Saturday, 29 June 2013

Episode-by-episode: Wasps' Nest


© ITV
This episode was based on the short story 'Wasps' Nest', first published in 1928. The story was adapted for television by David Renwick and directed by Brian Farnham.

Script versus short story
One of Christie's shortest short stories, this had to be embellished quite a lot to work as a 50-minute adaptation. Luckily, Renwick's additions make sense and enhance the story, to some extent. Personally, at least, I've always found it somewhat unbelievable that Poirot would just happen to be passing the chemist's in Barchester, just happen to notice Langton's name (a man he had met once at a dinner party), and then just happen to make the connection that it would have something to do with Harrison and his wife by bumping into Langton in the street. Renwick makes the sensible decision to include a garden fete, which Poirot, Hastings and Japp attend on Hastings's suggestion (of course, it would take Hastings (or Ariadne Oliver, in his later years) for Poirot to attend something like that). At the garden fete, they meet Harrison and Molly Deane, and Hastings takes photos of Langton, Harrison and Deane (his new hobby). Harrison becomes a long-time friend of Poirot here, or rather, Poirot was a friend of his father, who was one of his first friends in England. Poirot, for fun it seems, reads the tea leaves of Molly Deane and notices the bright red lipstick on the cup (belonging to Langton, who is cleverly dressed up as a clown on the fete). Later, Poirot gets stung by one of the wasps in Harrison's garden and has to go to the local chemist (where he discovers Langdon's name in the poison registry). Moreover, Japp (who is added to the story) is admitted to hospital with appendicitis, in an amusing subplot that leads to Japp identifying the doctor of Harrison. Miss Lemon is added, and she regularly attends fitness classes in the same street that Harrison visits his doctor (providing Poirot with yet another link). Also, Molly Deane becomes a fashion model in the adaptation, thus allowing for an extravagant fashion show that also provides a clue to the crime (it turns out Langton has a photo of Deane in a new season's dress; proof of their affair). Another clue added to the mix is a large amount of petrol in the water tank outside Harrison's house (Poirot notices the smell), proof that Harrison substituted the petrol with water to ensure that Langton wouldn't succeed with the wasp killing and would resort to cyanide. Finally, Poirot is seen breaking into Langton's house (!) to remove the cyanide and replace it with washing soda, so that Harrison wouldn't succeed (which is much more believable than just placing some soda in his jacket pocket). In the end, then, the adaptation adds a long list of clues which Poirot has to piece together. Consequently, this becomes an quintessential Poirot episode, since he arrives at the right conclusion through his excellent observational skills and his knowledge of human psychology. The episode is also one of the darker ones of the series up to this point.

(MORE AFTER THE JUMP)

Episode-by-episode: The Plymouth Express


© ITV
This episode was based on the short story 'The Plymouth Express', first published as'The Mystery of the Plymouth Express' in The Sketch in 1923. The story was adapted for television by Rod Beacham and directed by Andrew Piddington. 'Plymouth Express' later formed the basis for The Mystery of the Blue Train, a novel that was adapted for Series Ten.

Script versus short story
Beacham stays largely true to the source material, with certain important additions. The adaptation opens with a visit by Rupert Carrington to Florence in her flat, and the arrival of the Count at the 'Adelphi' (the Ritz in the story). Moreover, there's a subplot involving stocks in a mining company (Yellow Creek), which interests Hastings, of course. In the adaptation, Halliday (who is Australian and called Gordon here) consults Poirot before the crime takes place. At first, he wants him to look into the issue of the Count, and Poirot and Hastings observe the couple at the Adelphi. Later, when Florence disappears on her journey with the Plymouth Express, Halliday again consults Poirot to ask him to find her. Of course, she is found murdered, and that's just about where the original story comes into the picture. There are important additions to that section too. For instance, Poirot and Hastings travel down on the train to interview the paper boy (mentioned in the story), and he remembers Florence/the culprit because she asked for the late edition of the paper, not because of a large tip. This later turns out to be a plot point, as the Count had to know whether his stock speculation in Yellow Creek had succeeded. Moreover, Miss Lemon is added to the plot, and she finds the early and late editions of all the major newspapers. Hastings gets to "interview" Rupert Carrington, whom he tracks down in a bar. Carrington is trying to escape his creditors. Also, the jewel thief (McKenzie here, Red Narky in the short story) is discovered in Miss Lemon's archive, not by Japp in the Scotland Yard files (a bit unbelievable perhaps, but a nice way to include her filing system). All in all, though, it's a nicely done adaptation with only minor changes. Even if I wish they had skipped this one, knowing that they would later get to The Mystery of the Blue Train, a very similar story. Perhaps they could have done 'The Lemesurier Inheritance' as a 50-minute episode instead? Oh, well.

