mesnard. For one thing, she doesn't end up in a convent. Instead, she marries Jean-Louis and has children, Henri and Hercule (a sign of her affection for him). But, more importantly, she gives Poirot his lapel pin! And he calls her by her first name, Virginie - the only woman (except Ariadne Oliver and several kitchen maids) who has this 'honour'. Watkinson also makes certain small changes, like replacing the English character John Wilson with a French one, Gaston Beaujeu, and not letting Poirot disguise himself as a plumber, but all in all, this is a faithful and emotional retelling of the short story, one of the best entries in the series.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack

Ken Grieve's direction for this episode is absolutely great. He makes excellent use of the locations, and conducts some neat transitions between the time periods (1930s and 1900s). For instance, the camera follows a bus driving past the Deroulard household, which is replaced by horse driven carriages to convey the shift from present to past. Several similar examples occur throughout the episode. The locations and the sets are beautiful to look at, and it's so nice that they make the most of the 'foreign' location. Antwerp Station (not in Brussels, obviously), was used as Gare de Bruxelles. Gunning's soundtrack for this episode is particularly memorable, with a lovely love theme for Virginie and Poirot.

Characters and actors
David Suchet does such a brilliant job in this one. Seamlessly, he manages to portray both the young and energetic Poirot and the middle-aged Poirot. The hair piece and the somewhat more natural hair colour contribute to the effect, of course, but it's his acting, particularly in that end scene where he is reunited with Virginie, that he really lets his experience (and Poirot's melancholy) set in. The way he gently touches the vase is such a nice touch. All the guest actors in this adaptation do a brilliant job, too, with Anna Chancellor (Virginie Mesnard) and Rosalie Crutchley (Madame Deroulard) as the real standouts.

Episode-by-episode: The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman

This episode was based on the short story 'The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman', first published in 1923. It was adapted for television by Clive Exton and directed by Brian Farnham.

Script versus short story

Exton's script is largely faithful to the source material, but he makes several additions and some changes. That's not surprising, considering that the short story is shorter than most. First, he adds a subplot in which Hastings is considering buying an Italian race car from two Italians, Mr. Vizzini and Miss Fabbri. This provides some comic relief and character development (Hastings and cars), and a rather brilliant wedding scene (The Godfather style). It also ties in with Signor Ascanio, since Vizzini is the one who has been a victim of blackmail. Second, Exton adds a subplot concerning Miss Lemon. She is seeing Mr. Graves, Count Foscatini's man servant (he pretends to be a private secretary). Slightly out of character (both Christie version and the TV version), but certainly an amusing addition - and a nice way to incorporate Miss Lemon. It also provides an important clue (Graves has a boat in Chichester called 'Fantasia Felice'). Third, Japp replaces the unknown local inspector. A sensible change, in light of his position in the series by now. Fourth, a subplot on the Italian government is added (Graves tells Poirot that the papers are a matter of national security), including a scene at the Italian embassy and a somewhat unbelievable embassy secretary (would he really reveal everything to Poirot?). Finally, there's an added chase scene (as always!) - the most obvious time filler I've seen so far in the series. All in all, though, this is an entertaining adaptation, and if you accept the changes, it remains faithful to the plot essentials.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Farnham's direction is competent, and he makes good use of the locations and sets. The production design, particularly in that wedding scene, is extraordinary. Locations include Avis Rent-a-Car, 8 Balderton Street in London (the garage), the roof garden in Kensington High Street (the wedding), Addisland Court (Count Foscatini's flat - also used as Carlotta Adams's flat in Lord Edgware Dies), Jenkins Hotel (where Ascanio is staying), Bosham, West Sussex (used as Chichester). Gunning's soundtrack is particularly nice, with several Italian undertones. Sadly, it has not been released.

Characters and actors
As I've already mentioned, there is character development for both Hastings and Miss Lemon in this episode, and it's quite nicely done, too. I even like the joke about the cats at the end. The guest actors all do a decent job, but the two 'Italians', Vizzini (David Neal) and Fabbri (Anna Mazzotti) are the ones I remember.

Sunday 21 July 2013

Fire at Florin Court (Whitehaven Mansions)

UPDATE 22/7/13: Here's media coverage from The Guardian and the Evening Standard.

According to Charterhouse Square (@CharterhouseSq) on Twitter, there has been a massive fire at Florin Court, a.k.a. Whitehaven Mansions, last night. The above images taken from Wikipedia and Twitter respectively (linked to their sources) show the damage. Hopefully no one was hurt. Also, fingers crossed that the damage can be repaired and the building restored. Below is David Suchet's repsonse to the event:

Friday 19 July 2013

Episode-by-episode: The Case of the Missing Will

This episode was based on the short story 'The Case of the Missing Will', first published in 1923. It was adapted for television by Douglas Watkinson and directed by John Bruce.

Script versus short story
To say that this is an adaptation of a Christie story is to stretch the meaning of that term particularly far out. In fact, there is almost no point in recounting the changes made to the story, because, essentially, the only elements kept are 1) a missing second will, 2) the names of the central characters, 3) the education / women plot point. There's no old farm, no quick-witted uncle, no search for a cleverly hidden will. Indeed, anyone claiming that this series never used to take liberties with the source material in its "golden years" should have a closer look at this episode. However, I personally think this works as an hour of television entertainment and as period drama. The extravagantly staged Cambridge Student Union debate on women and higher education is just one example of how Watkinson creates a very distinct 1930s university atmosphere. Also, the whole idea of different versions of a will, with several possible heirs and suspects, is very Christie-esque. Even the murder method, poison, seems as if it was taken straight out of a Christie tale. All in all, then, I'm not as outraged by this episode as I'm sure some purists would be. Poirot is his usual self, so is Hastings, Japp and Miss Lemon. It's also nice to have Poirot as a long-term friend of Andrew Marsh, a clever reference to Poirot's many friends and acquaintances, many whose deaths he will have to investigate in later years. Of course, one might easily object that there is a perfectly acceptable Christie story that could have been used, but I very much doubt that the somewhat slight plot of the original could have been expanded into more than fifty minutes of television. For that reason, I'm inclined to support Watkinson's (and probably the producer's) decision to create something entirely different. Especially since it generally seems to work.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack

Bruce's direction is competent, and he manages to bring out the university setting to a tee. The production design of this particular episode is really extraordinary - they manage to convince viewers that we are really seeing 1930s Cambridge. Locations used include St. John's College, Cambridge. Gunning's score is sufficiently evocative of the setting, too.

