Wednesday 20 November 2013

Episode-by-episode: Curtain: Poirot's Last Case

(c) ITV
We have reached The End.

This adaptation was based on Curtain: Poirot's Last Case, first published in 1975, just a few months before Christie's death, but written during the war, in the early 1940s. The novel was adapted for television by Kevin Elyot (who also scripted Five Little Pigs and Death on the Nile) and directed by Hettie Macdonald (who also directed The Mystery of the Blue Train).

Script versus novel
The press pack to this final episode reveals that Kevin Elyot was asked by the production team to adapt Curtain more than ten years ago, when he wrote the scripts for Five Little Pigs and Death on the Nile. I'm not at all surprised they asked him. His script for Five Little Pigs is possibly the best of the entire series, and Death on the Nile proved that he wasn't daunted by the task of writing an adaptation most Poirot fans have been both eagerly waiting for and dreading at the same time. He had also demonstrated that he fully understood Poirot's character, and that he could handle the darker side of Christie without making unnecessary changes. In my opinion, he was the best man for the job.

Elyot has made certain minor changes to the story. The murder cases that made Poirot suspect Norton are only alluded to throughout, and we don't see the newspaper clippings until Poirot's confrontation scene with Norton (which, by the way, is a brilliantly scripted scene). He has also done away with the notion of 'X' , and instead tried to keep the audience guessing. Most of Hastings' long monologue sections are deleted, which shouldn't come as a surprise given that this is a television version of a novel. Nearly all the central elements from these are kept, though. We learn of his wife's death (Elyot cleverly avoids using her name - she was called Bella in the series and Dulcie/Cinderella/Cinders in Christie's stories), his sadness, his 'simple' mind (all beautifully conveyed by Hugh Fraser through different facial expressions and brilliant acting). Some small scenes, like Hastings' visit to Boyd Carrington's manor, nearly all conversations with Nurse Craven, and Hastings' encounter with the old woman in the village, are also deleted, while others, like the inquest, are significantly shortened or moved around a bit. Some minor additions are made, like 'This is not a wheel-barrow, Hastings!' (a lovely unintentional (?) reference to Hastings' driving over the years), and 'You have lard for a brain!', mirroring several comments over the years ('Why is it the fate of Hercule Poirot to live among such philistines!').

The most significant additions, if you can call it that, are a couple of scenes in which Poirot is alone, speaking to himself. In all three scenes we see him praying (emphasising the religious subplot of the later series), and in two of them he's having small heart attacks (mentioned in the novel). The religious element shouldn't come as a surprise to those who have seen the more recent episodes. Suchet and the team have been slowly building up towards this very adaptation to make this believable. In the novel, Poirot discusses both the bon Dieu and his own doubts in his final letter to Hastings, so it's natural that this aspect of his character is emphasised here. Also, all his remarks are made in scenes that Hastings, who narrates the novel, could not have witnessed, so I'd consider this acceptable creative license. Personally, I'm also convinced that this adds an important dimension to Poirot, It's part of Suchet humanisation of the character, and it's beautifully done. His heart-breaking death scene in particular.

Essentially, though, this is a very faithful adaptation. Most of the dialogue is lifted almost verbatim from the novel, and several elements are strikingly similar. See, for instance, the introduction of Daisy Luttrell. She wears garden gloves and mirrors, like the first appearance of Evelyn Howard in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Christie and Hastings comment on this in Curtain (the novel). Similarly, Poirot's first 'mon ami Hastings' feels like a throw-back to their first meeting in the post office all those years ago. Most importantly, Eloyt devotes almost a third of the episode to the aftermath of Poirot's death and his final letter to Hastings. It makes for an unusual and very moving denouement. The confrontation between Norton and Poirot is chilling. (I must admit, though, that I would have preferred Poirot to keep his fake moustache on. I realise it's what Christie wrote and it was necessary to pass as Norton, but I kept thinking I was watching David Suchet playing a killer, not Poirot killing a criminal. Oh well. As Tom, a reader of the blog, said to me: At least we know what Achille might have looked like!).

All in all, Kevin Elyot has done a magnificent job creating a moving, thoughtful, chilling and brilliant adaptation of one of Christie's greatest plot twists. It's so much more than we could have hoped for: near-perfection.

