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.
- 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)