Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Episode-by-episode: Murder on the Links


©ITV
This episode was based upon the novel The Murder on the Links, first published in 1923. It was adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz and directed by Andrew Grieve.

Script versus novel
Horowitz remains faithful to Christie's text, making only minor (but in some cases significant) changes. To begin with, he adds a newsreel sequence as the opening sequence (which had almost become the norm for the episodes by now). The newsreel footage outlines the Beroldy case, revealing a major plot point very early on - perhaps too early. This first case is also reported to have occurred only ten years previously - not twenty as in the novel. Also, Poirot and Hastings arrive in Deauville ('Merlinville' in the novel) on their own account, since Hastings is taking Poirot to a golf hotel (a nice reference to Hastings's hobby throughout the series and the books). Consequently, there is no letter from Paul Renauld. Instead, Renauld (who is revealed to be the owner of the hotel, as well as being involved in the business in Santiago) consults Poirot at the hotel. Another significant change is the Hastings-Cinderella/Dulcie subplot. Here, the twins Dulcie and Bella are merged into one character (Bella Duveen), a sensible change, since the confusion as to their identity is nothing more than a red herring in the original story. Bella/Dulcie and Hastings don't meet on the train as in the novel. Instead, Hastings is spellbound by Bella at the hotel, as he watches her sing (she is a hotel singer here, not an acrobat). Then, throughout the episode, they meet each other on the beach (and have lunch), and go to lunch in a local Deauville restaurant. Since the twin is deleted, there is no need for the search for her back in London, so that section is cut, too. Apart from this, the subplot is kept more or less intact - but the romantic angle (and Hastings's eagerness to reveal far too much of the investigation) is obviously played up a bit, to great success, I would say. Finally, Horowitz has added a subplot to Jack Renauld's story - he is participating in a Deauville cycling race. Other changes are small and insignificant - like reducing the number of servants in the Renauld household, deleting some minor clues, e.g. the flower bed footprints and the gardener, deleting the letter from Cinderella to Hastings (instead, Bella explains herself to Poirot and Hastings), and letting the secretary, Mr. Stonor, replace Cinderella in catching the culprit. All in all, then, Horowitz's script is a wonderful take on the novel, remaining largely faithful and making sensible changes.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Andrew Grieve's directing is highly competent as usual. He makes great use of the Deauville location and creates a distinctly French and 30s atmosphere. The locations used include Normandy Barriere Hotel in Deauville (Hotel du Golf), the Tourville/Deauville train station and La Terrasse, Deauville (the swimming area). Christopher Gunning's soundtrack for this episode is particularly excellent and perfectly suited for the location. Sadly, it has never been released.

Characters and actors
It's lovely to see the Hastings/Bella subplot develop. This is, of course, a significant point in the series' chronology, and in Hastings's and Poirot's life. It's brilliantly acted both by Fraser and Jacinta Mulcahy, who plays Bella. As to Poirot, it's nice to see his many eccentricities and character traits brilliantly portrayed here, from his self-confidence (vis-a-vis Giraud) in a brilliant wager (in the novel it's "only" for 500 francs, here it's for the moustache / the pipe) to his matchmaking in the end scene. Suchet's facial expression in that final shot is so characterful - and a hint of the loneliness to come now that Hastings is entering married life.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Episode-by-episode: Hickory Dickory Dock


©ITV
This episode was based on the novel Hickory Dickory Dock, first published in 1955. It was adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz and directed by Andrew Grieve.

