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!
- 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)