Friday 27 September 2013

Polish trailer for 'The Big Four'! (A frame-by-frame look)

A trailer for the Polish broadcast of 'Tbe Big Four' has now been released on YouTube! Thank you to the anonymous commenter who alerted me. Here's the link:

We start off with the shot we saw in the ITV Drama trailer recently. Poirot is observing the chess table, presumably before the game between Savaronoff and Gilmour Wilson.

A close-up of the chess pieces in action follows.

The next two frames shows a dying man in the street. Difficult to say who exactly. Any suggestions? Update: Danny suggests that this is John Ingles' Chiense servant, with the message for Hastings. That sounds very probable.

The other set of chess pieces.

Next, a man is lying dead in a drawing room. Again, I can't make out which murder victim this is supposed to be. Any ideas? Update: Danny suggested in the comments section that this could be Jonathan Whalley. That sounds likely.

Hooray! Look who's here! It's Japp! Judging by the previous glimpses from the chess game, it seems Japp has called for Poirot's assistance before the game (not after, as in the novel). They are evidently present during the game. Also, I'm beginning to think script writers Gatiss and Hallard have increased the importance of this incident from the novel, judging by its prominence in this trailer.

...and here's our murder victim! I assume that's Savaronoff, anyway. Update: Actually, it's difficult to say. Age-wise Savaronoff makes sense, but it was Gilmour Wilson, the young American, who was killed in the novel. Judging by the layout of the room and the placing of the flags (see later screencaps), the victim is on the Russian side of the table, so to speak, so Savaronoff makes sense. But then the plot must have been changed in transition from page to screen. Eet eez a mystery, as Poirot would say.

The next shot shows Poirot in what I believe to be a morgue (see later screencaps).

Next up, we have a dimly lit theatre and what looks like Sarah Parish, who is playing Flossie Monro. As you will see from the later screencaps, she's A) in trouble and B) present at the same location as what looks to be the denouement. This, as well as the press release we saw earlier this year, leads me to conclude that her role in the novel has been significantly expanded (and changed, obviously).

Then we have Whitehaven Mansions. Delighted (but not surprised) to see that the flat makes an appearance in this film. Also, notice the elephant thingy by the window, last seen in Elephants Can Remember (I half expected them to forget about that piece of continuity once that case was over). Poirot shows two people a card with Death and a number four on it. Not entirely sure who these people are, but I think the one to the right is probably Japp (Philip Jackson). Possibly Hastings (Hugh Fraser), but that's less likely. The card is, I assume, a reference in some way to Number Four. He seems to have been given the role of 'Death' in some way or other (see later screencaps).

...and then we're back with Flossie Monro. In BIG trouble, it seems.

Next up, Poirot is meeting up with someone. Or walking past someone he recognises from somewhere. Now, if I'm not entirely mistaken this is the exact same location that was used in Third Girl and The Clocks (somewhere around the Inns of Court, probably Inner Temple). Could be wrong, though.

Back in the morgue (see earlier screencap). Again, I struggle to identify the murder victim. Any suggestions? It seems his fingerprints are gone, so someone obviously didn't want him to be identified (in the film, that is!). Update: Martina suggests in the comments section that this man might be the chess player, and that the marks on his fingers are to do with the electrocuting device. That's possible, but again I struggle to understand whether the chess player is supposed to be Savaronoff or a much older Wilson. Also, didn't the electrocuting just leave a burn on his hand? Still, I think Martina might be on the right track. And I have to re-read the novel, that's for sure!

Back in Whitehaven. The last frame suggests Poirot has just about solved the 'Chess Problem'. Also, the chess piece he's using is from the chess board that was seen on screen in Third Girl! He has a chess board by the window in the living room area. Lovely bit of continuity. With this and the elephant thingy, I think the production design team deserve a pat on the back this time around.

Next, we're back in what I assume is the denouement scene (see previous screencaps). I've seen some photos of this set leaked online. Why Miss Monro is sitting on a chair in front of the stage, I have no idea. But the four chairs on the stage are presumably for the Big Four.

