We've now come to the point in time when the series went for its makeover. New producers arrived on the scene and intended to make 'feature films' for television rather than regular episodes. In a way, their choice for a series opener - the novel Five Little Pigs, first published in 1942 - was a brave one. It was adapted by Kevin Elyot (who would also do Death on the Nile and Curtain) and directed by Paul Unwin. Before we begin, I might as well admit that this is my favourite Poirot adaptation, and quite possibly my favourite Poirot novel, too. So I might be a little biased in my comments on this particular adaptation.
Script versus novel
Kevin Elyot does a frankly remarkable job with the screenplay. Generally speaking, his retelling follows its source material very closely, omitting only some of the court and police chapters ('Councel for the Prosecution', 'The Young Solicitor', 'The Old Solicitor' and 'The Police Superintendent') and the character of Lord Dittisham, and shortening other sections without losing out on the vital dialogue (both plot-wise and character-wise, which is quite an achievement - most of the other adaptations in the series manage with only one of the two). However, he does make certain changes that by some fans are considered fairly substantial.
First, he introduces an opening scene in which Caroline Crale is hanged. This is at odds with the book, which clearly states that she died in prison about a year after the trial (which is important, because it shows that Christie didn't "kill off" an innocent person). Personally, I find this change perfectly acceptable. It works wonderfully well with the intercutting flashbacks to the summer scenes, and it does increase the tragic aspect of the case; an innocent person was convicted for a crime she did not commit.
Second, Elyot brings out what could be interpreted as the novel's homosexual subtext in the interviews with Philip Blake; he projects Blake's rather unclear infatuation with Caroline onto Amyas instead. Again, I can't say I object to this change. As mentioned, it can reasonably be interpreted from the novel and it's done in such a way (by Elyot, director Unwin and actor Stephens) that the scene becomes a moving addition to the storyline, not a sensational trump card as in some of the Marple adaptations.
Finally, Elyot adds a scene following the denouement (which, by the way, is kept almost word-by-word), in which Lucy (Carla/Caroline in the novel) aims a gun at Elsa Greer. It might be seen as somewhat sensational, but I think it's in keeping with the characters - and a nice way to underline Greer's sense of having died already - she's almost begging Lucy to pull the trigger. As an aside, there's a minute foreshadowing of this scene in one of the flashbacks, as Angela and Lucy are playing on the beach. They're playing cowboy and Indian, and Angela says 'oh, do shoot me, Lucy, it's the whole point'. All in all, Elyot's script is a truly inspirational addition to the series, with largely understandable changes.
Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
I think it's clear by now that my admiration for this episode is substantial. In fact, it applies to all aspects of the adaptation, not just the script. Unwin's directing is fantastic, and so is Martin Fuhrer's cinematography (which should be given credit here - have a look at his 'trailer' for this episode to see what I mean), the production design and even the costume and make-up design (an aspect I must admit I rarely comment on, but I am aware that costume designer Sheena Napier is a living legend). The contrast between the glowing flashback scenes and the grey, subdued present-day scenes is well done, and so is the use of the hand-held camera (apparently used to make the viewer feel as if he's there on that same day). Also, I like the fact that the flashbacks to the main characters' childhood are blurry (rather like vintage film rolls), which in a way emphasises that memory gets muddled with the passing of time. Moreover, there are so many breath-taking shifts between the past and the present (for instance, the way the camera in one swift motion changes the setting from the living room of Meredith Blake that summer to the same room fourteen years later). I also particularly enjoy the way that there are mainly close-ups of the faces in present-day shots (some genuinely moving acting going on in those shots). Finally, I've got to mention the title sequence, which is probably the best of the series so far. Lovely landscape shots and the score and directing suit each other perfectly. Speaking of music, Gunning's score is absolutely wonderful - quite possibly the best of the entire series. Luckily, he has released quite a lot of the music on his CD's ('Five Little Pigs', 'The Innocence of Caroline Crale', 'Amyas' Last Painting'). His use of the gramophone recording of 'Alice Blue Gown' and the mix throughout with Eric Satie's Gnossienne no. 1, is magnificent. The house that was used as Alderbury House is a private house in Benington Lordship, Hertfordshire.
Characters and actors
This section is all about the guest actors this time around. It's such a great cast I don't even know if I can name a stand-out. We have Gemma Jones, as the emotionally repressed governess, Rachael Stirling, as a moving Caroline, Toby Stephens as a powerful Philip Blake, Mark Warren as the philosophical herbalist Meredith Blake, Aidan Gillen as the artist Amyas.... the list goes on and on. Great performances all around.