Direction, production design, locations, soundtrack
Hettie Macdonald's direction is such a contrast to her previous adaptation, The Mystery of the Blue Train. The floating shots and the experimental use of camera angles are more or less gone. In their place we get close-ups of faces and broader overview shots that work exceptionally well for the episode. There's also something about her 'peering' approach that simply works much better here than it did in her previous episode; Poirot is hunting down a ruthless sadist, after all, not just a jewel thief. The opening sequence is particularly well done. Scenes of Margaret Litchfield being hanged (she died in an asylum in the novel) are inter-cut with scenes of Elizabeth Cole (her sister) playing the Chopin piece to Poirot, as Hastings arrives in his taxi. The entire set-up is very reminiscent of Five Little Pigs, in which Caroline Crale's execution is inter-cut with Lucy Crale's memories from her childhood. Intriguingly, both hangings didn't appear in Christie's original novels. Litchfield died in an asylum and Caroline Crale died in prison. This was in keeping with Christie's golden rule - never let an innocent character hang, but I really think the story is much more effective because of the changes. Moreover, I was delighted to see the first shots of Poirot. The camera moves from his patent leather boots, to his hands, and finally to his head, in separate shots - a lovely homage to 'The Adventure of the Clapham Cook', the first episode of the entire series.

Macdonald's direction, the colour grading and the excellent production design bring out the autumnal quality of both the setting and the story. Really, having watched this adaptation, I think an autumn setting suits the story much better than the summer setting of the book. I must admit than I am more than a little disappointed that the production team didn't use Chavenage House, the location in which The Mysterious Affair at Styles was filmed. The location was unavailable, apparently, but I don't understand why they couldn't have found a more similar 'country manor'. Was it really necessary to go for a castle? It doesn't look remotely similar. Having said that, I was pleased that the new location has a few similarities with Chavenage, and I really think it worked for this particular adaptation. It makes the characters look small in a vast space, and the house itself almost becomes a character - the ghosts of the past.

Christian Henson's soundtrack for the episode is ingenious. Not only is there a perfect balance between eerie, almost Hitchcockian music and more melancholic touches, but the use of Chopin's 'Raindrop Prelude' (Op. 28 No. 15) is perfect. Again, this reminds me of Five Little Pigs, in which Gunning used Erik Satie's Gnossienne No. 1 as a running theme. The Chopin piece is extra poignant because it is used for Poirot's death scene. The music, combined with Suchet's superb acting, create an intensely moving atmosphere.

Characters and actors
The supporting cast for this episode is more or less perfect. Special mentions should be given to Helen Baxendale, Aidan McArdle, Anne Reid and Alice Orr-Ewing. They all manage to make their characters feel more human and/or chilling. The stars of the show, however, are David Suchet and Hugh Fraser. Let me start with Hugh Fraser. This is an actor who, for so many years, played a character whose emotional (and intellectual) range was very limited; a man who was famous for his 'I say, Poirot' and 'Good Lord!'. Fraser really comes to the fore in this adaptation; he is given so much more to play with. The grief over Hastings' wife, the concern for Judith (which will eventually drive him to attempt murder - a shocking moment, I'm sure, for several fans), and last but not least: the death of Poirot. The man who had been his closest friend, 'like a father'. Fraser does an absolutely outstanding job, and I sincerely hope he continues his career in the future.

Now - the leading man. David Suchet. What can I say? If you have ever been in doubt, then surely this is the moment to conclude: he is the definitive Poirot. What an unbelievably exquisite performance! I can only imagine what was running through his mind as he shot these scenes (or, actually, I can read about it, in Poirot and Me, published this month). The physical transformation is complete - down to the voice and the weariness of the man. The death scene is a remarkable piece of acting. Stunning and gut-wrenching at the same time. I am in awe of what this man has achieved in 25 years. He has made a cardboard cut-out a living, breathing human being that we actually care about. Given the previous incarnations of Poirot on stage and screen, that is quite an achievement. David Suchet, I salute you.

Au revoir, Poirot. (I can't say 'adieu' just yet).

Monday 18 November 2013

REVIEW: David Suchet's 'Poirot and Me' (2013)

Last week, Agatha Christie's Poirot came to an end as Curtain: Poirot's Last Case was broadcast on ITV. But fear not! To coincide with the broadcast of the final series, Headline Publishing have released a book, written by David Suchet in collaboration with Geoffrey Wansell, called Poirot and Me. The book is an absolute must-have for any dedicated Poirot fan!
When I first heard about the plans for this release back in autumn 2012, I was immediately over-excited. Having seen numerous interviews with Suchet in the past, as well as his documentaries, I was confident that we could expect great things from this book. In short, my expectations could not have been higher. This is the man who for twenty-five years has portrayed one of my favourite literary characters in an iconic television series. 