(MORE AFTER THE JUMP)

Episode-by-episode: The Million Dollar Bond Robbery


© ITV
This episode was based on the short story 'The Million Dollar Bond Robbery', first published in 1923 in The Sketch. It was adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz and directed by Andrew Grieve.

Script versus short story
The original story that served as a basis for this episode is very slight, so it obviously needed some embellishment to work as an adaptation. It is a testament to Horowitz, then, that most additions seem perfectly natural, as if they had been part of the original story in the first place. Not surprising, really, when you take into account that Horowitz went on to write for Midsomer Murders, the brilliant Foyle's War as well as a bunch of other crime series - in addition to novels for young adults, and new Sherlock Holmes novels. A scriptwriter genius in the making, one could perhaps say. Now, back to the adaptation. First, he adds an opening scene in Threadneedle Street (the exact location mentioned in the short story), in which Mr. Shaw is nearly run over by a sports car. Second, Horowitz changes the Olympia into the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary (in keeping with the series' inclusion of real-life 1930s events), and Poirot and Hastings join Ridgeway on the journey. Third, Mr. Shaw and Mr. Vavasour consult Poirot, not Esmee, and they do so before the robbery. Fourth, Mr. Shaw is himself supposed to be travelling with the bonds, but he is almost killed by strychnine poisoning (this is the third episode in a row with a death or near-death from strychnine!). Fifth, Inspector McNeil becomes McNeil, Head of Security at the bank, and Esmee becomes a secretary of Mr. Vavasour (but remains Ridgeway's girlfriend, too). Sixth, a second culprit is introduced; Nurse Long aka Miranda Brooks. She nurses the (apparently) ill Mr. Shaw, but she also drives the sports car, travels on the Queen Mary (instead of Shaw), breaks into the box and throws the package over board. She also serves as a love interest for poor Hastings, but is in fact Shaw's wife-to-be. In the end, it's a habit that blows her cover; she grasps for her nurse uniform watch when Poirot asks for the time. Seventh, Ridgeway is in money trouble from all his gambling (in the short story he has never had debts in his life), thus providing him with a potential motive. Most of Horowitz's changes are admirable. He broadens the list of suspects, creates possible motives and makes use of classic Christie plot elements like strychnine poisoning and the well-used no-one-looks-at-a-servant/nurse/maid-trick.

(MORE AFTER THE JUMP)

Friday, 28 June 2013

The Final Day...


As many of you will know, this week marked the end of the shoot for the final episode of the final series of Agatha Christie's Poirot. If we include the rehearsed reading of Black Coffee, and assume that all the short stories of Labours of Hercules will be referenced in some way, we can conclude that David Suchet has now starred in adaptations of every single Poirot short story, novel and play ever published by Agatha Christie. That is quite an achievement. His last day on set must have been such an emotional moment, just like the end credits of the final episode, Curtain, will certainly be an emotional moment for all us fans out there. I'll offer some more thoughts on the subject once that episode has aired, but until then, suffice to say a big T H A N K  Y O U to David Suchet for dedicating such a large part of his career to this funny little Belgian. This has been 25 years of excellence, 25 years of pure perfection.

P.S. The photo I've chosen is from the Facebook page of Greenway Ferry. It was apparently taken shortly after they finished shooting the final scene of Dead Man's Folly. Notice how Zoë Wanamaker is holding David Suchet's hand. It must have been such a poignant day.