Script versus novel
This was the first of the post-war novels to be adapted for the series and its established 1930s setting. In the years to come this would become a common occurrence - moving the plot of post-war novels back to that decade. Sometimes the transition is seamless (e.g. The Clocks, Mrs. McGinty's Dead), and sometimes not as much (Third Girl). Horowitz's script, I would say, falls somewhere in between. To begin with, the task of transforming a student hostel situation - post-war in its very nature - into a believable 1930s student rooms is not an easy one. Horowitz partly succeeds in that the 1930s student feel that we also got in the adaptation of 'The Case of the Missing Will' works quite well. He removes all the foreign students, including Mr. Gopal Ram, Akibombo, Elizabeth Johnston, Miss Reinjeer, Achmed Ali, Genevieve Maricaud, Jean Tomlinson and the two Turks (who, I assume, would be somewhat out of place as students in the 1930s - but, more importantly, they don't really provide important plot points, possibly apart from Akibombo, so it makes sense to delete them for time constraints reasons, too). A further change I don't quite understand is making all the residents of the hostel students - even Valerie Hobbhouse, who becomes a student of design and fashion. That seems a bit excessive, especially since the Series Five episode I mentioned (set at about the same time) covers the difficulty facing female students at universities. Anyway, I guess it works somehow or other.

As to plot changes, the list is actually quite long. First, we have the addition of Chief Inspector Japp (who replaces the book's Inspector Sharpe), and a subplot concerned with him coping (or not coping) at home in Mrs Japp's absence. He is eventually invited to stay with Poirot at Whitehaven - which, of course, gives room for some comic relief, like the bidet thing, but it all gets a bit too much, in my opinion. Especially that end scene in Japp's kitchen (faggot, phobie du faggot, spotted dick etc.). Second, the story is set around the 1936 Jarrow March (which occurred in October, not in April, as the lecture note at Hickory Dock seems to imply...a careless mistake), Sir Arthur Stanley becomes a leading Labour politician (and not a chemistry professor as in the novel), and Japp has a grudge against him because he investigated the death of his wife about ten years ago. Third, Miss Lemon's role is significantly expanded (which seems just right since her role is central to the story), and she is present throughout much of the investigation - and gets involved, too. Fourth, a couple of clues are removed partly as the result of the deleted student characters, including the silk scarf and the green ink. Fifth, Horowitz adds a subplot involving Customs and Excise, in which Sally Finch, the American student, gets a significant role. Sixth, the morphine that disappears was acquired by Colin McNabb, not Nigel Chapman as in the novel, probably in an attempt to widen the list of suspects (certain other additions, like Sally sneaking out at night and Len sneaking into Celia's room, attempt to do the same). Seventh, a further clue is added in the form of Valerie's peculiar stitch-work on a dress (and, of course, later on the rucksack). Eight, Patricia realises the connection between Nigel and Sir Arthur through a photo album at the hospital and not through conversations with Nigel. Finally, Horowitz adds the ever-present chase scene (this time at 'Hickory Road' tube station).

On the whole, even though Horowitz's changes are significant, the adaptation actually works as a more or less faithful retelling of the novel. The essential clues and plot points are retained, and even though the number of students is reduced, it's not something you would notice if you hadn't read the novel. In other words, apart from the odd anachronisms, including the student setting, the Fulbright Scholarship (not introduced until 1946) and the mistaken setting of the Jarrow March, the adaptation isn't half bad, considering the novel is very distinctly post-war.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Grieve's direction is as good as always, with a number of delightful references to the nursery rhyme and the mouse the student house name gets its inspiration from (notice, for instance, that both the opening shot of the living room clock and the shot of the clock in the denouement scene displays the time as one o'clock).
Hickory, dickory, dock,
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
The mouse ran down,
Hickory, dickory, dock
His direction works well together with Gunning's score, which repeats the 'Hickory, dickory dock' line. There is one issue with his directing choices, however. Several shots clearly reveal the identity of the murderer quite early on. Whether this is deliberate or not, I don't know, but it is quite evident if you know the story. The locations used for the episode include YHA, Carits Lane, London (the student house), Allen, the butcher, Mount Street, London (the place where Japp and Poirot buy meat), a car park entrance in Cartis Lane (the 'Hickory Road' station entrance), Brushfield Street, Spitafields (the store of Mr. Nicoletis) and Morden Station on the Northern Line (used as 'Hickory Road' station). See this link for photos.