Let me start by saying that it did not disappoint. Far from it. With over 300 pages, the book includes comments on every single episode ever made, plus some biographical Agatha Christie information. For the first time, we get the full story of how Suchet became Poirot (the walk, the talk, the appearance), with first meetings, first costume fittings, first shoots and several acting epiphanies included. We are also treated to little anecdotes from his encounters with the Poirot fans, some of which are absolutely delightful to read. We even get his 'character dossier', the list of 93 Poirot characteristics that he carried with him on set (I was secretly hoping for this to be included, but I never thought we'd actually get to see it!), and a series of photos Suchet has taken on the sets over the years. 

This is far more than just a Poirot 'encyclopedia', though. This is the life story of a character actor. I don't think I have ever seen a character actor who has been given the opportunity to describe the process of becoming different characters. In short, his craft. Poirot aside, we also get glimpses of all the other great characters Suchet has played, including the famous Shakespeare roles, George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Salieri in Amadeus, Robert Maxwell in Maxwell, James Tyrone in Long Day's Journey Into Night, and many others. We get to share his anxiousness as he waits for the phone call from ITV saying that they want to do another series, his money worries, and holidays with his family. Sometimes when you read 'celebrity biographies' you can tell that it has been 'polished' by some PR department, and certain stories have been included to put the writer in a good light. This, however, is a very personal story told in what appears to be a very truthful and honest manner. Geoffrey Wansell should probably be given some credit here, too, because the book is incredibly 'visual', in the sense that you really feel, as a reader, that you've actually witnessed all these things. You have been a part of Suchet's journey. That is quite unusual. 

Personally, there were some things I was even more delighted to read about than others. It was encouraging to read about Suchet's disputes with some of the Poirot directors, his determination to re-introduce Whitehaven Mansions after a long absence and include Poirot's manservant, his personal contributions to the set designs (he bought the clock on Poirot's mantelpiece for the production team!), and his firm belief to stray true to the character. This is a man with a vision. In fact, that's a thought I kept coming back to while reading the book. On several occasions, Suchet has said that his aim as an actor is to serve the writer. 'Without actors, writers don't have a voice'. These glimpses behind the scenes demonstrate Suchet's determination. He has been committed to Agatha Christie, regardless of what some Christie 'purists' might say, while at the same time fleshing out Poirot to truly iconic dimensions (see my post on Suchet's achievement here). His reflections (in the book) on Murder on the Orient Express and the moving story from the filming of Poirot's final case, Curtain, underline this, too. 

All in all, Poirot and Me is a treasure-trove of information for any fan of David Suchet, Hercule Poirot, and Agatha Christie - not to mention anyone interested in acting, television and adaptation work. Highly recommended! 

P.S. I've been told by Headline that an audiobook version will be released on 21 November 2013, read by David Suchet! The book lends itself easily to an audiobook, and I'm sure the story will feel even more personal when read by Suchet himself.

Richard, a reader of the blog, kindly sent me these photos from one of Suchet's promotional talks. It must have been quite an evening for you!

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Episode-by-episode: The Labours of Hercules

(c) ITV
This episode was based on a series of interconnected short stories, assembled in The Labours of Hercules, first published in 1947. It was adapted by Guy Andrews and directed by Andy Wilson.

Script versus short story collection
This adaptation was a Herculean task (to borrow the pun). Fans - me included - have been discussing for years how the team behind Poirot would ever be able to adapt this collection. Essentially, this is a series of thematically interconnected stories. They are linked together by Poirot's decision to do only a selected number of cases before he retires, and all the cases are to resemble the labours of Hercules in some way or other. Now, in the earlier years of the series, this could almost certainly have been expanded into a series of 50 minute episodes, and a part of me is disappointed that this didn't happen. But for those of us who know a bit about the history of the television series, that would probably never have happened. As a matter of fact, it's remarkable that they even got to make all the other short stories in the early years, before the series was effectively cancelled in 1994/1995.(That is not to say that I wouldn't have loved to see these as a series of episodes!).

Considering that the final series nearly didn't happen - and the fact that this collection was one of the candidates to be dropped - I think we've been lucky to see an adaptation of it at all.