Episode-by-episode: How Does Your Garden Grow?


© ITV
The first episode of the third series (excluding the centenary special The Mysterious Affair at Styles), this episode is based on the short story 'How Does Your Garden Grow?', first published in 1935. The story was adapted for television by Andrew Marshall and directed by Brian Farnham.

Script versus short story
The adaptation stays more or less true to its source material, but with several embellishments. First, the element of the Soviet Union and Communism (hinted at by Mr. Delafontaine in the short story) is expanded into an entire subplot / red herring in which Katrina has a lover at the Russian Embassy and comes from an old aristocratic family in Russia (she's also a Russian Orthodox by faith). Second, there's an entire subplot on Poirot's purchase of a perfume and the unveiling of a rose bearing his name at the Chelsea Flower Show. The Flower Show also provides the setting for a meeting between Poirot and Miss Barrowby. She hands him a packet of seeds of a rose named 'Catherine the Great', a clue that will later lead Poirot to uncover Katrina's back story and discover the true culprits. Quite a clever addition, actually. Third, there are several scenes in which we are shown the going-ons at the Barrowby household, including the prescription by the doctor, the drinking of Mr. Delafontaine and the crime itself (as recounted by Inspector Sims in the short story). Fourth, Japp and Hastings are added to the story, and Miss Lemon's role is somewhat expanded. Japp partly replaces Inspector Sims (but a significant part of Sims's role is given to the family doctor, called Sims, and the solicitor, in the adaptation). Hastings gets a subplot of his own, recovering from supposed hay fever (later revealed to be an allergic reaction to Poirot's cologne) and searching for a merchant's bill, destroying Miss Lemon's filing system. Miss Lemon gets to investigate together with Poirot, interviewing the maid at the house and visiting the morgue with Japp and Poirot - and of course visit the fishmonger (like in  the short story). Fifth, the nursery rhyme is given some more prominence; Miss Lemon  notices the unfinished edging of the flower beds and finds a silver bell (seen in use by Miss Barrowby throughout the episode so far) buried there. Finally, there's an expanded denouement, which includes new elements of stock speculation and the fact that Mrs. Delafontaine paid in cash at the fishmonger, as well as the ever-present chase scene. Still, when all the changes are taken into account, they make sense and clarify the plot rather than deviate from its source. Well done.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Brian Farnham makes good use of the many outstanding locations. A list of these would include the Freemason's Hall (here: the Russian Embassy), and the real store G.F. Trumper in Mayfair, where Poirot buys his perfume. See this link for location photos.The extravagant scenes at the Chelsea Flower Show are simply a joy to watch (imagine the number of extras for those scenes alone!). The soundtrack is great, and this one has been released on Gunning's latest CD (titled How Does Your Garden Grow? - one of the few tracks to feature the entire score of an episode).


Actors and characters
Marshall has added some nice character development here. For instance, we have Japp attending the flower show - and demonstrating his expert knowledge of flowers (a hint of Christie's character, who enjoys gardening). Also, there's Miss Lemon's comment that she 'used to help in the hospital ward during the war' (I'm not sure if that's from Christie's stories - probably not - but it's a sort-of reference to Christie herself, who worked as a hospital dispenser). Finally, there's Poirot's comment 'One day I hope to retire to grow the vegetable marrows' (which I've sadly had to ignore for my chronology of the episodes). In terms of guest actors, Anne Stallybrass (Mary Delafontaine) really stands out in this one, as does Catherine Russell (Katrina), both conveying the changes their characters go through in appearance and attitude.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Episode-by-episode: The Mysterious Affair at Styles


© ITV
Between Series Two and Series Three, the production team decided to tackle Christie's first ever Poirot novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, published in 1920, to coincide with the centenary of her birth in September 1990. The screenplay was written by the excellent Clive Exton and the director was Ross Devenish.