And here we have the master criminals. Not in person, but in paper. The one in the front must be Madame Olivier, the skeleton is Number Four, I think (see previous screencap of the card). Behind him we have Li Chang Yen, presumably. And behind Madame Olivier we can catch a glimpse of what has to be Abe Ryland.

Has Poirot met his match?!? Surely not. He seems to be bracing himself for something in the first screencap. Could it be the curtain that falls down in the next shot? (curtain - Curtain, ha ha). In any case, the third screencap seems to show the Big Four, and possibly Poirot. Difficult to tell from that distance and in that resolution. The stage set looks Chinese/Oriental.

...and then we're back in Whitehaven again. This time he's searching for the name of a company, it seems. Max Berman & Sons in Berwick Street? Can't remember that from the book? Does anyone know?

Next, we're back at the scene of what appears to be the central crime of this episode - the chess game. Two crucial things to notice in the first screencap. One, there's a Soviet and an American flag, presumably a reference to the two chess players. Two, Poirot is carrying a dispatch case which looks remarkably similar to the one he was carrying around in adaptation The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Is this intended? Does it serve the same purpose (i.e. 'the tools of my profession')? In any case, it seems this is the scene in which he finally solves the chess case.

Now what? An explosion? Is this the same building? If it is, then Poirot is in big trouble. Could it be a scene in which he fakes his death? Or just a different setting and a different murder victim? Reminds me of Taken at the Flood. Time will tell, I suppose.

But look! Here's Japp again! In Poirot's chair? Not a good sign. Or is it? I don't think anyone's ever been in his desk chair for the entire run of the series. And George (David Yelland) is back! Hooray! I know he has been rumoured to appear in this episode, but I didn't want to take it for granted. Japp's handing George a letter. What does it say?

*Takes a deep breath*. Is it really? Can it be? Yes, it is. Poirot's funeral! The scene was rumoured on Twitter when they were shooting it. This will surely be a very emotional scene. Again, it's difficult to tell from this distance and with this picture quality, but I would hazard a guess that the woman in the middle is Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran), standing next to Hastings (Hugh Fraser), Japp (Philip Jackson) and George (David Yelland, with the valet bowler hat).

The box is lowered into the ground...

...and they cunningly avoid displaying his age. Love it. That would have caused such a debate anyway. Below his name it says "Requiescat in pace", which is Latin for "Rest in peace". I assume this is a Catholic ceremony. Also, you might catch a glimpse of what will follow him to the grave in the bottom right corner.

Here's a better look - in case you didn't recognise it. It's the walking stick that has been with him since the beginning of the series! A nice touch.

Finally, there's a moustache shot, just to round things off.

A summary:
- What an amazing 30 seconds trailer! Lots of clues to the episode and a very emotional tease towards the end.
- The chess game is clearly a lot more important than in the novel. So is Flossie Monro.
- We got a few glimpses of Japp and George, and what is almost certainly Hastings and Miss Lemon.
- Poirot will 'die', just like in the novel. I wasn't sure of that until this very moment.
- The denouement has been significantly changed. It appears to involve Flossie Monro, a theatre with lots of stage props (including a Chinese-looking stage set) and all four master criminals. No sign of Hastings, but he must be involved somehow - surely? And Poirot appears to be in peril of his life.
- I'm slightly worried that Hastings's part in the story might have been reduced. He isn't with Poirot in any of the scenes (possibly apart from the scene with the card in Whitehaven). It's probably just the way they've edited the trailer, but it makes you wonder.

Comments? Have I missed anything? Have you noticed something I haven't? Do you have any idea who the three unidentified dead bodies are (street, morgue and drawing room)?

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Vote for Poirot and David Suchet in the National Television Awards!

(c) ITV
I've never understood why David Suchet has never been awarded a BAFTA award for his performance as Hercule Poirot. I live in hope that it might happen next year. What a way to celebrate 25 years in the role!