Characters and actors
As already mentioned, the main characters do seem at home in Watkinson's more or less original plot, and that's a big relief. Of the guest performances, no one except Beth Goddard (Violet) really has time to excel. As a curious coincidence, Goddard re-appears later in the series' run as a completely different character in another Christie story that is almost completely reworked, i.e. Appointment With Death.

Episode-by-episode: The Yellow Iris

This episode was based on the short story 'Yellow Iris', first published in 1937. It was adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz and directed by Peter Barber-Fleming.

Script versus short story
Christie's original story is particularly short, and it is certainly a testament to Horowitz's skill that his considerable additions and changes largely do seem to work. Most importantly, perhaps, he adds an entire back story of a coup d'etat during a general strike in Buenos Aires, witnessed by Poirot and the other dinner guests (Poirot is almost faced by a gun squad at one point!). This seems to be inspired by the real-life 1930s events in the country. He then goes on to link this back story to the one in the original short story, concerned with Barton Russel's speculative investments together with Stephen Carter (in the adaptation, they engage in some shady business dealings with the Argentinean military on oil fields). Also, as I have already implied, Poirot is present at both dinner parties in two near-identical Jardin de Cygnes restaurants (one in Buenos Aires, one in London). Horowitz also adds a section of the story set shortly before the second dinner, in which Poirot interviews all the dinner guests. Some other less significant changes are made, too, like expanding the potential love affair between Lola Valdez and Barton, and adding a scene in which Hastings visits the Wetherby solicitor in Reepham. Finally, and rather cleverly, Horowitz adds a denouement in which Pauline dresses up as a waitress after her "death" and serves the other guests coffee while they listen to Poirot. That is a nice way to make the "one never looks at a servant" clue somewhat more believable, since all the "suspects" are easily misled. All in all, then, I'm inclined to say that Horowitz's adaptation is a success, even if his choice to include a South American visit for Poirot does seem like an out-of-character thing for him to do.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack

Barber-Fleming's direction is highly effective, particularly in those flashback scenes to Buenos Aires. The production design here is certainly impressive, with sets ranging from abandoned hotels to cabaret theatres in London. The episode was presumably shot largely on location in Spain (together with 'The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb'), with most interior scenes shot at Twickenham Film Studios. Gunning's soundtrack is highly effective for the episode, but it has sadly not been released. Particularly memorable is the song, 'I've Forgotten You', based on Christie's lyrics (it was presumably orchestrated by Neil Richardson (who did most of the orchestrations for the first six series).

Characters and actors
Hastings and Miss Lemon are added to the story, admittedly in very minor appearances, but their presence does actually work quite well. Of the guest actors, no one really stands out, but Geraldine Sommerville (known to many as Harry Potter's mother) is memorable as a "murder victim" / motive.

Tuesday 16 July 2013

Episode-by-episode: The Underdog

This episode was based on the short story 'The Underdog', first published in 1926. The story was adapted for television by Bill Craig (in his only 'Poirot' outing) and directed by John Bruce.

Script versus short story
Considering that this is one of Christie's longer short stories, and that it was not adapted by one of the regulars, this adaptation is quite faitful to its source material. Of course, there are several important changes nonetheless. Craig's main change is to intorduce a different subplot and motive for the crime. For one, Trefusis has become a chief chemist at a factory run by the Astwell brothers, and there is an entire subplot revolving around the development of a special type of rubber, astropene. Moreover, Craig has added several references to the coming war (seeing as the adaptation has been transported to - you guessed it - 1936); there's the militarisation of the Rheinland and the potential involvement of Astwell's firm with the German government (much resented by the other Astwell brother, providing him with a potential motive for murder). In fact, Trefusis apparently speaks German fluently, thus providing a further reason to suspect him for the murder. Also, Lily and her brother are still trying to get revenge, but here the motive for that revenge is the fact that Naylor is a scientist who originally developed the astropene. In other words, the main plot is concerned with this newly patented invention, its origins (Naylor) and potential buyers (Germany).

Apart from the actual backstory, the original text is also edited and changed in different ways. First, Hastings knows Astwell's nephew and so is invited to play golf at a local golf tournament (with Poirot as his guest - who only accepts the offer because Astwell has a magnificent collection of Belgian miniature bronzes (!)). Second, Poirot and Hastings are present at the fatal dinner party (in fact, all the scenes that are retold after the murder in the short story are here dramatised in "real time". Third, George, Poirot's valet is deleted (because he hadn't been introduced yet as a regular character). Instead, Miss Lemon is added. She even gets to replace the Harley Street doctor, because she apparently has a keen interest in hypnosis (which ties in quite well with the other character traits they have given her over the years; astrology, spiritualism, mythology etc. In the end, tough, the adaptation is a more or less faithful retelling of the story. All the essential clues, suspects and actions are kept intact, and the additions generally seem to compliment the story.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack

Director John Bruce competently conveys the right atmosphere for the episode, with particular attention to the many great features of the Astwell house. The locations used include the Royal Albert Hall and the Imperial College of Science and Technology. Sadly, I haven't been able to track down the house used. Gunning's soundtrack suits the episode well. Gunning's soundtrack works well for the episode, but it isn't particularly memorable.

Characters and actors
As always, it's nice to see small references to Poirot's character, like his love of the miniature bronzes, and, more importantly, his comment that he 'experienced the last one (war) first hand'. Hastings, of course, gets to display his golf skills again, and as mentioned Miss Lemon develops further too. Of the guest actors, Denis Lill (Reuben Astwell) is particularly memorable as the unlikable murder victim.

Episode-by-episode: The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb

We've now come to the Series Five, the final series of short stories (apart from The Labours of Hercules, which will be included in Series Thirteen). This series opener was based on the short story 'The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb', first published in 1923. The story was adapted for television by Clive Exton and directed by Peter Barber-Fleming.