The scriptwriter chosen for this difficult task was Guy Andrews. Just to remind you: he also scripted The Mystery of the Blue Train, Taken at the Flood and Appointment with Death. That's one weak, one slightly unbelievable, and one terrible adaptation (in very crude terms). As you will know if you've read my episode-by-episode look at Appointment with Death, that's a very clear candidate for my least favourite episode of Poirot. It's saved by the beautiful cinematography, music, production design and acting. I was more than a little nervous when I heard that he had been commissioned for The Labours of Hercules. At the same time, this adaptation called for changes. Radical changes. And I was perfectly prepared to accept loads of them if he - against all odds - managed to make it work.

I think he did. It's not perfect and it's not 'complete', since all the stories aren't included. But it actually works as a full-length episode. Andrews' crucial decision was to create a new story using elements from several of the short stories. The prominent short stories here are 'The Arcadian Deer', 'The Erymanthian Boar', 'The Augenean Stables', 'The Stymphalean Birds', 'The Girdle of Hippolyta' and 'The Capture of Cerberus'. 'Boar' is definitely the central one, though. We get a political scandal ('The Augenean Stables'), an art theft ('The Girdle of Hippolyta'), a murdered girl, Lucinda LeMesurier (a reference to the only unfilmed short story, The LeMesurier Inheritance), a heart-broken chauffeur (mechanic in the story, 'The Arcadian Deer') reunited at the end of the episode with his Nita (aka the ballet dancer Katrina Samoushenka), two con-artists and an easily fooled Foreign Office secretary ('The Stymphalean Birds'), the marvellous Countess Vera Rossakoff, her daughter (daughter-in-law in the story), a dog and a doctor (from 'The Capture of Cerberus'). Nearly all of these characters are gathered in one location, the Hotel Olympus in the Swiss Alps ('The Erymathian Boar'), joined by a dodgy hotel manager (partly inspired by 'The Stymphalean Birds'), a shifty waiter, a parlor-game enthusiast and a mysterious master criminal called Marrascaud ('The Erymanthian Boar).

This means that six of the short stories have been more or less properly adapted. The remaining six have not been adapted, but there are some elements of the adaptation that might be linked to them, if you look hard enough. (You can skip this paragraph if you disagree). Elements of 'The Cretan Bull' are in the relationship between Katrina Samoushenka and Dr Lutz. He is playing with her mind, convincing her that she is mad, much like Hugh Chandler is manipulated in the short story. Dr Lutz might also share a passing resemblance with Dr Andersen from 'The Flock of Geryon'. Lutz might be working on Katrina in order to have her money (assuming she has some, since she's a world famous ballerina). Also, in a conversation with Poirot, he is most anxious to underline that he is 'not a Nazi'. This could be seen as a reference either to Lutzmann in Christie's first version of 'The Capture of Cerberus', or a reference to Dr Andersen in 'The Flock of Geryon', who was expelled from university in Nazi-Germany for being a Jew. Moreover, Alice is charismatic, just like Dr Andersen; she persuades Katrina into hiding the diamond necklace for her, and makes Gustave do her 'dirty work' for her. Binky, Alice's dog, whom Poirot refers to as Cerberus, could also be a reference to 'The Nemean Lion', as could Alice herself (the central criminal of the adaptation, much like Amy Carnaby in the short story collection, and Dr Lutz, who might be Binksy's true owner, since the dog recognised him so instantly (cf Sir Joseph Hoggin). The scapegoating of Katrina could also be seen as a link to Tony Hawker in 'The Horses of Diomedes'. The false rumours surrounding Harold Waring (who has taken the blame for the Foreign Secretary) can be considered a reference to 'The Lernean Hydra'). The diamond necklace is possibly a reference to 'The Apples of Hesperides'. Poirot says he 'knows the story of these stones' (though, in context, this seems to refer to the story of how Katrina has been hiding them). Tom, a reader of the blog, suggested that the diamonds might be called 'apples', similar to Ruth Kettering's 'heart of fire' from The Mystery of the Blue Train. This would tie in well with the goblet from the short story, which also has a long history behind it. Finally, the character Countess Rossakoff recognises from a night club in Brindisi could be a reference to the drugs ring in 'The Horses of Diomedes'. Admittedly, these connections are very far-fetched, but they underline the fact that The Labours of Hercules could be considered more or less adapted.

After a few false turns, including the subplots from 'The Stymphalean Birds' and 'The Arcadian Deer', Poirot reveals the culrpit Marrascaud to be Alice Cunningham, Rossakoff's daughter. She stole the jewels and hid a series of paintings (collectively titled 'The Labours of Hercules' - a clever way to include the title) in the hotel. Poirot restores order, and reunites 'Nita' with the chauffeur.