In the meantime, the UK National Television Awards is a good second option. This year, they've added a new category called 'TV Detectives'. David Suchet is nominated (obviously). There will be tough competition, with loads of brilliant nominees, but I think it's worth a try. Also, if the information on Wikipedia is correct, Poirot has never won a National Television Award. So - if you love the series as much as I do - go to the National Telelvision Awards website and vote!

Sunday 22 September 2013

Episode-by-episode: Three Act Tragedy

(c) ITV
[For those of you thinking I've forgotten The Clocks, just relax. I'm following the UK broadcast order, in which The Clocks concludes Series Twelve.]

This episode was based on the novel Three Act Tragedy, first published in 1934. It was adapted for television by Nick Dear and directed by Ashley Pearce, who also teamed up for the adaptation of Mrs McGinty's Dead.

Script versus novel
Nick Dear's script stays remarkably true to the novel, with only some minor changes. First, Dear introduces Poirot much earlier than in the book (as has become the norm in the adaptations). He becomes a long-time friend of Charles Cartwright (a change that actually adds to the depth of the story), and he consequently replaces Mr. Satterthwaite (who is deleted). Second, Egg Lytton-Gore gets a somewhat more active part in the investigation, joining, for instance, the search of Ellis's room. Third, Egg's interview with the model from Cynthia Dacres' store is removed (it added little to the plot). Fourth, the character of Angela Sutcliffe (Charles' former lover) is removed - and she doesn't feel missed. Other than that, only minor changes are made to the plot, with some interview sections shortened and some lines changed. As a result, I think we can safely say that Dear's adaptation is a faithful retelling of its source material.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Ashley Pearce's direction here is probably not to everybody's taste, but I think the slight artificiality works well. I enjoy the many hints towards the link between the case and the theatre (the theatrical opening scene, the presentation of the dramatis personae, the murders, and the denouement, fittingly set on a stage. Also, I think the scene in which Poirot builds the house of cards (a homage not only to the novel but also to the adaptation of 'The Disappearance of Mr Davenheim') is absolutely exquisite. The production design for this episode is impressive, with several different sets (both real and artificial) beautifully dressed. The locations used are perfect for the adaptation. These include St. Anne's Court in Chertsey (previously seen in 'The Plymouth Express' and Mrs McGinty's Dead) and the entrance hall of Eltham Palace (previously seen in Death on the Nile) doubling as Crow's Nest. Also, the Novello Theatre in London, Knebworth House in Hertfordshire (doubling as Dr Strange's house), Villa Maria Serena in Menton, France (previously seen as Villa Marguerithe in The Mystery of the Blue Train, doubling as the Majestic in Monte Carlo), Wandsworth Town Hall (doubling as the interior of the Majestic), Claridge's Hotel in London (doubling as Ambrose store), Paddington train station (footage last scene in the Marple episode 4.50 to Paddington, I believe), the Bluebell Railway Pullman carriages (used for the trian journeys), Wansford Station in Peterborough (doubling as Loomouth station), and Little Marlow St John the Baptist Church (used for the exhumation scene). Christian Henson, who took over from Stephen McKeon as composer for Series Twelve and Thirteen, does an excellent job with the soundtrack, perfectly mixing Gunning's theme with his own musical trademarks.

Characters and actors
By now, Poirot (or rather, Suchet) is starting to move into real retirement, with lunches at the Ritz and yearly visits to Monte Carlo. His friendship with Cartwright somehow seems perfectly natural in this stage of his life. I like that David Yelland (George) is given a tiny cameo in which he is clearly familiar with Cartwright. A small continuity thing I've only noticed re-watching the episode is the fact that Egg is seen reading a book called Travels in Arabia by Dame Celia Westholme (a reference to the adaptation of Appointment with Death from Series Eleven). Of the guest actors, Martin Shaw is the main standout, with a performance perfectly balancing the theatricality of the character (love his reference to Stanislavsky, and the roles he have played in the theatre) with the human being, particularly in the denouement scene, which he manages to make both touching and slightly creepy. However, Kimberley Nixon (Egg Lytton-Gore), Art Malik (Sir Bartholomew) and the rest of the cast do an excellent job, too.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Series 13 to air in Poland

(c) ITV

It seems Poland might be the first country to air the final series. Elephants Can Remember, The Big Four, The Labours of Hercules, Dead Man's Folly and Curtain have all been given air dates, one for each month up to and including January 2014.

