Thursday, 20 December 2012

The New Companions: Ariadne, George & Spence


In previous posts, I have explored the portrayal of Hercule Poirot himself, as well as his three associates Hastings, Japp and Miss Lemon. This time, I turn my attention to his most recent companions – crime writer Ariadne Oliver, valet George and Superintendent Spence, all of which add depth to Poirot’s semi-retirement.




Mrs Ariadne Oliver

Apart from Hercule Poirot himself, Ariadne Oliver is possibly my favourite of the recurring characters of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. This is in no small part due to the brilliance of Zoë Wanamaker. The crime writer was introduced by Christie in Cards on the Table, and she was to tag along on Poirot’s cases for no less than four decades (1937-1972). Known for frequently changing her hair styles, she was large, had ‘an agreeable bass voice’, ‘fine eyes’ and was ‘handsome in a rather untidy fashion’ (Hart p. 241). She used to drive a small two-seater car, hated to give speeches, but was a starch supporter of having a woman in charge of Scotland Yard. Her flat had an exotically wallpapered living room, giving the visitor a feeling of ‘being in a cherry orchard’ (p. 242). She was a force of nature in herself and had the honour of being the only woman (apart from servants) that Poirot ever regularly addressed by her Christian name: 'It is my friend, Ariadne'.


The list of characteristics above is supposed to exemplify the accuracy of the portrayal of Ariadne Oliver in the series. All the details above are included. An interesting insight into the character development, however, is given by Wanamaker in a 2006 interview.  ‘Scanning through all the Christie books Ariadne appears in, I picked up that the character is completely unlike me.  She's a big woman, like a battleship. David wears lots of padding as Poirot, but I decided I was not going to go down that route because it's restricting and hot (…). Instead I decided I'd wear something small that gives you a feeling of being substantial, so the costume designer found this transvestite shop which sold fake breasts. They were called ''medium beauties'', and they were really good.  We could have had ''super beauties'', but I think I would have looked like Margaret Rutherford in them’.



Wanamaker describes her character as follows: ‘I think Ariadne is a wonderful character – I’m deeply fond of her. I think Agatha Christie wrote Ariadne Oliver as a send up of herself. Ariadne is a crime fiction writer and is pressured by her publishers to constantly produce her Sven Hjerson books: it was the same with Agatha and her publisher constantly getting her to do more Poirot stories! Ariadne is the complete antithesis of Poirot himself, who’s anal and self regarding and egotistical. She has less of an ego but has this fantastic imagination and is slightly mocking. What’s great about Ariadne is her relationship with Poirot. They respect each other but they’re slightly rude to each other, which is wonderful. I think Poirot needs to be sent up a lot and Ariadne does that. I enjoy their relationship very much. It works because they enjoy each other’s eccentricities and respect each other’s minds. Ariadne would make a wonderful detective – she has a great instinct and Poirot constantly mentions that it’s her instinct which often points him in the right direction’ (Halloween Party Press Pack, 2010).



David Suchet agrees that Mrs Oliver adds a lot to the feel of the series. In the same interview, he explains that ‘Poirot and Ariadne Oliver are really good friends and, if you had a compendium of Poirot, Ariadne Oliver would be one of the women in his life. He strikes a deep friendship with Ariadne, although not in any way from the heart. It’s from the head! I think the reason Poirot likes Ariadne is because she is a crime writer and she provides for him another mind that he can tap. She will come forward with her crime writer’s solutions to the situations they find themselves in. Poirot does have a very soft spot for her. I know that because she is the only woman that Poirot ever, in the whole collection of films, calls by her Christian name without a pre-fix.  It’s also great fun with Ariadne Oliver because Poirot gets kindly irritated with her, and she gets kindly irritated with him. I think everybody likes to see Poirot with a woman. I think Zoë and I, having known each other for years and having worked in the theatre together, we bring our own knowledge of each other to that relationship’ (Halloween Party Press Pack, 2010).