Script versus short story
Exton stays largely faithful to the short story, with certain expansions, additions and changes. First, there's the inclusion of newsreel footage (by now a near constant in these adaptations) from the opening of the tomb, the opening of the tomb itself and the death of Sir Willard (he dies almost instantaneously after the opening here, suggesting the supernatural theories more clearly). Second, there's the fact that Hastings visits Bleibner's nephew in New York (Hastings has apparently been on a holiday / business trip to California). He sails back on the Queen Mary, a nice reference to 'The Million Dollar Bond Robbery'. Third, Lady Willard's consultation is split in two, one before the deaths of the other expedition members and one after these. Fourth, Miss Lemon is added (and she's interested in both tarot cards and seances (a reference to Peril at End House), apparently because her cat called Catherine the Great has recently died (!)). Fifth, the rivalry between the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum is somewhat expanded. Sixth, Dr. Ames doesn't commit suicide but instead attempts to make a run for it (yes, I know, that seems to be a constant fixture in Exton's adaptations, probably to add some more excitement or something...). Finally, Exton adds a sensible explanation of Rupert Bleibner's will to the denouement, and Miss Lemon gets a cat from King Men-he-Rah's tomb. All the changes make more or less sense, and the end result is good.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Barber-Fleming's direction emphasises the Egyptian theme with several close-ups of sarcophagus masks and mythological objects. It works reasonably well, and underlines the location nicely. The scenes in 'Egypt' were probably shot on location in Spain. The soundtrack for the episode is not included on any of Gunning's releases, but bits of it seem to be taken from the score of 'The Affair at the Victory Ball', which has been released.

Actors and characters

It's nice to see the continued expansion of Miss Lemon's character (even if its far away from the character that Christie wrote!). Also, I was delighted to notice that Poirot's clothes' brush (mentioned in the short story) is actually seen on screen for a few brief seconds - and that Poirot's obvious discomfort of being in a desert is underlined (like in later episodes set in the Middle East). As to guest actors, there are no stand outs really, but they all portray their characters accurately.

Saturday 13 July 2013

Episode-by-episode: One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

We've now come to the final episode of Series Four and the fifth feature-length adaptation of the series so far. This adaptation was based on the novel One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, first published in 1940. It was adapted for television by Clive Exton and directed by Ross Devenish (who also did The Mysterious Affair at Styles).

Script versus novel
Exton's script stays impressively close to the source material, as has become the norm by this point, but he makes some understandable changes. The setting is obviously moved from 1940 to the mid-30s (August 1937 to be exact), but the novel never explicitly states the year, so that's not really a change. He adds an opening sequence set twelve years earlier in India (including scenes with Blunt, Gerda and Sainsbury Seale, and a theatre production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing (Sainsbury Seale mentions in the novel that she was part of a production of Shakespeare's As You Like It, so this addition seems very sensible - and it's a good example of Exton's faithfulness to Christie's written word). The other dentist, Mr. Reilly, and his patients, are removed (they were nothing more than red herrings anyway, so it's an acceptable way of shortening the storyline). The entire Secret Service / Mr. Barnes / Mr. Chapman subplot is wisely removed (that seemed way too unbelievable). Poirot's valet George is obviously removed (he hadn't been introduced by this point in the series' chronology), and so is Mrs. Chapman's neighbour Mrs. Merton (in accordance with the deletion of the spy subplot). There's an added scene with a different Mr. and Mrs. Chapman, which actually provides Poirot with the idea for a clue (marriage certificates - we see him visit Somerset House afterwards). The attempts at Blunt's life are sensibly removed (again, unnecessary since the whole spy plot is removed). Helen/Gerda becomes Blunt's secretary rather than cousin (a sensible change) and she is the one who 'catches' Frank in the garden with the gun, since Mr. Raikes and his link to Miss Olivera has been removed. Finally, Mrs. Adams, a friend of the real Miss Sainsbury Seale is removed (she was unnecessary anyway). There are also some minor changes and obviously some parts of dialogue are shortened down or deleted, but mainly, the plot is kept intact and the adaptation is faithful to its source material. (P.S. I just want to point out that Exton manages to keep Poirot's denouement almost intact, word by word. That is quite an achievement.)

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Devenish's direction is competent, and he does a decent job of trying to bring out the nursery rhyme connection in the opening scenes outside Morley's office, together with Gunning's soundtrack (which can be found on the CD). The production design is as good as always (notice the homage to artist Tamara de Lempicka in the painting in the board room), and the locations work well. They include Lichfield Court, Richmond, Surrey, 'Shrubs Wood' in Chalfont St. Giles (Blunt's country house - previously seen as Mr. Hardman's house in 'The Double Clue'), and a building in Harley Street.
Actors and characters
There's some nice characterisation bits here, including Poirot's continued fear of dentist visits (as seen in several previous episodes) and Japp doing his garden in Isleworth. As to the guest actors, Joanna Phillips-Lane (Gerda / Helen / "Sainsbury Seale") obviously stands out, almost managing to pull off an extremely difficult bluff for first-time viewers. And, of course, it's nice to see Christopher Eccleston (Frank Carter) of Doctor Who fame.

Friday 12 July 2013

Episode-by-episode: Death in the Clouds

The second episode of Series Four was an adaptation of Death in the Clouds, first published in 1935. The novel was adapted for television by William Humble and directed by Stephen Whittaker.

Script versus novel

Humble reworks, transforms, edits and omits several passages from the novel. In fact, apart from the basic plot, most of the surrounding material is changed. I'll try to go through the changes one by one. First, Humble adds a series of scenes before the actual plane journey, set in Paris. These include a scene where Jane Grey and Poirot meet outside the Sacre Coeur, a scene at the hotel in which Poirot overhears a conversation between Lady Horbury and her maid, an entire tennis tournament (with Fred Perry, who was referred to in previous episodes like The Veiled Lady and Peril at End House) at Roland Garros attended by all the suspects and Poirot, several scenes that embellish the back stories of Lady Horbury, Venetia Kerr and Lord Horbury (who is present in Paris in the adaptation), a scene in which Poirot and Jane Grey visit a modern art gallery, and a scene in which Poirot observes Lady Horbury and Madame Giselle. These added scenes make complete sense, and some of them are referred to (but not outlined in detail) in the novel. The tennis match (in keeping with the producer's wish to include real-life events) is a nice substitute for the novel's casinoes in Le Pinet.