Air dates in Poland are:
Elephants Can Remember - 6 September 2013
The Big Four - 4 October 2013
The Labours of Hercules - 1 November 2013
Dead Man's Folly - 6 December 2013
Curtain - 3 January 2014

See the Polish schedule (in Polish) here: And for those of us who aren't fluent in Polish, see this Google translation.

What this means is that the series is definitely through post-production and has been released for the international market. Surely ITV can't be far behind?

Thanks to Tom, a reader of the blog, and ueetba, an IMdB user, for the information!

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Episode-by-episode: Appointment with Death

This episode was based (in the loosest sense of the word) on the novel Appointment with Death, first published in 1938. It was adapted for television by Guy Andrews and directed by Ashley Pearce.

Script versus novel
Oh dear. Where to begin? I have previously praised some of the Poirot adaptations (most notably Five Little Pigs); this time I have to be largely negative, and that is with a heavy heart, because I think the series as a whole is brilliant. If you've read my other episode-by-episode entries, you have probably noticed that I rarely object to changes. I'm not a purist, and I think most changes made to Christie's stories in the transition from page to screen are acceptable - sometimes even an improvement. Not so in this case. However, let me first try to sum up the things I liked about this adaptation. It should be said that this is a somewhat tricky novel to adapt, mainly because much of the text relies on psychology, thoughts and observation (now, you might object that that's exactly what I praised the adaptation of Five Little Pigs for, but that was because in that case it worked). Andrews manages to flesh out the somewhat drawn-out first half of the novel, with a very loose recreation of important scenes (Sarah and Raymond, Raymond and Carol, Boynton's behaviour, Dr. Gerard's observations (very briefly) etc.), and an earlier introduction of Poirot and Colonel Carbury (so that Poirot is present throughout and not introduced after the murder like in the novel) works well. Also, the use of flashbacks to a childhood of torture and trauma works, to some extent - even if the scenes seemed a bit intrusive and far too creepy. Finally, I enjoyed the addition of the Damaskus/Samarra story to explain the title (if I'm not mistaken, it's based on an ancient tale that was re-used by W. Somerset Maugham as 'Death in Samarra'). That's my main positive comments to the script. Let's move on to the several changes, most of which I didn't like.

Here's a list of changes (partly derived from the current Wikipedia article), including my comments on them (SPOILERS):

1) Moving the central setting of the story from Petra in southern Jordan to an archaeological dig in Syria, where Lord Boynton is searching for the head of John the Baptist.

I don't necessarily mind the change of setting. I assume it would be much more difficult to shoot the film in a tourist attraction such as Petra. Also, having Poirot visit archaeological digs is in keeping with Christie (see Murder in Mesopotamia and 'The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb'). I'll come back to Boynton and the Baptist in the second point here.

2) Adding new characters that never appeared in the original novel, such as Lord Boynton, Nanny Taylor, and Sister Agnieszka

Turning Mrs Boynton into a remarried woman now called Lady Boynton isn't an unacceptable change (well, apart from the fact that the back story is obviously altered). However, adding a husband, Lord Boynton, seems rather pointless. It's great fun to watch Tim Curry, but the character adds very little. He is an extra suspect, I suppose, and they've always added some new red herrings in the Poirot adaptation. My main objection here is that I would have liked some sort of explanation of how he ended up married to that unlikeable woman. It's all just assumed here, not explained. His search for the head of John the Baptist seems silly (and again, pointless), then again, Poirot at an archaeological dig isn't that far-fetched. Nanny Taylor is another somewhat pointless addition to the plot. However, she does serve a purpose of sorts in fleshing out the new Boynton back story. Sister Agnieszka, however, serves no purpose whatsoever. Really, of all the changes to this story, this is the one I just can't fathom. A nun wanting to observe the search for John the Baptist - yes. But a slave trader?! Really, what were they thinking? That's a plot Christie (or rather the maid Annie) mentions in 'The Adventure of the Clapham Cook', and it is immediately dismissed by Poirot for its incredibility. Of all the episodes, this is the one point in which the series resembles the inferior Marple series the most...