In my opinion, Zoe Wanamaker has created the perfect Ariadne Oliver, and I very much look forward to her final two outings in series thirteen (Dead Man’s Folly and Elephants Can Remember). 

(MORE AFTER THE JUMP!)

The Big Three: Hastings, Miss Lemon and Japp

 
Image "stolen" from poirot-fans.livejournal.com user queenie97 (linked to source)

Following on from my discussion of David Suchet’s achievement with the character of Hercule Poirot, this article will focus on what Poirot script writer Clive Exton once described as the ‘family unit’ of Agatha Christie’s Poirot; the three companions of Hercule Poirot in his active years as a private (consulting) detective.  My main sources here will be the TV specials Super Sleuths (2006) and The People’s Detective (2010), as well as an online interview with Philip Jackson, Peter Haining’s book on the series, and Anne Hart’s brilliant biography, for references to Christie’s work.


Captain Arthur Hastings, OBE


By far the most important of these three companions, both in the books and in the series, Hastings is portrayed by Hugh Fraser. In Christie’s original stories, the character was a constant in Poirot’s life for only seven years and an intermittent companion for twelve more years after that. In total, twenty-six stories and eight novels are narrated by Hastings. 

The character was greatly expanded for the television series. As Hugh Fraser points out, ‘Hastings isn’t in very many of the books. In fact, he was put in stories that he wasn’t in, as was Japp and Miss Lemon’ (Super Sleuths, 2006). This was probably primarily because the show’s producer, Brian Eastman, and the original script writer, Clive Exton, both felt that Poirot needed a ‘basic family unit’ and ‘somebody for Poirot to confide in’, as Exton points out. Personally, I mostly agree with this decision, both when it comes to Hastings, Japp and Miss Lemon. Especially in the short stories, they provide a certain sense of continuity and familiarity, and they suit the first phase of Suchet’s Poirot perfectly; the eager and twinkling detective. I am less certain about some of the novels Hastings was added to, particularly Evil under the Sun, which I feel was contrived. However, I do realize that the inclusion of his character in that particular story was a nice way to give Fraser a (temporary) swan song series.



Both Hugh Fraser and the producers wanted to portray Hastings more true to Christie’s characterization than previous film adaptations. Fraser never saw any of the previous interpretations before they started shooting, because he wanted his ‘Hastings to be something quite original’ (Haining p. 74). Brian Eastman once explained that ‘It would have been easy to just show [Hastings] as a bit of a dolt, (…) but though there are a lot of people who do see Hastings this way, Agatha actually uses him in the books as the voice of the common man. He asks the questions that the reader is asking at any given moment in order to allow Poirot to appear very bright and explain everything’ (p. 76). Fraser set out to read some of Christie’s stories before they started shooting. He describes Hastings as ‘a likeable chap’ who is ‘very laid back’ and ‘a bit of a dilettante’, a man who has ‘fallen into detective work by chance’ (p. 74-76).  Fraser is certain that the relationship between Poirot and Hastings is ‘a working relationship and that Poirot actually employs him’ (p. 76). In my mind, this theory is truly fascinating, as it would explain why Hastings is constantly around Poirot’s flat. In Christie’s stories, he is at one time described as working for Lloyds, another time as 'a sort of secretary to an MP'. No matter what he was doing, it always seemed a bit a stretch that his employers would give him so much time off work to tag along on Poirot’s cases, so this subtle change, if never actually explicitly stated in the series, makes a lot of sense.