Second, several characters are omitted, including Mr. Dupont sr. (Jean Dupont, his son, briefly explains that his father died some years before and that he is planning a new archaeological expedition), Mr. Ryder, Dr. Bryant and Giselle's concierge George. The three passengers are hardly missed, since Jean Dupont takes on some of his father's characteristics; Poirot, Norman Gale and the police take over the doctor's role; and Mr. Ryder is essentially just a red herring in the novel. The concierge character is so minor that his lines are easily linked to the maid/companion Elise instead.

Third, several of the remaining characters are somewhat changed. Jane Grey, who works as a hairdresser in London in the novel, becomes one of the two stewards (replacing the youngest steward) - a very sensible change, since it enables her to have a more active role in Poirot's later investigations. Also, Poirot does not attempt to match her with Jean Dupont as he does in the novel. Inspector Fournier, whose role is significantly reduced by the increased presence of Japp (who travels to Paris to investigate with Poirot), is portrayed as a somewhat more annoying police inspector than in the novel (at least in Japp's eyes), providing some gentle comic relief. Lord Horbury has a greater presence in the adaptation, too. He is present in Paris and consults Poirot in London to explain that his wife isn't a murderer. His affair with Venetia Kerr (hinted at in the novel) is somewhat more obvious here. Also, Daniel Clancy is more eccentric in the adaptation, as he has conversations with his detective (sort of reminiscent of Ariadne Oliver in later episodes). Generally speaking, these character changes do not distract from the storyline. In fact, they seem to enhance it in some of these instances.

Fourth, several passages are completely or partially deleted. Most importantly, the interviews with the various suspects are shortened down, and quite a lot of the discussion between the three investigators on the case (Poirot, Japp and Fournier), as well as Poirot's lists and reflections, are reduced. Chapters that are cut out include 'The Inquest', 'After the Inquest', 'Consultation' (but some of Madame Giselle's background is explained by Lady Horbury to Poirot), 'Probabilities' (Poirot's overview - but he checks them with the experiments on the plane), 'The List' (but the most important luggage, that of Norman Gale, is shown on screen as Japp examines it), 'The Little Black Book' (in fact, the entire issue of who could have been Giselle's "victims"), 'The American' (only parts of it are kept), 'At Antoine's' (not needed since Jane has become a stewardess), 'Plan of Campaign', 'At Muswell', 'In Queen Victoria Street' (the character has been deleted), 'Enter and Exit Mr. Robinson (Gale instead disguises as a journalist in Paris on Poirot's request), 'In Harley Street' (the character has been deleted), 'The Three Clues' and 'Jane Takes A New Job'. In sum, though, the deleted scenes aren't really that missed, unless you know the story by heart. I'm sure the main reason they were deleted was time constraints.

Apart from the changes and additions outlined above, the adaptation stays fairly close to the original novel, keeping large sections of dialogue in the process. Subjectively speaking, I don't think it's a bad adaptation. In fact, I think it proves the point that a word-by-word adaptation isn't always the only acceptable solution - despite being significantly reworked, the adaptation still retains much of the spirit of its source material, and its changes make sense.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Stephen Withttaker makes great use of the Paris locations. The opening sequence wonderfully sets the tone, with Poirot walking up the stairs to Sacre Ceur, and there are some lovely shots of the plane crossing the Channel. My only objection, perhaps, is that we get a few too many shots of the Eiffel Tower. I mean, we get the point, you are filming in Paris. There's no need to show us the landmark every other minute. (But that's a minor quibble, really). The production design is outstanding, and the recreation of 1930s aviation is impressive. The locations used for the episode include Palais de Tokyo, 13 Avenue President Wilson (the modern art gallery), Theatre des Champes-Elysees, 15 Avenue Montaigne (the hotel), Palais de la Porte Doree, 293 Avenue Dausmesnill (the town hall), Le Bourget Airport (the central 1930s section of the building), Shoreham Airport (Croydon Airport), "La Palette" cafe, 43 Rue de Seine (the meeting between Poirot and Lady Horbury). Cimetiere de Passy (the police station). Gunning's soundtrack was released on his first Poirot CD, but it is not included on the re-release. Thankfully, it's on YouTube.

Actors and characters
There's a lot of Poirot characteristics in this one. Notice, for instance, the collection of walking sticks and leather suitcases that he brings with him on the plane (they will all be seen in later episodes, even up to the most recent ones - an impressive sense of continuity in his wardrobe). Then, of course, there's his airsickness (delightful comedy acting from Suchet), his initial interest in Daniel Clancy's detective fiction (which will culminate in his magnum opus in Third Girl) and his gentle behaviour when talking to women in distress or out of touch with the setting they're in (like Jane Grey). Also, Japp gets some delightful scenes as he becomes a fish out of water in Paris (Christie never brought Japp abroad, but he goes abroad twice in the series, to Paris and Brussels (The Chocolate Box) - and possibly again for the upcoming adaptation of The Big Four.

Of the guest actors, all manage to flesh out their characters in various ways. Of course, the two 'deputy investigators' Sarah Woodward (Jane Grey) and Shaun Scott (Norman Gale) do a nice job, but I'm actually quite intrigued by Cathryn Harrison (Lady Horbury), who gets to develop from an initial borderline stereotype to a somewhat more likable and fully fleshed character during the course of the investigation.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Episode-by-episode: The ABC Murders

Series Four consisted exclusively of adaptations of novels. The first of these episodes was The ABC Murders, based on the noel that was first published in 1936. It was adapted for television by Clive Exton and directed by Andrew Grieve.