Characters and actors
It's great to get some back story on Miss Lemon and her sister. Notice that Horowitz has given Mrs Hubbard a first name, Florence, to match Miss Lemon's (Felicity).  Although I dislike some of the comic relief with Japp, it's nice to see their friendship develop further. Of the guest actors, I am most impressed by the fact that the casting director managed to find an actress so strikingly similar to Pauline Moran (Miss Lemon) as Sarah Badel (Mrs Hubbard). Not even that, Badel manages to match her in mannerisms and complement her just as in the novel. A delight to watch. Of the students, there are no real stand-outs, apart from Jonathan Firth (Nigel Chapman) of course. And naturally, there's the fun of watching a very young Damian Lewis of later Homeland fame.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Episode-by-episode: Hercule Poirot's Christmas


©ITV
This episode was based on the novel Hercule Poirot's Christmas, first published in 1938. The story was adapted for television by Clive Exton and directed by Edward Bennett (returning from Series One).

Script versus novel
As is almost always the case with Exton, the script remains largely faithful to its source material, with only some minor and largely understandable changes to the main plot. To begin with, he adds an (almost necessary) prologue in South Africa, set in 1896, in which we see Simeon Lee kill his partner Ebeneezer (not in the novel) and being rescued by a woman, Stella, in the desert (not in the novel), who later turns out to be the mother of one of the illegitimate children mentioned in the novel. Moreover, he adds some scenes in which Poirot and Japp (who replaces the local Colonel Johnson in the novel) prepare for Christmas - and a subplot concerning the presents the two give to each other (this change in fact becomes an important plot point, as it leads to Poirot's visit to a village store in which he sees the pig balloons and the fake moustache). Third, the character of Stephen Farr is deleted (he was no more than a red herring), and instead Pilar's romantic sentiments are directed towards Harry Lee. Fourth, the playing of the 'Dead March' on the piano is deleted and replaced with a dining room quarrel. Fifth, the Lady Macbeth quote is removed (probably because the crime scene is much less blood-filled (to avoid PG rating, possibly?)). Other minor changes include the discovery of the diamond case in George Lee's room (planted there by Sugden, we are told), and the fact that Stella from the opening sequence is Sugden's mother. Generally speaking, however, the script is faithful to its source. Some of the interviews are shortened and several sections are moved around, but essentially the story is very recognisable.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Edward Bennett's directing is competent, and he manages to convey the proper Christmas atmosphere (which is quite an achievement - the episode was shot in April!). The colour grading is noticeable here, too, since the light is particularly harsh and white (reflective of the wintery setting, I suppose). The locations used include Chilham Manor, Kent (the Lee family home), Chilham village (the pub and Sugden's house), Chilham Church. See this link for photos. Christopher Gunning's soundtrack is as good as ever, with a nice seasonal touch to it.

Characters and actors
Suchet gets to display many of Poirot's character traits, like his love of (Belgian) chocolate (also seen in 'The Theft of the Royal Ruby'), his concern for the central heating and general dislike of cold weather and cold manor houses (see, for instance, 'The Mystery of Hunter's Lodge'). The scenes with him at the cold station are reminiscent of the Murder on the Orient Express adaptation, too. Of the guest actors, Vernon Dobtcheff does a particularly exceptional job as the dislikeable family patriarch.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Episode-by-episode: Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan


©ITV
This episode was based on the short story 'The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan'. It was adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz and directed by Ken Grieve.