Hugh Fraser’s portrayal is certainly different from Christie’s characterization in many respects. For one thing, he (or the producers, more likely) has skipped the conventional ‘toothbrush’ moustache. I suspect this was a conscious decision in much of the same way as the producers decided not to have Belgians or Frenchmen in the series with French accents – it would simply be confusing for the viewer and distract from the stories. Also, I have a distinct feeling that having two mustachioed main characters would just be a bit too much and remind us more of an episode of ‘Allo, ‘Allo than Christie. Moreover, TV-Hastings is probably older than Christie-Hastings. In Christie's originals, Hastings is thirty in Styles, while Poirot is about sixty. In the series, Fraser and Suchet are almost exactly the same age. I don’t know if this was done simply because Fraser was the best actor for the job – or, perhaps more plausibly, that they didn’t expect the series to last for 25 years, and since both actors were about 40 in the first series, Suchet could easily play a character ten or fifteen years older while Fraser played a character ten or fifteen years younger. This obviously became more difficult over the years, especially when the series returned after the five year hiatus, and they don’t seem to have tried to make Fraser look younger (in fact, I think they’ve kept his natural hair colour, growing slightly greyer over the years). This change doesn’t bother me at all, especially since I think Hastings’s naivety would be the same if he was 20, 40 or 60.



Apart from this, the interpretation of the character seems to be largely in tune with Christie’s characterizations. They have even kept Hastings’s love interest Dulcie/Bella Duveen, which is quite remarkable, actually, considering that they could have so easily skipped her and the entire Argentina outing if they wanted to keep the ‘family unit’ intact. Obviously, I’m glad they didn’t, and I think Murder on the Links works quite well in this respect, especially when the series unexpectedly came to a halt when production on that series finished. The set-up was perfect for Hastings’s return in Lord Edgware Dies (that is, if they had stuck to their own chronology! I have written several posts on this over at poirotchronology.blogspot.com).

[I am very much looking forward to the two remaining Hastings stories for Series Thirteen, Curtain and The Big Four. Though, as much as I love Hastings as a character, I do think The Big Four could work without him as well. I somewhat fancy the idea suggested elsewhere on the Internet that Colin Race from the adaptation of The Clocks would fit nicely in with the espionage plot. But of course, the scenes where Hastings is reunited with Poirot in his flat should be quite special. Not to mention the emotional turmoil of Curtain.]



An interesting bit of information on the development of the character is provided by Fraser in Peter Haining’s book. Speaking in 1995, he explains that ‘The role can still develop more. In the early days I did seem to spend a lot of time asking what must have appeared like dumb questions. But as it got a bit repetitive the script writers moved away from that situation. In some of the recent stories Hastings has become much more of an assistant and somebody who is involved in the cases. Of course, he does have a naivety to him. But this is never allowed to become stupidity – rather an endearing quality which Poirot does find a little bit annoying on the one side, though on the other he loves him for it (…) I’m looking forward to ageing gently with David in the later stories’ (p. 79).



Personally, I certainly find the episodes where Hastings is more actively involved in the cases better than the others, but I must admit I am slightly shocked by what seems to have been a conscious plan to keep Hastings throughout the series. I very much doubt the character would have added much to adaptations such as Five Little Pigs or Death on the Nile, not to mention the cases of Ariadne Oliver. Moreover, I certainly think that the process of ‘ageing gently’ which has now taken place between Murder in Mesopotamia and The Big Four/Curtain will make the reunion scenes much more poignant than if he had been there all along. In any case, Hugh Fraser has done a magnificent job of fleshing out the 'buffoon' and making him an independent, if somewhat naïve, individual.

(MORE AFTER THE JUMP!)

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Complete Poirot - David Suchet's Achievement




I have been wanting to write this little piece in praise of David Suchet’s achievement for ages, but I have put it off because I have wanted to wait until he has done all Christie’s stories. Well, now I have decided that I simply can’t wait any longer – I will write it now, without having seen the final series. In fact, I think this is a fitting moment to forumulate my thoughts, simply because Suchet has just started filming Curtain, thus initiating the final year of filming for the series, after which he will have done all the stories and portrayed the character on screen for no less than 25 years!

