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.


  1. Well said on both Suchet and Christopher Gunning's Vertigo-esque soundtrack.

  2. While it did happen in the books that a murder would happen while Poirot was on vacation, the series often changed took stories where he's actually on the scene due to being asked to investigated something, and made it so he "just happened to be there." To the extent that you feel like murder is almost caused by him being somewhere. This is an issue in a lot of mystery series (Jessica Fletcher is the classic and most-often mocked example) but to some extent you have to do that with amateur sleuths. Poirot is not an amateur. He is someone people can deliberately call into to investigate.

    While the twins in the book are a red herring as far as the case is concerned, red herrings are what make an Agatha Christie. Eliminate too many, and you're left with not enough suspense. Also, I think the romantic sub-plots work better with twins: Here, Bella goes far too quickly from accusing herself of murder to save Jack (which has to mean she is currently in love with him) to "I loved him - once" (implying it's over and it was a long time ago) and falling in love with Hastings.

    To some extent the romantic sub-plot takes off on the Sherlock Holmes novel "The Sign of Four," in which Watson falls in love with the client, Mary Morstan. But Mary, while feisty and not too weak or helpless, is more "woman in need of help" than suspect. And Poirot's and Holmes' attitudes towards their sidekicks' romances are HUGE differences in the characters. For all Poirot claims not to need to be married himself, he seems to think everyone else needs to pair off - and he helps Hastings "Get the girl."

    Holmes is thoroughly scornful of anyone falling in love - at least, so he says when Watson announces his engagement. While it is portrayed on the surface as "Holmes values reason over emotion," it also seems like he doesn't want Watson to have any life beyond Watson's and his (Holmes') relationship, and their work.

  3. The newsreel definitely gives things away at the start. So much is made of it that you know it must be important. Good detective stories make these things seem incidental or bury them among other new stories so they don't stand out.
    The London section isn't entirely cut: Poirot still returns to research the Beroldy case.

    Considering most of the characters are French, it's odd that Poirot is the only one with an accent.

    Presumably this book is the origin of the lead piping in Cluedo (which always seemed out of place with the other weapons in the game, until I started reading Christie).

    The adaptation improves on the book by not spending half its running time documenting the crime scene. The stakes in wager are better too - although we know from The Big Four and Curtain that Poirot is quite prepared to shave his moustache if required. (The scene of Poirot NOT cutting his moustache doesn't make much sense though, except as a cheap attempt to fool the audience.)

    That tramp's heart is very far down his torso! The production team is in need of an anatomy lesson.

    Surely if his mysterious young lady is a singer at the hotel, it should be easy for Hastings to find out her name.

    1. >>Surely if his mysterious young lady is a singer at the hotel, it should be easy for Hastings to find out her name.<<

      Ah, but as a preux chevalier, Hastings would not bandy a woman's name. Of course he knows it, but he's not saying.

    2. couple of points. I was stabbed in the heart 45 years ago and my scar is pretty close to the tramps wound. Believe it.
      Second, Hastings was shielding the singer. He could have gotten the name but he didn't want to. Just like any murder mystery character.
      BUT. What I want to know was if Jack and his old sweetheart were both ready to die to save the other.. WHAT was she doing kissing Hastings at the end? Or did I misunderstand something?

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. No, I think you're right about that. It's because they've clumsily combined two characters from the novel.

    5. The biggest problem with the newsreel is that it clearly shows two characters' faces and holds on them, and then we see those characters a mere minute or so later in present-day, looking exactly the same. And thus the first real big plot twist of the novel is revealed in the opening seconds of the movie.

    6. I loved the way the name of ISABELLA DUVEEN was shown on a poster in the background, while Poirot confronts Hastings about not knowing her name during the meal at the hotel. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think it's coincidental.

  4. Did anyone catch that in the book, Geraud was 30? Now, 30 was regarded as older then than it is now, but I definitely prefer him at an age more comparable to Poirot's, especially if he's supposed to be about as renowned. Makes him more of a potential threat.

    I definitely prefer Cinderella/Bella/Dulcie as a spunky acrobat. I think it's too bad they changed this so she wasn't the one to save Mrs. Renauld. But if they had to consolidate the two sisters into one person, I almost wish they'd had her go back to Jack, and not married off Hastings, like in the Jeremy Brett Sign of Four - where Watson and Mary DON'T end up together. Brett admitted this was because Watson's relationship with Holmes left no room for a wife.

  5. I wish we could get that soundtrack. One of the best in that season

  6. Giraud (and especially the pipe) is a clear allusion to " le commissaire Maigret", the famous French character from Georges Simenon novels..