3) Omitting characters such as Nadine Boynton and Amabel Pierce

Omitting Nadine Boynton is regrettable, simply because her marriage to Lennox was a good example of the extent of Mrs Boynton's interference with her (adult) children's life. Amabel Pierce is less of a loss. (As an aside, I wonder why they chose to give Lady Boynton's earlier name as Mrs Pierce - why not invent a new one?)

4) Altering the backstory of the victim

The Mrs Boynton of the novel was a tyrannical sadist who became a prison warden to have power over others. In the adaptation, she is still a sadist, but she's not a former prison warden. Instead, she has a business empire (possibly her first husband's) and can't have children, so she selects children from orphanages to abuse and torment. In itself, this change is acceptable. However, we are never given a reason for her sadistic tendencies. Why did she choose to abuse her adopted children? I suppose one could imagine that the sense of power she has as an adoptive mother - free to do as she likes with her 'prisoners' (Poirot calls the family 'the Boynton prison') - somewhat equals the power she would have as a prison warden (in both cases, the 'victims' are completely at her mercy). But it would have been nice to have some sort of explanation, especially since Christie takes such care to establish the back story in the novel.

5) Altering the backstories of several supporting characters

Most significantly, Jefferson Cope, a long-time family friend in the novel, becomes one of the orphans abused by Boynton in his childhood. He decides to take revenge by ruining her business empire. This change is probably made because Andrews wanted to increase the number of suspects, but I don't see why it was necessary, on the whole. Equally significant is the increased importance of Jinny (Ginevra or Ginny in the novel). She is adopted (like Raymond and Carol - Lennox becomes Leonard, Lord Boynton's son from his previous marriage), and she becomes the prime motivation for the murderers. Both in the novel and in the adaptation, Jinny is the most fragile of the children, but to make her the motivation for the murder seems a bit excessive. I wouldn't have minded if the new motive (see below) didn't seem so incredible. Lady Westholme, a U.S.-born MP in the novel, becomes a travel writer called Dame Celia Westholme. That change doesn't bother me in the slightest, apart from the fact that her motive is then lost. Dr. Theodore Gerard becomes Scottish and is turned into an accomplice to the murderer. This is a peculiar change, but again, I wouldn't have minded if it had actually turned out all right.

6) Altering the murderer's motives and method

I must say I prefer Westholme's motive in the novel. It's a twist, because you realise that the murder isn't at all connected to the children (even if they wanted her dead). There's also something ruthless about a killer whose prime motivation is to maintain her reputation and social standing. The new motive seems highly unlikely and far less satisfying. In the adaptation, Dame Celia Westholme worked as a maid in the Pierce/Boynton household. She had an affair with a family guest, Dr. Gerard, and was sent off to a nunnery in Ireland while Lady Boynton kept the baby - Jinny. After several years, the two parents discover that Lady Boynton has been abusing the children, and they decide to kill her to have their revenge. Now, first of all, would a maid in an American household end up as a celebrated travel writer in Britain? But more importantly, why would it have taken her and Dr. Gerard so many years to realise that the children had been abused? It all seems highly improbable.

As to the murder method, Dame Westholme injects Boynton with a paralysing drug (helped by a dead wasp provided by Dr. Gerard - a nice homage to Death in the Clouds, by the way). Boynton is slowly immobilised in the sun, and Dr. Gerard (who had simulated malaria, as suggested but discarded by Poirot in the novel) drugs Jinny (who becomes his alibi) before he disguises himself as an Arab (like Westholme in the novel) and plants a wax ball filled with goat blood under Boynton's clothes (really, how do they think of these things!). The blood makes it seem that Boynton is already dead, while, in fact, Dame Celia stabs her as she goes to "check" the body, in front of everyone. Also, Andrews adds a second murder - of Nanny Taylor. She is drugged with mescaline by Dr Gerard, before he talks her into suicide. Both the change of the first murder and the addition of the second seem superfluous and unnecessary.