David Suchet’s achievement with Agatha Christie’s character cannot be praised highly enough. I am still baffled by the fact that he has not received a BAFTA award for it! (Yes, he was nominated in 1991, and the series won four BAFTAs in 1990 for Best Costume Design,  Best Graphics, Best Make Up and Best Original Television Music, but Suchet has never actually been awarded one for the portrayal of Hercule Poirot!). I sincerely hope he will at least receive a new nomination once Curtain has been shown on television. He certainly deserves it.

To me, David Suchet is one of the best character actors of our time. His approach to his characters is so detailed and refined. If he is playing a real person, he studies this person’s life inside and out (e.g. Sigmund Freud and Robert Maxwell). If it is a character in a play, he goes back to the original words of the playwright (e.g. Iago, Joe Keller and James Tyrone). And, as with Poirot, if it is a writer, he goes back to the novel(s) and attempts to portray and interpret what the writer has intended.

When asked, in an interview in 2001, to describe the process he goes through when approaching a particular role, for instance Poirot, Suchet explained: ‘You go to the book. With Poirot I had over 60 or 70 stories to draw on, so it was a far greater chance for me — or for Agatha Christie — to develop the character. […] When you’re doing characters from famous novels, you have a responsibility as an actor to make it what the writer intended. And then you add and expand from there to create a three-dimensional performance.’

In my mind, his main achievement with Poirot is exactly what he describes above: He has managed to bring a character to life that, for many, borders on the line of an absolute caricature, a cardboard cut-out (at least judging from pre-Suchet film and television portrayals). Not only that, through adaptations where changes have been made to the stories, he has managed to stay true to the character, to Christie’s creation, while still making it his own three-dimensional interpretation. As he put it in an interview with ITV.com in 2010: ‘I don’t have any say about where the adaptations of our stories may move, but I do have a say in how I play the character. And the way I play the character will be absolutely as near as I can possibly get to the tone, the flavour and, also, particular incidents that Agatha Christie will put in that particular novel. I am still the servant of my creator’.

(As to the particular incidents, a glimpse of his devotion was referred to in an interview: ‘When he compared the [Murder of Roger] Ackroyd script to Christie’s novel, he noticed the TV version omitted an early scene in which Poirot has a frustrating moment with a zucchini in his garden; Suchet asked for it be added. It was.’)

MORE AFTER THE JUMP!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Art Deco items

A reader of the blog, Ian, sent me these photos of Art Deco items from Poirot's flat that he has been able to get hold of (see below). I am impressed by the work he must have put down to track them down and very grateful that he has given me some info to post on the blog. The descriptions below are from Ian:


Stylized Doves by Artist Le Jan (French Art Deco)
The ‘Doves’ where often seen in Poirot’s first apartment. I recall seeing them mostly in the hallway/reception area displayed on a black/chrome table. They measure 18inches across and are ‘light cream’ in colour, their glaze finish is called ‘crackleware’ which was very popular during the 1930’s Art Deco movement.  Poirot or should I say the ‘Production team’ seemed to think this style of ceramic would be well liked by the character (and I tend to agree).  The new apartment has even more examples of ‘crackleware’ in the form of more animals and other objects, many again in cream or turquoise.  



Poirot’s Microscope (E.Leitz Wetzalar)
An almost identical replica of the Microscope is in the episode ‘Murder in the Mews’, the scene shows Poirot dictating a letter to Miss Lemon and he’s seen pacing his apartment’s sitting room area correcting minor errors in the alignment of his books and ornaments and arrives at his Microscope correcting the tilt of its mirror.  Although not Art Deco in its design it's still a wonderful period object dating back to the early 1900’s. 





Art Deco Bankers Lamp
The electric ‘bankers-lamp’ sits on Poirot’s desk throughout all 1-5 series. One unusual point about the lamp is that it’s covered with an unusual clear coat finish, which makes the lamp appear to have a gold sheen in some light and then can appear more sliver in others and I have noticed this effect with its on screen counterpart. Most bankers lamps also have an adjustable shade but this lamp instead has a sliding grill/filter which moves up and down by hand to enable the user to control the brightness of the light. 