Certain elements of this adaptation don't seem to work. For instance, I was not too pleased about the Mexican stand-off in the denouement scene, and I am still not convinced that bringing together all these different people with different accents was an entirely good idea. It's more over-the-top than we've been used to with Poirot.

Having said that, I think the decision to focus on Poirot's inner journey (as a sort of sequel to the turmoil he was facing at the end of The Murder on the Orient Express) was an incredibly wise one. This is the penultimate episode of the series. Not only is there a need to continue challenging Poirot's ideas of justice and morality; it's also appropriate to give him a chance to recollect his thoughts on his career and his choices in life. Tom, the chauffeur, is a reminder of what he has missed out on in life. As Dr Burton puts it, Poirot has had a remarkable career 'at the expense of having a family'. In my opinion, Andrews manages to combine these two threads of Poirot's character in the reappearance of Countess Rossakoff and her daughter. He is challenged by Rice and Clayton, who suggest; 'The Countess Rossakoff is a criminal, monsieur, and you have done nothing to promote her arrest. You could do the same for us'. Poirot declines the threat, stating that 'Poirot, he will not be pressed'. However, when he reveals the culprit to be Countess Rossakoff's daughter, and Rossakoff tries to convince him to let her go, he is more explicit:

'I am not the law, Countess'

'Hercule. Spare my daughter. Spare her as years ago you spared me. Please, dorogoy.'

'No Countess. Poirot, he is not your love. He is Poirot'

'Then I shall accompany my daughter. A love like ours could have burnt down a city. Such a waste.'
Re-introducing Rossakoff is important, because Poirot is able to confront both his sense of justice (where is the line between an 'acceptable' and an 'unacceptable' crime, and how far can he stretch his role as judge, jury and executioner?), and his loneliness. In the end, Poirot draws the line at allowing Marrascaud aka Alice to escape justice, and he realises that he made the decision about 'family life' several years ago. The final scene, in which he looks down on a pair of cufflinks he was given by the Countess, seems to suggest that he has reconciled himself with the decision to leave the Countess behind.

Poirot's inner journey of self-discovery and redemption is also emphasised in his scenes with Alice. She suggests a link to the episode title that I am a lot more intrigued by:

'The Labours of Hercules. That is how you unconsciously conceive your career. You are the modern incarnation of Hercules.'

'How resourceful of me.'

'Dr Lutz should name a condition after you: the Hercules complex; the compulsion to conquer all obstacles however forbidding. It is why you are driven to chase Marrascaud. You simply have to.'
To me, this is what truly elevates this adaptation to the level of a character study. Andrews links the mythological figure to the fictional detective by emphasising their common purpose. Poirot is convinced that his raison d'etre in life is to rid the world of crime, as he says to Hastings in Peril at End House (the novel). Faced with failure, he has once again plunged into an investigation of a missing maid (cf The Adventure of the Clapham Cook), and by chance been given the possibility of catching the criminal who killed the girl he had promised to protect. His aim, of sorts, is redemption. But has he redeemed himself? Alice Cunningham suggests that he hasn't.
'Do you feel redeemed, monsieur? Does this atone for the death of Lucinda? Because that was a bit of a mess, wasn't it. I heard you say the words Poirot promising to protect her. You poor man's Hercules. So vain, so ineffably smug, and you failed... Don't turn your back on me. I shall find you.'

'I shall not hide.'
Although the adaptation ends with the reuniting of the lovers from 'The Arcadian Deer' and Poirot seems to reconcile himself with his decision to 'travel alone' in life, I think this scene is left ambiguous for a reason. Poirot has solved the case, but he has not remained unchanged after years of murder and horror. This is important, because it helps set the scene for the final Curtain.
'Poirot's journey (...) is a rather brilliant classic hero's tale. Poirot is at a low ebb, is given a mission, takes up the call to action, receives help and hindrance from various shades of his life and past and arriving at a physically cleansed and renewed position where he no longer has to "hide" himself and his doubt.' (Andy Wilson, director)
I realise now that this has evolved into a discussion of Poirot's character and Suchet's interpretation, instead of a straight-forward look at Andrews' adaptation. However, I think it's necessary to include all of this, because I am convinced this is why the adaptation works for me. Yes, the premise is silly. Yes, it's not perfect. Yes, we didn't get all the short stories. Yes, some of the characters are caricature. But this is an elaborate character study of the man we have become so familiar with. It's a point to reassemble Poirot's thoughts on himself and our thoughts on Poirot. In the words of Goethe (and Poirot): 'the threshold is the place to pause'. We are at the threshold, just about to enter the base, the finale of Curtain. What better place to reassemble the loose ends (loneliness, professional life, love life etc) and prepare to enter?