Script versus novel
David Suchet has frequently stated that this is his favourite Poirot novel and possibly favourite adaptation, too. Having re-read the novel and compared it to the adaptation, I'm not surprised that the two are one and the same (favourite novel and favourite adaptation). Put simply, Exton's script is an admirable attempt at adapting a complex novel, with its mixture of first person and third person narratives, psychologically driven plot and challenging main characters. Obviously, some things have been cut, but that is more a result of time constraints than anything else. Still, the fact that these early feature-length adaptations had the luxury of over 100 minutes' runtime is quite evident. Some of the later adaptations would have almost fifteen minutes less to develop the plots and the characters, which would result in quite significant changes to the novels. Now, to list the most important changes: First, any references to Poirot's retirement, to just having moved in to Whitehaven Mansions and to Hastings's farm are obviously removed (since the series hadn't come that far in chronology terms yet). Instead, Hastings has supposedly been on a holiday for six months (in 1936 - which is such a big continuity error I won't even begin to explain it). Second, Exton has added a running joke concerning a cayman Hastings caught on his trip to the Amazon. Quite unnecessary, but it does sort of work, so I won't complain. Third, quite a few scenes are cut. These include the interviews with witnesses in Andover (in the neighbourhood) and Doncaster (in the cinema) and all the 'conference' chapters (although some of the discussions survive as dialogues between Hastings, Japp and Poirot). Still, these deleted scenes aren't sorely missed, which means that Exton probably made the right decision. Fourth, some minor characters are deleted, such as the Assistant Commissioner, dr. Thompson and Inspector Crome (whose lines are given to Japp instead), Miss Highley and the maid Lily and her boyfriend. This decision makes complete sense, since the conferences have already been removed and since the other minor characters serve no real purpose in the plot. Fifth, there's the ever-present chase scene as the culprit tries to escape (these are getting a bit tedious by now - luckily they almost disappear in later episodes). All in all, then, this is a near-perfect adaptation of one of Christie's best novels.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Andrew Grieve's direction is a joy to watch. He plays up the pace and speed of the investigation with several shots of moving trains, of newspaper reels, of the race course in Doncaster and similar moving objects. The opening scene is particularly well done, with a continuous shot that moves from a close-up of a row of ABC railway guides, to Poirot's walking stick adjusting these on the news stand, to his spats and then to his shadow emerging from the train smoke. Also, he makes use of sudden close-ups of letters representing the letter of that particular murder, e.g. the 'A' in the 'A. Ascher' sign and the 'B' in 'stawberry blonde'. Finally, there's a particularly well executed scene between Cust and Poirot in the prison, as they sit 'face to face' (a phrase used repeatedly by Hastings to describe the scene in the book). David Suchet discusses this scene in the Poirot & Me documentary.

The production design for this episode is equally impressive, with extravagant sets and beautifully dressed locations. These locations include Windsor Street in Uxbridge, Middlesex (used as the location of A. Ascher in Andover), the old Regal cinema in High Street, Uxbridge, Middlesex (used as the cinema in Doncaster), 'The Globe', London Bridge (used as the 'The Globe' that Cust stays at in Doncaster), the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex (wonderful building), the Royal Victoria Hotel and St. Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex (the hotel that Hastings and Poirot stay in).

The soundtrack for the episode is very memorable and wonderfully executed by Christopher Gunning. It's available on CD. In fact, the score makes use of the notes A, B, and C as its basis, and the announcement of each murder is accompanied by its note - A, B or C!

Actors and characters
The award for best actor in this one really has to go to Donald Sumpter (recently known to many as Maester Luwin in HBO's Game of Thrones!) who plays Alexander Bonaparte Cust. This is arguably one of Christie's most complex characters, and Sumpter makes it all look so easy, brilliantly balancing the war trauma, the epilepsy, the shyness, and the creepiness. What a performance!

Sunday 7 July 2013

Florin Court - Poirot's 'Whitehaven Mansions'

Whitehaven Mansions, Poirot’s Mayfair home, is lovingly recreated for the television series, both in the first couple of series and in later years. I have previously written about the similarities between Christie’s descriptions of the flat and the sets theyhave used for the series, and on the similarities between the two sets used for the flat. This time, I thought I might write something on how the production team decided to use 'Florin Court' in Charterhouse Square as the location for the exterior shots of the building. My main sources include Peter Haining’s excellent book on the series, the behind-the-scenes documentary Super Sleuths and an interview with the current production designer, Jeff Tessler, in Flat Living Magazine.

Florin Court
First some information on the fantastic building itself. The ten-storey block of flats was built in 1935-37 (almost the exact scope of the television series chronology) for Charterhouse Ltd by architects Guy Morgan & Partners and builders J. Gerrard & Sons. The building cost was apparently about £47,000 at the time. In 1988, the block was refurbished and modernised for Regalian Properties at a cost of about £2 million by architects Hildebrand & Glicker. That was when the building acquired its current name, Florin Court. More importantly, however, this was also exactly when the first series of Poirot started shooting. You can read more on the history of the building over at this website. A blog, thelondonphile, has some excellent photos of the current exterior and interior.

Finding Poirot’s home
In Peter Haining’s book, the first producer Brian Eastman explains what the process of finding the location of Poirot’s flat was like:
‘Actually there are lots of Thirties buildings in London (…) And once we decided to make modern-Thirties architecture a feature of the stories, we set out to compile a list of all the buildings from that era that were available within a striking distance of central London. Since then we’ve woven a lot of them into the films. We had two or three places that we could have uses as Poirot’s apartment – but there were several reasons that finally made us decide on Florin Court. In the books Poirot is described as living in ‘a Mayfair square’. But the interesting thing about Charterhouse is that nobody ever thinks it is in the city of London – Although you can believe it looks like Mayfair – which is what makes it unusual. We were also lucky that the property developers who had recently bought Florin Court had just completely refurbished it, putting the exterior back to its original pristine condition. So from the photographic point of view we had this lovely element of a clean, new building set between two nineteenth-century properties. So right from the opening shot we were establishing the point of the series’ (p. 42-43)
When the team discovered the newly refurbished and restored 30s building of Florin Court, they had found their location:
‘It was just what we wanted (…) And the developers agreed to let us film the building almost before they had let any of the apartments at all. So we got permission to close off the whole area for one weekend and set up our cameras. We shot continuously for a seventy-two-hour period – all through one day, then through the night, and all the next day. We knew it was important to do this because we would never be able to come back and find everything the same. Obviously once the apartments were let there would be different sorts of curtains hanging at the windows. Things like that would change all the time and it would be impossible for us the match up everything. So we filmed Florin Court from every angle and in every kind of light and darkness. We were not shooting material specifically for the first series, but to build up a library of general footage that we could weave into the stories at any time we wanted (p. 43)
In other words, the production team were extraordinarily lucky. At the exact same time as filming was to commence, they had found a building that was beautifully restored, empty of occupants and available for filming for an entire weekend, so that they could create a library of footage. In later years, they did come back to film more footage, but then mainly in front of the entrance on the ground floor, because it was almost impossible to get the period look once the flats were occupied. In fact, the shots they saved up during that one weekend in 1988 were used right up to Series Six (1995-1996). Some more footage was shot for the return of the series in 1999 (e.g. the dialogue between Japp and Poirot in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd), and then some new shots were taken in 2005 (by the new production team, to go with the new flat), but essentially the same shots were used throughout the earlier episodes.