Thank you, Ian!

The Apartment - Another floor plan

A reader of the blog, Ian, sent me these detailed and accurate floor plans of Poirot's apartment (see below). They are so much better than mine (see previous post), but we do have the same basic idea in terms of rooms and layout. The most difficult room to place is the kitchen (as I have discussed before). I do, however, find Ian's suggestion somewhat more likely than the one I have suggested.

Thank you, Ian!






Friday, 21 September 2012

The Lemesurier Inheritance?

The Lemesurier Inheritance (1923) is a troublesome little short story from the collection called Poirot's Early Cases (1974).

For those of you who don't know, this will most probably be the only Poirot story by Agatha Christie NOT to be included in David Suchet's definitive portrayal. If you haven't read it, here's a link to a blog with the entire text: http://katanageldar.wordpress.com/tag/the-lemesurier-inheritance/.

I think there are several reasons why we most likely won't see this story on screen:

1) Its length. Since 2004, all Poirot episodes have been approx. 90 mins long. To adapt this story, it would have to be expanded into a 90 minute TV film, which, to be honest, I don't see as an attractive option. The story itself is very conventional and almost a Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson look-a-like, and I don't see it working as an expanded film. Having said that, possibly the only ITV Marple episode I have truly enjoyed was a short story, 'The Blue Geranium', expanded and adapted as a 90 min film. In other words, this point is probably not the most valid one.

2) Its setting. I know the Poirot producers have become experts at relocating Christie's stories in chronology terms (see my other blog for more on this). However, this particular story is supposed to be the very first case Poirot takes on after Styles, i.e. immediately after WW1. One of the main characters is a friend of Hastings from the army. No disrespect to Suchet and Fraser, but they both look older now than they did 20 years ago. So I very much doubt they would manage to make them look close to 30 years younger... But again, settings could be changed and story lines could be bent a little to make this work as a 1930s adaptation.

3) ITV Marple. This may sound silly, but the adaptations of Poirot and Marple for ITV are clearly interlinked. They have the same producers and much of the same crew, which means whenever the crew isn't working on a Poirot episode, they are frequently working on a Marple, as ITV tends to commission the two series together. What has become the norm for the last couple of years is that ITV commissions 4 Marples and 4 Poirots, a total of 8 films, to be made at the same time, by the same production company. This time, ITV has commissioned 5 Poirots and 3 Marples. I think it is likely that ITV wants a certain number of adaptations from each sleuth in each series, so they didn't want to push their luck and go for 6 Poirots and 2 Marples. But this is pure speculation, and I have nothing to support my claim.

3) Money. Sadly, this is probably the most likely explanation. The final series of Poirot nearly didn't happen, because of these financial issues. ITV seemed unable to find the money to carry on making the episodes. Somehow, they changed their mind, probably because of the success of Downton Abbey, but they have probably still gone for as few expenses as possible. Meaning that if anything can be cut without it being too obvious, they would do it. I think this is the case with 'The Lemesurier Inheritance'. It was an easy way to save money and thereby make the remaining adaptations better. But again, I have no proof of this being the case.

But in all of this misery (even if it is slight misery, considering that we actually get almost all the Poirot stories filmed!), there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Possibly two lights even. Firstly, David Suchet was asked on Twitter a while back whether The Lemesurier Inheritance would be referenced in some way in the final series to make it complete. His answer was "I hope so." (see below).


This makes me hopeful that they have a plan in store somehow. Even if it is a passing reference like "remember that old case, Poirot", I would be happy. It would mean a sense of completeness after all!