Script versus novel
Considering the length and complexity of this story, the script stays remarkably true to its source material. A few characters are omitted (Dr Bauerstein, who was merely a subplot or red herring really, and the maid Annie) and certain passages are removed (the extra coffee cup Lawrence is searching for, the letter to Evie from Mrs. Inglethorpe, the visit to the hospital where Cynthia works, the gardeners who witnessed the will etc.). Some passages are shortened down, such as Poirot's initial interviews with the household and the trial of John Cavendish, but the key information is kept intact. Some elements are added, such as the scenes with the group of Belgian refugees Poirot is educating, as well as Hastings's war trauma memories, and the important and explanatory visit to the Institute of Pharmacology. All in all, however, the script is faithful to the novel, probably as faithful as an adaptation can possibly be without recounting every single word.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Ross Devenish's direction is very competent. I particularly enjoyed the way Poirot was introduced on screen, with a close up on his patent leather boots, then moving up his legs to his face - very reminiscent of the first shot of Poirot in the first-ever episode, The Adventure of the Clapham Cook, directed by Edward Bennett. A nice touch! As to the production design, it is wonderful to note the attention to detail in recreating wartime Britain, from the streets of London to the village of Styles St. Mary. The locations for the episode include the beautiful Chavenage House, near Tetbury in Gloucestershire, used as 'Styles Court', a location I sincerely hope they've returned to for the adaptation of Curtain!, as well as the village of Easton Grey, Gloucestershire, doubling as 'Styles St. Mary', and the end scene shot in Lloyd Square, London. See here, here and here for photos. Several pieces from the soundtrack are included on Christopher Gunning's latest CD release, including 'War' (from the opening scene), 'A Country Retreat' (from Hastings's arrival in Styles St. Mary) and 'The Death of Mrs Inglethorpe' (from the death scene, obviously). 

Actors and characters
It's lovely to see David Suchet transform into the younger Poirot, complete with a hair-piece to make him look younger (they would use the same trick for one later episode, The Chocolate Box), supporting my theory that the television version of Poirot was significantly younger than the book version of Poirot when he arrived in England (see my chronology blog). Suchet gets to display 'the tools of Poirot's profession', a set of objects we will rarely (if ever) see used again in the subsequent episodes. You should also note the added scenes in which Poirot's attention to order and method (e.g. the reordering of the post office groceries, the complaint on the English countryside as opposed to the streets of New York). And of course, there's the famous scenes from the book, i.e. the reordering of the mantelpiece and the building of cards to focus his little grey cells (which we'll see again in later episodes, e.g. The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim and Three Act Tragedy). As to Hastings, I'm intrigued by the addition of the war trauma (particularly well executed by director Devenish). It adds a depth to Hastings's character which we rarely see. Perhaps one of his final two appearances in the series, The Big Four, apparently set just before the break of the Second World War, and Curtain, set almost immediately after it, will make a reference to his experience of war? That would certainly be an interesting addition. Also, I notice that a) any references to Hastings's previous employment at Lloyds and b) any references to specific years in which Japp and Poirot have collaborated before are excluded in the adaptation. For once, they choose to be vague on facts and character history, and I think it's a wise move. 

As to the guest performances, one can clearly see that the actors have so much more to play with in these longer stories. But for me, the standouts are certainly Michael Cronin (Albert Inglethorpe) and Joanna McCallum (Evie Howard), the first managing to convey just the right amount of uneasiness and creepiness, and the latter accurately portraying the character from the book.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Episode-by-episode: The Adventure of the Western Star


© ITV
This episode was based on the short story 'The Adventure of the Western Star', first published in The Sketch in 1923. The story was adapted for television by Clive Exton and directed by Richard Spence.

Script versus short story
The adaptation remains largely faithful to the source material, with some notable exceptions. Exton chooses to make Poirot a big fan of Mary Marvelle (Marie Marvelle here), who is now a Belgian film star. This change is actually quite amusing, even if I find it difficult to believe that Poirot would be 'starstruck'. The interview is moved from Poirot's flat to her hotel, but Lady Yardly's visit is kept almost intact (with Hastings as the interviewer). Also, Exton adds a subplot involving Japp and Scotland Yard, who are trying to catch a diamond collector, Henrik Van Braks, red-handed. Van Braks becomes a potential buyer for Rolf's diamond, with Hoffberg (mentioned in the short story) as an intermediate. Lady Yarldy's confession (hinted at in the short story) is here expanded into a full scene at Whitehaven Mansions. Moreover, Miss Lemon is added, but she gets little to do, apart from showing visitors in and out. In addition, there's a rather nice scene at Poirot's barber. Finally, there's the ever-present chase scene (this time at 'Corydon Airport'), and a dinner between Poirot and Hastings in the final scene. All in all, though, Exton's changes make complete sense and the adaptation works quite well (even with Christie's over-the-top Chinaman stuff). 