Direction, production design, locations, soundtrack
Andy Wilson's direction is perfection itself in this episode. Some viewers have complained that it's too dark, but his note in the episode press pack gives the reason for this:

'After a bright and garishly coloured opening sequence, when Poirot visits his doctor and in the journey through the hotel, colours will be drained and subdued, at the hotel almost monochrome. The snow ad landscape and the pale interior of the hotel itself lending weight to the monochromatic state of Poirot's feelings; the world for him has become colourless as he cannot find the energy to engage his little grey cells in proper employment. The film should have a slightly psychotic tone.'
His directing choices are interesting and not distracting. Several of the scenes have been beautifully shot. I particularly enjoyed the evening scenes at the hotel, as Poirot, Rossakoff and Alice play 'snap'. There's also a brilliant shift of location from the entrance hall to Poirot's hotel room, as Suchet turns around (rather like the recent Sherlock series).

Jeff Tessler's production design is as good as ever. Despite the heavy use of CGI, the team almost manage to convince us that this is a snow-bound hotel, when in fact the episode was shot mainly on location at RAF Halton House, Aylesbury. There's a glimpse of Whitehaven Mansions, too, through the window of Poirot's car, but I can't tell if that's footage from a previous episode. It probably is. Read the interview with him in the press pack if you are interested in the production team's process. Other locations used include The Funicular, Saint Hilaire du Touvet, in France (yes, the funicular was actually shot on location, but the inside was re-built as a set at Pinewood Studios), and the pavilions at Syon House, Brentford (the chauffeur sequences).

Christian Henson's soundtrack is particularly good in this episode. Such a shame that it isn't released on the new soundtrack album. There's a touch of the old theme tune (see, for instance, the moment when Poirot considers taking on the chauffeur's case), and a general sense of nostalgia mixed with psychological thrillers. Excellent.

Characters and actors
This really is The David Suchet Show. Honestly, this is an acting masterclass. We get some hints of Poirot's eccentricities, like him carefully unpacking his 'toiletteries' and his tendency to speak in the third person ('It helps Poirot administer a healthy distance from his genius'). There's also his loneliness and disillusionment (the scenes after the first murder), and his sense of regret (all scenes with Rossakoff). To crown the performance, we have Poirot's matchmaking trait at the end, reminiscent of several previous episodes. (By the way, the little box containing the cufflinks is such a nice homage to 'The Chocolate Box' and Virginie Mesnard's lapel pin vase. Now Poirot wears momenta from both of the women in his life; Countess Rossakoff and Virginie Mesnard.)

Of the guest cast, Orla Brady (taking over the part from Kika Markham) and Simon Callow are the standouts, but all the characters are wonderfully fleshed-out, perhaps because of their short story origins. Brady actually manages to create some sense of continuity from Markham's portrayal, although she's slightly more vivacious and humorous (in keeping with the short story). Callow and Suchet simply interact well together, and they create some classic moments.

Thursday 7 November 2013

The Final Series of 'Poirot': An Overview

(c) ITV
Since the final four episodes have just started airing in the UK, I've decided to do a post on all the information you'll need on Series Thirteen; Elephants Can Remember, The Big Four, Dead Man's Folly, The Labours of Hercules, and Curtain: Poirot's Last Case.

The post will be updated and re-posted constantly in the coming weeks, with links to press releases, press packs, trailers, clips, important interviews, reviews and photos that might interest fans. As always, comments are more than welcome, so feel free to ask questions, give a small review or post your thoughts in the comments section!

S13E1: Elephants Can Remember
Produced: January/February 2013
Aired: Sunday 9th June 2013, 8pm
Viewing figures: 4.47 million (excluding 405,000 on +1)
Press pack: Elephants Can Remember: Production Notes (includes interview with David Suchet)
Trailer: Elephants Can Remember (ITV trailer)
Reviews: The Telegraph, Radio Times (spoiler free), The Guardian
Photos: Huffington Post (19 promotional photos!)

Read my episode-by-episode look at 'Elephants Can Remember' here.