  7. Stuart Farquhar10 April 2015 at 01:07

    The pipe maybe, but not the character. The first Maigret novel wasn't written until eight years after Murder on the Links.

  8. My biggest complaint about this movie is the prologue with the newsreel, which nearly gives away the plot. Otherwise, I've always enjoyed this movie.

  9. I almost wish they'd had her go back to Jack, and not married off Hastings, like in the Jeremy Brett Sign of Four - where Watson and Mary DON'T end up together. Brett admitted this was because Watson's relationship with Holmes left no room for a wife.

    Since the Christie novels never featured Hastings in every Poirot mystery, I saw no need for him to avoid matrimony in order to stay with Poirot.

  10. as a murder mystery this is awful. it is an insult to viewer /reader. solution as explained by poirot does not eliminate other suspects logically. instead he interprets all the evidence in an extremely convoluted way involving coincidences to implicate the murderer of his choice. other far less convoluted interpretations of same evidence would make better cases against jack, bella, madame renauld, and stonor. if the murderer is not killed at the end, she would have been acquitted by any court that used logic. in fact no actual case can be made against murderer with evidence presented. only valid evidence against her comes from her getting killed during final attempted murder at the last moments of episode. even that is rather dubious since other more credible suspects kill her. viewer is bullied in to forgetting logic and believing the solution by reenactments, and final attempted murder at the end. of course since most of details are taken from book, adapters of this were merely trying to hide the stupidity of solution in book by such means.

    other than stupidity of solution, this episode displays the high production values and acting one comes to expect from the series.

  11. Totally agree with the poster who said dulcie and bella shouldn't have been merged. In the movie it looks like bella is prepared to die for jack (because she loves him presumably), but nevertheless, he dumps her and she then runs to hastings. It's totally unromantic.
    And yes, too much was revealed at the beginning, especially when martha's name was mentioned.

  12. The episode is set in 1936. The opening cinema/movie theatre newsreel is from 1926, ten years earlier.

    There were no talkies, even newsreels, in 1926, folks. Not a one. Horowitz blew that one big time. But then he didn't have Wikipedia to educate him in 1996, did he? Or even apparently, minimal general knowledge. He did much better with Foyle's War.

    After that blown intro, the kind of historical mistake I cannot abide, I found a lot of what happened afterwards incomprehensible. Whether that's due to Christie or the rewriter for the V series, I neither know nor care.

    Back when I read two of these kinds of novels in a evening, I soon discovered that Christie was bound and determined to beat the reader, so she never revealed enough for the reader to solve the mystery. Instead we get not very plausible endings that only Poirot could have dreamed up. So I gave up on Christie, ooh what, about 1965 after about 20 books - no fun. But when given a DVD set recently, I decided to watch and saw this one tonight. Entertaining but the same problem remains. Ludicrously complicated solution. No explanation for Hastings and Isabel to get together at the end. I watched the last two chapters twice just to see where that left-field response came from. Unclear.

    Virtually any modern BBC/ITV drama is better crafted,if not always so well and luxuriantly filmed. The best of the modern detective stuff is New Zealand's The Brokenwood Mysteries, IMO.

    Bill Malcolm

    1. Hi..you're correct about sound (the first sound newsreel appeared in in 1927), but newsreels existed as far back as the 1910s. Horowitz probably got muddled because Fox established the first newsreel company in 1926.


  13. Thanks for this very interesting approach
    My 2 cents : Bella is singing " J attendrai" a song from Rina Ketty who was aired first in 1938....

  14. Lots of nice imagery of SNCF locos and uniforms etc in this.
    Unfortunately if this episode is set in 1936, it's a bit ahead of itself as the SNCF wasn't formed to replace the French regional railway companies until 1938.

  15. Absolutely abhor this adaptation for two reasons:

    1. The newsreel production scene at the beginning, while an effective way to drop a glob of exposition that was awkwardly handled in the novel, gives away the first major plot twist about the mystery before the story even starts. Thus, the first half of the movie is utterly dull, because it pretends the audience doesn't know the real identity of two important characters, even though the open scene quite blatantly showed them.

    2. The utter rework of Bella from a vivacious, hard-willed, spark plug of an acrobat to a wet rag of a songstress. Bella's the best thing in the novel, so of course the adaptation would ditch that depiction completely. Plus, the removal of her and Hastings meeting on the train--the only time they interact before they're consumed by the case--also removes the foundation for their relationship. When they get involved during the case, they have their memorable first meeting to fall back on, when Bella wasn't trying to deceive Hastings. Thus, the whole romance in the movie simply doesn't work. The whole relationship just feels false.


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)