7) Omitting/downsizing two central lines: “I've never forgotten anything – not an action, not a name, not a face.” and “You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed?”
The first line is irrelevant now that the murder motive has been changed, while the other is not said in its entirety in the adaptation, and is not given much thought after the fact. This is a change I don't really mind, but I can't see the point.
"I can appreciate and understand the adverse reaction to the fact that we have moved so far away from the original book, and I can assure fans that it is not something any of us would do wilfully. However, sometimes there are instances where the adaptation from novel to film does not really work and so the plots have to be broadened. And, in broadening the plots, other characters are sometimes introduced by the writer. I do hope that those who see Appointment With Death will agree with me with that it’s still very much in the spirit of Agatha Christie, still very much in the spirit of Appointment with Death as written" (Appointment with Death press pack, 2008)
The above statement belongs to David Suchet. He defends the decision to make the changes I've discussed above. To some extent, I can agree that the story is still 'in the spirit of Agatha Christie'. We have an archaeological dig, we have a dysfunctional family, we have wasps, poisons, a murdering couple and a culprit suicide a la Death on the Nile. Also, it's not too far from the 'spirit' of the novel, either. The victim is just as unlikeable, the children just as tormented and one of the murderers is the same.

Nevertheless, I still think Guy Andrew's script is quite possibly the worst of any of the Poirot scripts so far. As I said in the beginning, I don't necessarily mind changes, but I do expect them to work or at least be believable. Andrews's other adaptations, The Mystery of the Blue Train and Taken at the Flood, can hardly be described as unrivalled successes, but the changes to the stories largely work. In Appointment with Death, the changes are just too many, too unbelievable and largely unnecessary. Someone somewhere online described this adaptation as 'Poirot's version of The Mummy!' If it hadn't been for David Suchet, the guest actors, the cinematography, the music and the production design (all of which I'll come back to below), this could easily have been an utter disaster.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
As mentioned, I think the production quality and the actors rescue this adaptation from disaster. Ashley Pearce, a director I haven't quite decided whether I like or not, given his varying styles in Mrs. McGinty's Dead, Three Act Tragedy and this one, but he does an excellent job here. It looks absolutely stunning. Great location shots, almost as if you feel the heat of the desert in front of your television. Brilliantly done. Equally brilliant is Steven McKeon's score for this particular episode. It perfectly captures the atmosphere. The sets are dressed beautifully and the locations (in Casablanca and El Jadida, Morocco) are captivating. The include Kasbah Boulaouane (the dig) and Mahkama du Pacha (Hotel Constantine).

Characters and actors

"Poirot is still Poirot: I will always, wherever I’m put, be faithful to him as created by Agatha" (Appointment With Death press pack, 2008)
Building on from the quotation I discussed above, I would certainly say that despite all the changes, Poirot is still Poirot. His eccentricities, his observational skills, his psychology, his fish-out-of-water characteristic - they're all there. In fact, if it hadn't been for David Suchet, this wouldn't have felt like Agatha Christie's Poirot. Thankfully, it does, and the behaviour and reactions in the film are all what you could imagine Christie's character doing in the novels (that is, if you accept the religious character aspect - see my discussion of the character for more input on that).

Of the guest actors, there are many big names and some memorable performances. Cheryl Campbell (Lady Boynton) is just as I imagined the character to be, and so are Christina Cole (Sarah King) and Paul Freeman (Col. Carbury - apart from the slave trade stuff, obviously). Interestingly, Beth Goddard (Sister Agnieszka) also appeared in 'The Case of the Missing Will', as Violet Wilson. Thus, she has the dubious honour of appearing in the two stories that have been changed the most in their transition from page to screen. She does a good job, though, even if her character in this adaptation is utterly pointless.

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, post a comment on one of my blogs, or get in touch on Twitter @pchronology. (I used to call myself HickoryDickory)