The current production designer, Jeff Tessler (who designed Poirot’s current flat), praises the decision to go for Florin Court. In an interview with Flat Living Magazine, he explained:
‘There are very few blocks in London that would provide the Art Deco image that was required. Florin Court has an excellent central location, and, other than changing the name of the building to Whitehaven Mansions, not much needed to be done’ (Flat Living Magazine)
Tessler also explains what the process of filming is like, now that the flats are occupied:
‘We always do all we can to minimise disruption. Even a short scene can take many hours, so we have to ensure that people do not wait more than a few minutes to enter or exit the building. The biggest difficulty we have is closing off the street. Most councils have a Film Commission Office, and we get permission from them. It still takes a lot of organisation once permission has been granted. All parked cars need removing, and other anachronisms such as yellow lines and parking bays need disguising (...) We try to get a large number of different shots when we do have access to the site. We will shoot Poirot arriving and leaving a number of times, and in a variety of vehicles. We also have a large number of exterior shots of Florin Court on file. With all of these available it might not be necessary to film there for two or three years' (Flat Living Magazine)
The team returned for the final and current series of Poirot, and the most recent episode, Elephants Can Remember, has some very nice location shots at Florin Court – the most exposure the building has had since that weekend in 1988. Both the screen caps that accompany this post are from that episode. Hopefully we are in for a few more glimpses in the episodes to come.

Saturday 6 July 2013

Episode-by-episode: The Mystery of Hunter's Lodge

This episode was based on the short story 'The Mystery of Hunter's Lodge', first published in 1923. It was adapted for television by T. R. Bowen (who, incidentally, wrote the screenplay for several of the Joan Hickson Miss Marple episodes) with Clive Exton as script consultant, and was directed by Renny Rye.

Script versus short story
The adaptation stays largely faithful to its source text, with some notable additions. The main change concerns Poirot and Hastings, who in this version attend the shoot at Hunter's Lodge (Hastings is a friend of Roger Havering, it seems, and Poirot is looking forward to a delicious meal at the local hotel/B&B). Like in the original short story, he is bedridden with a cold (or "a deadly fever" as he calls it). Several other suspects are added to the plot, including a nephew of Pace, Archie, who is a school teacher with a strong dislike of his uncle, and a half-brother of Pace, the gamekeeper, who wants to marry one of the maids at the Lodge but is unable to because Pace denies him money. Also, the actual murder plot is significantly expanded. The bearded man is seen leaving the train at a nearby train station, and stealing the station master's bicycle, and Roger Havering's alibi in London concerns gambling debts (mentioned briefly in the short story). In sum, though, the episode is largely faithful to the source material, and the added suspects and expanded denouement points make complete sense.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Rye's directing is competent, and he makes good use of the moor location. The house used as 'Hunter's Lodge' is in reality Casterne Hall in Derbyshire. The soundtrack works well for the episode.

Actors and characters
It's nice to see Poirot's interest in food referred to again. As are the references to his hypochondria, his dislike of the countryside and his grumpiness when tired and cold (again, proof that his temper in Murder on the Orient Express wasn't a one-off). Of the guest actors, there are no real standouts. Diana Kent (Zoe Havering) is good, but she doesn't quite convince in the disguise as Mrs. Middleton (but, of course, such disguises are always difficult to pull off on screen anyway).

Episode-by-episode: The Affair at the Victory Ball

This episode was based on the short story 'The Affair at the Victory Ball', first published in 1923 in The Sketch. The story was adapted for television by Andrew Marshall and directed by Renny Rye.

Script versus short story

The adaptation is more or less faithful to its source material, with some noticeable additions and changes. First, there's an introductory voice-over by Poirot on the characters of the Commedia del'Arte (in fact, there are repeated references to the different characters - a very useful and important explanation for viewers). Second, the actors here become BBC Radio actors, and an added radio producer becomes a friend of Hastings's. Third, Poirot and Hastings are both present at the Victory Ball, on the invitation of this friend. Fourth, there's an added interview with Davidson (and Davidson's character is a much more prominent character throughout). Finally, the denouement is moved to the radio studio, and the solution is changed somewhat (Davidson tried to implicate his wife, Poirot reveals him by the fact that he is left handed and Lord Cronshaw was right handed). All in all, though, the adaptation is a faithful retelling of the short story.

(I must admit, though, that the victory celebration seems somewhat out of place. It was perhaps somewhat more appropriate in the original short story, which was set shortly after the First World War.)

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack

Rye's direction works well for the episode, with excellent use of the extravagant ball scenes (the production designers and costume designers must have had a lot of fun with that one). Locations used include, of course, the Broadcasting House in London. The soundtrack is very effective, and Gunning released it on CD. Parts of it were also used for later episode scores (see, for instance, The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb).

Actors and characters

Of the guest actors, there are no real standouts, but Nathaniel Parker (of later Inspector Lynley fame) is obviously a name to note.

Thursday 4 July 2013

Episode-by-episode: The Theft of the Royal Ruby

This episode was based on the short story 'The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding', first published in 1923 but later expanded into a longer version. It was adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz, with Clive Exton as a script consultant, and directed by Andrew Grieve.