Secondly, David Suchet keeps referring to the fact that he will have starred in every single Poirot episode ever written. A typical example of this was in an interview with BBC's Andrew Marr. In this interview, he even corrected Marr, stating that there was one "story" he would not be starring in, i.e. Black Coffee, before he explained that he would do that at Chichester (see previous post). Notice that he had every opportunity to explain that there was also a short story he wouldn't be doing. Of course, that's probably because he doesn't want to remind people that there is a story they have had to skip, but it could, again, mean that they have something planned for this story in the five remaining adaptions. Let's hope so and keep our fingers crossed! (As I have said before, though, this short story is a minor loss and we can easily live with the fact that it won't be done if that is indeed the case).

UPDATE: According to an article in Radio Times (2012), 'The Lemesurier Inheritance' will be incorporated into the adaptation of The Labours of Hercules! (See the link: http://www.radiotimes.com/news/2012-10-07/david-suchet--there-will-be-no-more-poirots--the-moustache-is-hung-up). I have no idea how they will make that work, but in any case - it means that Suchet's portrayal will be complete (in theory). 

Also, I think it's important to point out that Suchet actually narrated the audiobook version of this short story! Consequently, he has "performed" in an adaptation of sorts of all Christie's Poirot stories - regardless of how the short story will be referenced in the television series.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Music of Agatha Christie's Poirot















Agatha Christie's Poirot has remained synonymous with a very distinctive theme tune, composed by Christopher Gunning, and the opening titles designed by Pat Gavin. Moreover, music is a vital element of the series in most people's eyes. I will briefly try to outline the three composers who have worked on the series over the years: Christopher Gunning (1989-2004), Stephen McKeon (2005-2008) and Christian Henson (2009-2013). Their names are linked to their respective web sites.


[EDIT FEBRUARY 2013: This post has been significantly expanded and altered due to the news of Christopher Gunning's release of a new Poirot soundtrack album - see separate post]


Christopher Gunning's music is available on a CD released in 1992. This recording has been almost impossible to get hold of over the years (and it still is!). But it does appear from time to time on places like YouTube and Grooveshark. See below for the track list:


  1. Hercule Poirot - The Belgian Detective (2:30)
  2. One-two, Buckle-my-shoe (2:00)
  3. The Double Clue (5:05)
  4. The A-B-C- Murders (4:35)
  5. Grey Cells (4:21)
  6. War (2:30)
  7. A Country Retreat (4:52)
  8. Death of Mrs. Inglethorpe (2:29)
  9. The Height of Fashion (2:08)
  10. How Does Your Garden Grow (9:05)
  11. Death in the Clouds (3:55)
  12. To the Lakes (2:19)
  13. The Victory Ball (4:55)
  14. The Plymouth Express (9:29)




Two of these are available on YouTube at the moment: The Plymouth Express and The Belgian Detective. As of 2013, a new album has been released, featuring all the above tracks (apart from 'The Plymouth Express' and 'Death in the Clouds'), in addition to three previously unreleased tracks. See separate post.

The series changed tone quite drastically with Stephen McKeon. Some of his tracks are available on his web site. Below are some comments from a blog I'll most probably come back to in a later post.




"In only his second Poirot film, composer Stephen McKeon notably melds Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No. 2 with notable Philip Glass-like highlights to create a most enchanting score that adds immeasurably to the proceedings." 
Douglas Payne, sound insights blog, on the score for Cards on the Table (2006)

"Stephen McKeon’s score, a surprisingly successful mix of Philip Glass and John Williams, is remarkably effective in achieving these ends, though the curious use of the melodica, a keyboard instrument, now suggests the music of the Harry Potter films a bit more than is appropriate."
Douglas Payne, sound insights blog, on the score for Mrs. McGinty's Dead (2007)
Personally, having listened to his scores both on his website and in the films, I prefer the ones that are somewhat more sentimental in flavour, like the end music to The Mystery of the Blue Train, to the somewhat dark and moody ones that seem to scream MURDER in capital letters. However, in light of the stories he scored, I think the music works well within the context of the films.