S13E2: The Big Four
Produced: February/March 2013
Aired: Wednesday 23rd October 2013, 8pm
Viewing figures: 4.40 million (excl 405,000 on +1)
Press pack: The Big Four: Production Notes (includes interviews with David Suchet, Philip Jackson and Sarah Parish)
Trailer: The Big Four (ITV trailer)
Reviews: The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, Radio Times (spoiler free), The Guardian (praise of the series), The Guardian (video, 2:42 min in)
Photos: See my posts 'The old gang is back' and 'The Big Four: behind the scenes photos and screencaps'
Read my episode-by-episode look at 'The Big Four' here.

S13E3: Dead Man's Folly
Produced: May/June 2013
Airs: Wednesday 30th October 2013
Viewing figures: 4.37 million (excl 285,000 0n +1)
Press pack: Dead Man's Folly: Production Notes (includes interviews with David Suchet, Zoë Wanamaker and Tom Ellis)
Clip: Dead Man's Folly (video)
Trailer: Dead Man's Folly (trailer)
Reviews: Radio Times (spoiler free), The Telegraph, Mirror
Photos: see these stunning behind-the-scenes photos from Dasha's David Suchet website. Also, here's the official stills - a lovely collection of photos!

Read my episode-by-episode look at 'Dead Man's Folly' here.

S13E4: The Labours of Hercules
Produced: April/May 2013
Airs: Wednesday 6th November 2013
Viewing figures: 4.21 million (excl 365,000 on +1)
Press pack: The Labours of Hercules: Production Notes
Trailer: The Labours of Hercules (trailer)
Clip: The Labours of Hercules (video)
Reviews: Radio Times (spoiler free), The Telegraph
Photos: See my post: 'First promotional photos from The Labours of Hercules'

An episode-by-episode look at 'The Labours of Hercules' will be up by next week.
(c) ITV
S13E5: Curtain: Poirot's Last Case
Produced: October/November 2012
Airs: Wednesday 13th November 2013 (confirmed!)
Viewing figures: N/A
Press pack: Curtain: Poirot's Last Case: Production Notes. Here's the press release.
Trailer: N/A ( 'The End is Near' trailer is amazing!)
Clip: Curtain: Poirot's Last Case (video)
Reviews: Radio Times (spoiler free)
Photos: see below for a behind-the-scenes shot of Suchet. Also, have a look at this article from The Daily Mail, and this article from The Telegraph. Both include several photos.

Documentary: Being Poirot
Produced: Summer 2013 (?)
Airs: Wednesday 13th November 2013 (immediately after Curtain)
Press release: Being Poirot

Behind the scenes articles & interviews

DVD releases: 'The Definitive Collection' and 'Collection 9'
Available for pre-order on Release Date: 18 November 2013

The Definitive Collection will contain all seventy episodes, plus Suchet's Being Poirot documentary, an interview with David Suchet, the David Suchet on the Orient Express documentary and a behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of Murder on the Orient Express.  Collection 9 will contain the final five episodes, plus Suchet's Being Poirot documentary and an interview with David Suchet.

Episode-by-episode: Dead Man's Folly

(c) ITV

This episode was based on the novel Dead Man's Folly, first published in 1956. It was adapted by Nick Dear (by now one of the 'regulars'), and directed by Tom Vaughan.

Script versus novel
Nick Dear's script is a very faithful retelling of the novel. Certain sections are moved around, some have a slightly different setting, and some sections are shortened down (especially the interviews), but most of the action is kept intact. Let's look at some of the changes. Obviously, the time setting has bee changed from post-war 1950s to pre-war 1930s. This doesn't manifest itself in any particular changes, apart from the deaths of Mrs Folliat's sons. Moreover, Dear adds an opening sequence that takes place a year before the investigation. The incident is based on conversations with Mrs Folliat and Merdell later in the novel. These opening sequences from the past that will later have an impact on the plot have become a norm on these productions over the years; a number of episodes have the same addition. Furthermore, the telephone call from Mrs Oliver in the opening chapter is removed, including Miss Lemon and the Whitehaven setting. Miss Lemon's absence makes sense, both because this episode isn't explicitly set after The Big Four, and because Poirot is in semi-retirement at this point of his career. George the valet could have made an appearance, but they probably decided not to include him because of availability issues or costs. Instead, Poirot has received a telegram from Mrs Oliver and is on his way from the station when we first see him. Some characters are deleted in the subsequent sections, including the Mastertons (though Mrs Masterton becomes Warburton's wife, and Warburton becomes a Member of Parliament), Sergeant Cottrell (his lines are given to Hoskins instead), the Chief Constable, and Mrs and Mr Tucker (Marlene's parents). None of these deletions really impact the story, and they are probably all a result of time constraints rather than creative decisions. A subplot involving Alec Legge and a man in a turtle-patterned shirt is deleted (probably due to time constraints, or possibly the fact that it doesn't really add anything to the plot). The incident in the camellia garden with Mrs Oliver and Poirot is deleted, and so is the police re-enactment of the possible drowning of Hattie.