Script versus short story
Again, the adaptors were faced with the challenge of adapting one of Christie's longer short stories for the 50 minute format. And yet again, Horowitz (with Exton) does an excellent job. This adaptation really is impressively faithful to its source material. There are, however, several minor changes, and I will try to outline them all. First, there's a nice little scene with Poirot at a chololatier, preparing for a quiet and warm Christmas on his own (Hastings is in Scotland, Miss Lemon at an aunt's in Torquay - notice the little Christie reference there). Second, Poirot is understandably much more upset and annoyed by the prince (who here becomes the historical character of Prince Farouk of Egypt) throughout the episode. In fact, the prince actually stays at a local pub near the Lacey's to keep an eye on the proceedings, much to Poirot's despair. Third, Colonel Lacey has become an Egyptologist and a friend of the prince's father in this one - and, in fact, one of the few people who knew about the ruby. Moreover, David Welvyn, the family friend, also becomes an antique dealer (or something of the sort), who is asked by Lacey to pick out an object from his collection for sale (Lacey having lost a lot of money on stock speculation). These changes make a lot of sense. In fact, they iron out one of the peculiarities of the story; why Kings Lacey would be the key to the story in the first place. Fourth, there's a small scene added in which Poirot shows the other guests how to cut a mango (an addition, according to Peter Haining's book on the series (p. 72), that came from a dinner David Suchet attended as a guest of the Queen and Prince Philip. The Duke taught him the trick, and Suchet asked the scriptwriters to include it!). Finally, there are some minor changes, including changing Edwina Morecombe into Edwina Jesmond, the wife of Mr. Jesmond; the maid Annie overhearing the conversation in the church rather than in the room; Poirot overhearing the 'murder plot' from his bedroom window instead of from the library; Desmond Lee-Worthley's sister not being hospitalised (and, in fact, Desmond being an altogether different character), Poirot seeing Desmond drugging the coffee, and of course the ever-present chase scene (this time to Elstree aerodrome). In sum, the episode works very well with only minor changes and additions.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Grieve's directing is competent and works well for the episode. The production design is nice, as always. Locations include 'Joldwynds' in Surrey (Kings Lacey, also used as Davenheim's house in The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim), Ye Olde Bell, Hurley, Berkshire (the guesthouse), the Royal Arcade (28 Old Bond St., London), The Adelphi building, the Strand (used as the Adelphi hotel), the Foreign Office and Whitehall. See here and here for location photos.The soundtrack works well. Notice that the theme from 'The Kidnapped Prime Minister' is used again here - I sense a government theme).

Actors and characters
Of the guest actors, standouts include Stephanie Cole and Frederick Treves (the Laceys).

Episode-by-episode: The Mystery of the Spanish Chest

This episode was based on the short story 'The Mystery of the Spanish Chest', which is an expanded version of the short story 'The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest', first published in 1932. It was adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz and directed by Andrew Grieve.

Script versus short story
This is one of Christie's longer short stories, and considering its length and somewhat complex structure, Horowitz's adaptation is impressively faithful to the source material. The episode opens with the duel mentioned in the short story, set about ten years before the rest of the story. We are then introduced to an opera, Verdi's Rigoletto, attended by Poirot and Hastings (a clever way to allude to the Othello references in the original short story). Horowitz's most significant change, perhaps, is to introduce Poirot to the case before the murder has been committed. Lady Chatterton, who in this version knows Poirot from a previous case, asks him to look into the relationship between Marguerite and Edward Clayton, because she fears that Edward Clayton might be plotting to kill his wife out of jealousy (not because Marguerite has requested his assistance in clearing Major Rich). Instead of inviting Poirot to her party to meet Marguerite, they both attend Major Rich's party, which has now been turned into a much larger cocktail party. This is a very sensible change, both because it puts Poirot at the scene of the crime and because it widens the potential scope of suspects a little. Also, the actual murder is even more brutal than in the source material. Here, Clayton is stabbed through the eye. Japp takes charge of the investigation for Scotland Yard, which enables Poirot to interview Major Rich (in prison), Commander McLaren (who becomes Colonel Curtiss in this version), Burgoyne the butler and Marguerite Clayton. The latter nearly commits suicide, because she has had an affair with Rich and fears he has killed her husband because she implied that she wanted him to (their relationship was apparently never sexual in the short story). Another change between source material and script is that Poirot has Marguerite Clayton arrested in an attempt to get the murderer to reveal himself. This leads to the inclusion of a tense scene at the gymnasium of Curtiss's club, in which Poirot has a very close call. For once, Miss Lemon is not introduced to the plot. Instead, she is away on holiday (providing for some amusing scenes at Whitehaven between Poirot and Hastings). There's also a nice little subplot on Poirot's lack of humbility, and the by now famous quote 'I am not a bloody little frog, I am a bloody little Belgian!'. All in all, then, Horowitz's adaptation is a joy to watch.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack

Grieve's directing is competent and well executed. There are some very nice shots, like the opening sequence in the gymnasium in a slightly sepia colour tone, the overview of Marguerite Clayton's bathroom overdose and several shots of the Spanish chest itself. As always, the production design is top-notch. I particularly like the layout of Major Rich's flat. Locations used for the episode include Lincoln's Inn, London, in which both the Clayton's house and Col. Curtiss's club is situated, I believe. The soundtrack is sufficient, but hardly as memorable as in some of the other episodes of the series.

Actors and characters
It's always nice to see different aspects of Poirot's character in these adaptations. Here we have the sociable cigarette-smoker, the vain (and far from humble) public persona, and the fussy borderline OCD individual (his tisane, the way he sleeps, the way he eats at the party etc). Also, it's nice to see the different social circles of Poirot and Japp highlighted. Japp, as a more working class/lower middle class policeman, is suspicious of gatherings such as Rich's party, while Poirot is thoroughly enjoying himself. Of the guest actors, John McEnery (Curtiss) stands out as a particularly cunning culprit.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Episode-by-episode: The Double Clue

(c) ITV
This episode was based on the short story 'The Double Clue', first published in The Sketch in 1923. It was adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz and directed by Andrew Piddington.