Directing, production design, locations and soundtrack
Spence does a decent job of utilising the locations. The most important locations include Dorney Court, Windsor in Berkshire ('Yardly Chase'), Shoreham Airport ('Croydon Airport', also seen in Death in the Clouds and Lord Edgware Dies) and Widegate St., London E1. See location photos here. The soundtrack works quite well, particularly what seems to be Marie Marvelle's theme (the score is composed by Richard Hewson in Gunning's absence).

Actors and characters
The aforementioned scene at Poirot's barber brilliantly conveys his sense of symmetry, insisting that the one sideburn was three millimetre shorter than the other. Also, his love of all things Belgian (which we will see in later episodes as anything from Belgian food to miniatures (The Underdog)). The guest actors are all quite memorable, with the Belgian couple, Gregorie Rolf and Marie Marvelle (played by Rosalind Bennett and Oliver Cotton) as particular standouts. On a side note, I think this is the only episode of the entire series in which Poirot has a conversation in French (apart from a witness in Death in the Clouds). 

Episode-by-episode: The Kidnapped Prime Minister


© ITV

This episode was based on the short story 'The Kidnapped Prime Minister', first published in The Sketch in 1923. The story was adapted for television by Clive Exton and directed by Andrew Grieve.

Script versus short story
Exton makes several significant changes to the story (in addition to the obvious inclusion of Miss Lemon and the expansion of Japp's role). First, the action is moved from the Peace Conference at Versailles around WWI to a disarmament conference in the mid-1930s. The chauffeur's name is changed to Egan (still Irish), and the main culprit has a wife he has recently divorced, but who is later revealed to be in on the crime. The reason for the crime is Irish resentment of Britain; they want Germany to rearm. Second, Poirot and his fellow investigators never leave Britain for France (they get as far as Dover and then return to London). Instead, the search for the local hospital mentioned in the story is expanded. Third, Detective Barnes is replaced by Japp, who is frightened he might lose his job unless Poirot finds the culprits (reminiscent of The Double Clue adaptation). Fourth, a chase scene is added, in which Hastings tries to follow Mrs Daniels to find the Prime Minister. Fifth, Exton incorporates a new clue to the culprits, an address book found in Egan's bedroom, with 'Mayfair 2537', the number of Mr. Daniels, written down under the letter 'X'. Sixth, a subplot concerning Poirot's tailor and the size of Poirot's waste (see also Evil under the Sun) is included. There are  several minor changes as well, like the fact that Dodge and Astair meet Poirot at the Foreign Office and not at his flat. Still, the adaptation works quite well and the changes are more or less understandable.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Grieve makes great use of the Whitehall location, as Poirot walks to his appointment with Sir Bernard and Lord Astair (helped by the sound of the Big Ben, of course). There's also some nice opening shots at 'Charing Cross' (a set, probably). Locations used for the episode include St. Margaret's Bay (also used for The Clocks), the Dover Harbour Board Offices, Quilter Street (E1), used for the scenes outside Fingler's, The Foreign Office (obviously) and Ingress Abbey (used as 'Somerscot Hall'). The soundtrack for the episode is very appropriate, with small hints of Irish influences (again, the score is by Fiachra Trench in Gunning's absence.

Actors and characters
In terms of character development, there's a nice reference to Poirot's seasickness (which will be referred to in The Million Dollar Bond Robbery - and possibly The Big Four?), and Hastings gets to drive his Lagonda. In terms of guest actors, they all do a decent job of conveying their characters.

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