The second episode of Series Nine was based on the novel Sad Cypress, first published in 1940. It was adapted for television by David Pirie and directed by David Moore.
Script versus novel
Pirie's script takes quite a few liberties without losing the spirit of the novel. Especially two things had to be worked around for this adaptation. One was the 'court room' scenes, especially in the final sections, another was the fact that Poirot isn't introduced until quite late in the proceedings. There are still some court room scenes, especially a nicely done opening sequence (that glides seamlessly back into time with a Elinor Carlisle voice-over), but I think particularly the new denouement scene is brilliant and so much better than the court room version from the novel. As to Poirot, he is believably added to the plot early on with the threatening letter to Elinor. He is in the area due to a trial in a different case he solved a year earlier (it's nice to hear of Poirot's actual involvement in a court case for once). In fact, Dr. Lord is an old friend of Poirot's here - they play chess together regularly. Moreover, the way he introduces Poirot to the case is actually quite reminiscent of Hastings in The Mysterious Affair at Styles ("I know a detective"). Generally speaking, these two changes mean that Poirot (and the adaptation) is much more actively engaged with investigation - both into the threatening letters and into the murder itself (see, for instance, the added sandwiches scene, with the amusing comment 'she was murdered, yes, but not by these disgusting sandwiches'). Also, there are a couple of nicely incorporated scenes like Elinor's discovery of Roddy and Mary in the drawing room at night, Poirot's nightmare (quite creepy, but it ties in with the plot), Poirot admitting his mistake to Ted Horlick ('I have been thirty-six times an idiot!'), and a matchmaking scene implied in the novel between Elinor and Dr. Lord. Several minor changes have been made, too, including a shortening down of the discussion between Roddy and Elinor on inheritance in the first few pages, combining the characters of Ted Bigland and Horlick the gardener, removing Mary's father (only mentioned in the novel, but here he has died before the story takes place), Mary inheriting 7 000 pounds rather than 2 000 pounds, Mary having already made a will on Hopkins's suggestion (so the scene in which Elinor laughs and is discovered by Dr Lord is removed - instead, she explains to Poirot that she wants her dead. A more important change, perhaps, is the fact that the jury first sentence Elinor guilty, so that there is an overhanging fear of her being hanged (possibly to increase the dramatic tension of the story). Poirot's interviews with Elinor in prison are consequently much more poignant, too.There are probably other changes I have forgotten to mention, but all in all, I would say the adaptation works well, and the story has been expertly converted from a court room drama to a much more active investigation, in tune with Poirot's other cases. As such, I think the script is exceptionally well done and a great addition to the series.
Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Moore's direction suits the story perfectly, with a somewhat elegiac and dark feel to it. Some of the transitions are particularly well done (although I'm not sure if I like the abrupt shifts of scenes in some cases), and I like the way he has emphasised the darkness of the old house. The most striking bit of direction, however, is the nightmare sequence, with a truly horror-like transformation of Mary Gerrard. The production values are of a high standard, as always, with some minor slips (e.g. The British Library / The British Museum, Gershwin's date of death and a continuity error in one of the final scenes (Poirot first has an overcoat on, then he hasn't). The locations suit the story perfectly, and the soundtrack is beautiful (Gunning certainly increased the cinematic feel for these four episodes). The locations used include Dorney Court, Dorney, Buckinghamshire (used as The Hunterbury Arms Hotel), the Sue Ryder Home in Nettlebed, Oxfordshire (used as Hunterbury House - it would later be used as Meadowbanks school in Cat Among the Pigeons) and Hambleden Church, Buckinghamshire. See location photos here.
Characters and actors
There are some really nice Poirot scenes here (see, for instance, all scenes with Elinor). In tune with the development of Poirot's loneliness and heart ache, there's an added line: 'I can understand the ache of the heart. It is a place very lonely'. The guest actors are lovely, too, with Elizabeth Dermot-Walsh as the real standout. See more on her performance in the Poirot & Me documentary