Finally, the ending is changed. The setting from the denouement is changed from Folliat's lodge to the boathouse (they seem to have avoided the lodge throughout - I wonder if the location was unavailable or didn't suit the period setting?). Also, in the novel, the fate of the Mrs Folliat and her son is left open ('Will you leave me alone now? There are some things that one has to face quite alone...'). Here, Mrs Folliat asks Poirot to allow her to meet her son before she is arrested. He allows it, 'as a courtesy from an old gentleman'. She goes to James's study and tells him to do exactly what she tells him to do, for once in his life. Outside, two shots are heard, and they presumably commit a murder-suicide. Poirot seems to approve of this with the final word of the episode: 'Bon'. The new ending is intriguing. It gives the Folliats a more explicit fate, but we are not told who killed whom (reminiscent of Elephants Can Remember). Also, it's interesting to view Poirot's changed sense of justice since his encounter with the culprits in Murder on the Orient Express. The decision he had to make there has obviously affected his sense of justice (although he has 'allowed' suicides before - Peril at End House, The Hollow etc).

All in all, Dear has done an excellent job. The script is very faithful to its source material. He must know Christie pretty much inside out by now, having adapted a total of six episodes. That doesn't come close to Clive Exton, but his adaptations have generally done justice to the novels they were based on (possibly apart from the ending of Cards on the Table).

Direction, production design, locations, soundtrack
Tom Vaughan's direction really suits the atmosphere of the story and the location. He utilises the garden, the boathouse, and the woods to their utmost potential. They almost become a character of their own, helped along by the crows in the trees (reminiscent of The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor). The garden fête scene feels slightly rushed, but it does convey the hustle and bustle of the event. The production team have done an excellent job with the fête and the particularly colourful costumes in this episode. The main location used was Greenway, Agatha Christie's holiday home. It's a beautiful setting, and it really affects the way the story progresses. The house becomes a character of its own. Christian Henson's soundtrack works well for the episode (notice the minute hints to the theme tune every now and then). Some might find the muted brass instruments a bit too much, but I think they work for the atmosphere the adaptation is trying to create.

Characters and actors
Poirot is generally quite displeased with his skills this time around. That's partly based on the novel, but certain minute references are added to his 'grey cells' slowing down. Then there's his changing sense of justice, as evidenced in the end scene. It will be interesting to view this episode again when all 70 episodes have aired and consider the development of his sense of justice and morality. Of course, plenty of Poirot's eccentricities are added. He 'twirls his moustache to a ferocious couple of points' (the sentence, taken from the novel, was even a scene description in the script!), he struggles with the countryside and walking around in the woods, and he takes an instant dislike to the students in shorts. Also, there's a particularly funny scene with a large Kewpie doll, taken straight from the novel. Apparently, the scene was not intended to be included in the script, but Suchet asked for its inclusion (which reminds me of the scene with the marrow he insisted on for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd). The interaction between Suchet and Wanamaker is as brilliant as ever. Ariadne's incoherent police interview reminded me of the peacock scene from Third Girl. The afternoon tea between them in London was a nice addition. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Poirot called Ariadne back to Nasse by a telegram, the exact same method and the exact same meeting place (the battery). It highlighted the sense of humour between them. I only wish they had included the tiny reference to Hastings in that scene (but that's a minor complaint). The final exchange between them, on their two favourite methods (deduction and intuition) was also a nice touch.

Of the guest actors, Sinead Cusack stood out as Mrs Folliat. Sean Pertwee did a good job as Sir George, and several of the actors in minor roles suited their characters perfectly. The lack of an Italian accent (or small grammatical mistakes) in Stephanie Leonidas' Hattie was something of a plot hole. Similarly, Fransesca Zoutewelle's Dutch accent seemed a bit overdone, but then again the point of her character is to stand out as 'foreign', so perhaps it was necessary.

Sunday 3 November 2013

'The Labours of Hercules': Screenshots from AleKino broadcast

"ueetba", a Poirot fan from Poland, very kindly sent me these screenshots from the broadcast of The Labours of Hercules.

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)