Script versus short story
Horowitz does an excellent job of bringing this short story to life. There are several important additions to the storyline, like Poirot's observations on marriage (a passage I feel sure comes from one of the Christie stories, but I can't remember which, if any), Japp's concern for his job, Poirot and Rossakoff's excursions to museums and parks, Hastings's and Miss Lemon's interviews with the other suspects (quite nicely done), their concern for Poirot (and themselves) in the face of change (aka Rossakoff), and the added red herring of a tramp seen at the scene of the crime. Horowitz also makes some clever changes to the two clues, making the gloves small (so that they can suit both men and women) and the engraved 'B.P.' represent both Bernard Parker (like in the story) and Lady Runcorn (whose maiden name, it is revealed, was Beatrice Palmeston). Of course, the love story is greatly expanded (as Poirot and Rossakoff are almost allowed to express their admiration for each other), but that certainly works, and, I would argue, is completely necessary to broaden Poirot's character profile a little. The denouement is also significantly changed to allow Rossakoff to escape (in the short story it's never explained how Poirot lets her off). However, for those who argue that this is an example of Poirot light-hartedly letting go of his principles (as oppose to the adaptation of MOTOE), I would just like to point out that Poirot has a rather significant exchange with Miss Lemon in one of the final scenes:
'I have from Inspector Japp the reports from the jewellery thefts. (silence) This work, Miss Lemon, it is not so straight-forward' (silence)
Also, there's the fact that he employs the private detectives Redfern & Blake (a nice homage to other detectives Poirot makes use of in his later career), not only to lead Hastings and Japp off the scent, but also to ensure that the Countess leaces the country and is not involved in a fourth robbery, so one might say he ensures that the crimes will end (in Britain, at least). In sum, then, Horowitz has made an excellent adaptation of the story, and one of my personal favourites.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Piddington makes good use of the different location. For instance, the opening scene in which the Countess emerges from the train in the fog as some mysterious figure and then to leave on the same trend in the end scene, fully visible and characterised. The attention to detail in the many sets used for this episode is impressive. Locations include 'Shrubs Wood' in Chalfont St. Giles (Hardman's house - the location would later be used for Alistair Blunt's house in One, Two Buckle My Shoe), the grounds of Englefield House, Berkshire and Senate House, University College London (the art gallery). Finally, of course, there's Christopher Gunning's exquisite score for the episode, "The Double Clue" (available on his latest CD release). It sets the tone for the episode from the very beginning, and the subtle Russian influences make his score perfect for the task of conveying the importance of Poirot's greatest love.

Actors and characters
It's very nice to see a personal and emotional side of Poirot, and of course get references to his early years in England again (the conversation with the countess), and his thoughts on foreignness. Also, Pauline Moran's acting in this one is just wonderful. The way she delivers her lines, particularly in her conversation with Hastings on their future ("What about you?" "I don't want to talk about it...") and with Poirot in one of the final scenes ("Nothing, M. Poirot") so perfectly captures the emotional bond they've always intended between her and Poirot. She is absolutely devastated that he is taken in by another woman - and yet cannot bring herself to tell him anything. Of course, none of this is Christie, but it's so expertly and emotionally executed I am perfectly willing to accept that deviation. Also, of course, Horowitz adds Hastings's dream of farming in South America (which he'll also refer to in Yellow Iris). The way Horowitz makes references to everything - from historical events, previous episodes and Christie's stories is simply admirable. (As a chronology fanatic, though, I can't help but point out that he should have paid a tiny bit better attention to his time references...)

Of the guest actors, Kika Markham is obviously the main standout here. She is simply magnificent. Of course, I can agree with other fans who claim that her portrayal of the character is quite far from the character as written. Still, that has never stopped this production team before (see Miss Lemon or Japp, for instance), and I do think it works rather well for this particular adaptation. In any case, she'll be a tough act to follow in the adaptation of The Labours of Hercules, even if I have faith in Orla Brady (who is reportedly taking over the role). Also, I would like to draw attention to David Bamber (wonderful character actor) who does a really nice job with Bernard Parker.

As an aside, Kika Markham had several ideas of her own that she brought to the portrayal of Countess Rossakoff. In Peter Haining's book on the series, she explains: 'In the original stories about the countess she is described as the one great love in his life. For that reason I thought it would be natural for me to put my hand on his shoulder and then perhaps kiss him on the cheek - but I was told that it wasn't allowed. I did get to kiss him on the forehead, though, and that was only because I discovered it's how Russians behave when they are saying goodbye to someone close' (p. 19).

Episode-by-episode: The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor

This episode was based on the short story 'The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor', first published in The Sketch in 1923. It was adapted for television by David Renwick and directed by Renny Rye.

Script versus short story
There are quite a few significant changes to this one. I'll try to list them in order. First, the reason for Poirot's involvement is different. Instead of being called down by the insurance company, a local hotel owner wants his help with a crime novel (that particular reason is intially unknown to Poirot), and his involvement with the Marsdon Manor case is mainly a result of two police constables recognising him on their way to the scene of the crime. Second, Japp is added to the story, and he provides much of the information Poirot gets from the insurance company in the original story. Third, the supernatural angle is widened significantly (the story only refers to some rumours of the house being haunted). There's a story of a girl who alledgedly committed suicide from the top of a tree, and Mrs. Maltravers thinks she has seen a face (and seen blood on a mirror, later revealed to have been added to it by herself). Fourth, two suspects are added: A secretary to Mr. Maltravers who had an affair with him years ago (Miss Rawlinson) and Captain Black (who was in the short story, but whose role is greatly expanded here). Fifth, a civil defence meeting is added, in which a seemingly attempted murder of Mrs Maltravers occurs with chloroform in a gas mask. Sixth, a whole list of extra clues are added to the proceedings, including a present wrapped in a newspaper from Nairobi (the newspaper provides the story told by Black in the original), the bird's eggs by the stone bench (evidence that Mrs. Maltravers hid the rifle in the bushes), and a painting made by Mrs. Maltravers as an alibi (the shadows go from right to left, not left to right, so it would have been painted after midday). Finally, a nice subplot with a local wax museum and a wax mask of Mr. Maltravers (instead of theatrical paint) provide some scary and amusing scenes. In sum, then, the episode works quite well, even if the basic plot is restructured.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
The directing of this episode is particularly good, especially the opening shots of the tree and the floating camera angles (rather like a bird). The locations used include Reepham, Norfolk (the village), the Old Brewery House ("The Red Anchor" exterior), The Bookham Grange Hotel, Leatherhead, Surrey (interior scenes at the local hotel), the Normansfield Victorian Theatre (the civil defense meeting), and Sennove Park, Norfolk (interior and exterior of Marsdon Manor). The soundtrack is good, but not available online or released, as far as I know.

Actors and characters

No real standouts among the guest actors here, but Geraldine Alexander (Susan Maltravers) and Desmond Barrit (Samuel Naughton, the hotel owner) are quite good.

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)