Script versus short story
Horowitz remains more or less faithful to the short story, with several important additions and changes. First, the reason for Poirot's and Hastings's stay at the hotel is that Poirot needs rest (one of his overworked/hypochondria/retirement moods). Second, he adds an unnecessary running joke concerning 'Lucky Len', a character from a newspaper, which looks remarkably like Poirot. Third, the Opalsen couple are using the pearls for a play, called 'Pearls Before Swine', and they are very concerned about publicity (both getting it and keeping it). This gives the adaptation a set of new characters, like Andrew Hall, who has written the play and knows Celestine well (a suspect for the theft eventually) and Hubert Devine, an actor, who explains that the Opalsens are keen to succeed with the plat due to money trouble. Fourth, Celestine, the maid, isn't French (instead, there's a reference to her mother being French), and Saunders is a chauffeur and not a butler to Mr. and Mrs. Opalsen. Fifth, Japp - who is mentioned in the story - is added as the investigating officer. So is Miss Lemon, who gets to question different people in London (she finds out that the pearls would have been too famous to be sold in the UK and would have to be smuggled to the US). Sixth, there's a separate clue added, in the shape of the mysterious Mr. Worthing (who later turns out to be one of the culprits in disguise) - and Poirot partly solves the case through a reference to 'The Importance of Being Earnest' (where the character is called Worthing - much like Arden in Taken at the Flood  and Murder on the Orient Express). All in all, though, the adaptation seems to work, and the changes are - for the most part - understandable.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Grieve's direction is competent. I particularly enjoy his use of cameras inside the drawer and the vase at the theatre. The production design is faultless as usual. Locations used include Butlins Ocean Hotel, Saltdean (now converted into luxury flats), the Eastbourne Pier and the Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne. Gunning's soundtrack is memorable and well executed. It has not been released.

Characters and actors
Of the guest actors, Sorcha Cusack* (Mrs Opalsen) and Hermione Norris (Celestine) stand out.
*The Cusack family is an interesting one in the Poirot universe. Sorcha appeared in this episode, Niamh Cusack in 'King of Clubs' and Sinead Cusack in Dead Man's Folly. That's quite extraordinary!

Episode-by-episode: Dead Man's Mirror


©ITV
This episode was based on the short story 'Dead Man's Mirror', first published in 1932. It was adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz and directed by Brian Farnham.

Script versus short story
This short story is one of Christie's longer endeavours, so it would have to be somewhat reworked to fit in a 50 minute time slot. Luckily, Horowitz more or less succeeds in maintaining the important plot points and character details. He does, however, make several significant changes. First, there is no letter from Chevenix to Poirot (he's called Chevenix here, not Chevenix-Gore). Instead, the two meet at an auction where they both bid on the same mirror. Second, Satterthwaite is removed and Hastings and Japp are added (in keeping with other episode in which characters like Satterthwaite, Goby and Arons are present). Hastings tags along on interviews and gets to discover certain points like "the first gong" some of the guest thought they heard. Third, Hugo Trent makes furniture here (very much in Poirot's style) and is upset because he can't get the financial backing from Chevenix. Lake (John Lake in the adaptation) has become an architect who has persuaded Chevenix to invest in a development project. This also allows for Poirot to be involved in the case at an earlier stage, because Chevenix invites him down to find out if he is a victim of fraud. Eventually, this leads Poirot onto a red herring at Northgate Development, the deserted building Lake has used for his fraud (leads to a somewhat dramatic rescue scene!). Fourth, several characters are removed, including Colonel Bury, Mr. Forbes, Godfrey Burrows and the doctor. Fifth, Ruth's background, with the unknown mother, is more obvious here. Sixth, Chevenix is something of an eccentric art historian, and not a 'Sir', but his interest in family and family history is still present. Miss Lingard works for him as a research assistant - they are preparing a book for the Museum of Modern Art (an important addition, because a painting leads Poirot onto the murderer). Finally, the murderer used a champagne bottle rather than a paper bag to create the illusion of a shot - and she even tries to convince Vanda that she killed her husband by appealing to her superstitious nature. All in all, though, the adaptation is largely faithful and the end result is a dark episode of the series.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Farnham's direction is competent, with good use of the locations and the occult angle to the proceedings (Gunning's music similarly plays on this element). The house used as Chevenix's house is 'Marylands' in Surrey

Characters and actors
The most memorable guest actor here is Iain Cuthbertson (Gervase Chevenix), but Jeremy Northam (Hugo Trent) and Richard Lintern (John Lake) should be familiar to many. The latter would make another appearance in Mrs. McGinty's Dead.

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)