(MORE AFTER THE JUMP)




A rehearsed reading of Black Coffee in Chichester


Hello there! Let me first apologise for the silence - I have had less time to update this blog than I first expected. But I will try to make up for that now by describing an absolutely unforgettable Sunday afternoon in Chichester!

For those of you who do not know what I'm talking about; a very special 'rehearsed reading' of Agatha Christie's only Poirot play, Black Coffee, was performed in Chichester on July 15th 2012.

For those of you who still struggle to see the attraction of that;  the cast included David Suchet. As Hercule Poirot. In full costume. The first (and possibly only) time he portrayed the character on stage. And as if that wasn't enough - the performance meant that by July 2013, Suchet will have starred in every single Poirot story ever written (well, almost, there's still a short story, 'The Lemesurier Inheritance', I'll come back to that some other time).

I read about this production in January - Suchet posted a comment about it on his Twitter account. It did not take me long to decide that I had to get tickets for this event - so I did. Just in time, as it turns out, because a few days later all the tickets had been sold!

Now, I acted entirely on impulse with this thing. You see, I don't live in the UK. Far from it. So getting to Chichester (a place I had never visited before) involved both an international flight and a train journey - not to mention some serious planning! So for a long time, I didn't think I would be able to go. But I did in the end. And I'm so glad I did.

When my friend and I arrived in Chichester, I really didn't know what to expect. 'Rehearsed reading' was a very vague description of the event, and I somehow imagined that I would just spend two hours watching David Suchet sitting still on a chair reading the lines of all the characters. Luckily, I was wrong.

Suchet was joined by members of The Agatha Christie Theatre Company, as well as David Yelland (known to most of us as Poirot's butler, George) as Captain Arthur Hastings. As I got hold of the programme , the cast in itself made me jump with joy. But it was not until about half an hour later that I realised how special this really was. Because there he was - David Suchet aka Hercule Poirot aka David Suchet (they are almost one and the same by now) in full costume. And in character.

The official Agatha Christie website summed it up very nicely - 'Poirot in 360'. As the reviewer explained, it was absolutely incredible to watch Suchet/Poirot from every angle - not just the angles dictated by cameras on TV. What struck me about it all was how incredibly 'in character' Suchet was while he was on stage. I should probably explain that the 'rehearsed reading' meant that the play was staged as a BBC radio play from the 1930s, with a set of microphones determining where characters were standing and who was involved in each scene. This meant that the entire cast was on stage all the time. So we got plenty of time to examine Suchet's performance. And he really was Poirot from the minute he walked onto the stage to the minute he walked off. For instance, he sat neatly on his chair (in a very Poirot-like manner), walked with his famous Poirot walk, kept his legs together when standing or sitting still etc. It is almost impossible to describe it accurately.

Suchet rounded it all off neatly with a Q&A session. Amazingly, almost everyone in the audience (1000 people!) remained. It was a real treat, and he gave some clues on the final series as well. The Q&A is available on YouTube (for now, at least).

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Apartment on Screen: 1989-2001 v. 2005-present



In a previous post, I discussed similarities between Christie’s descriptions in novels and short stories and the two flats created on screen by the production designers. In this post, I will examine the similarities between the two portrayals on screen – the first (1989-2001) and the second  (2005-present) Whitehaven flat.

The new apartment has been criticised by many fans, primarily because of the discontinuity between the two. As a viewer, one might ask the following questions:  1) Why was there a need to create a new apartment? 2) Why are both apartments situated in Whitehaven Mansions?, and 3) Why do they look so different?

I will try to answer these questions in due course.

Initially, though, I would like to draw your attention to the following paragraph in the current Wikipedia article on the television series. The article seems to suggest that the new apartment is a part of a significant 're-imagining' of the Poirot and Agatha Christie brand:

‘Following the launch of the ITV series Agatha Christie's Marple in 2004, the Poirot series was retitled Agatha Christie's Poirot. The previous titles and theme music were dropped. The visual style of these later episodes was noticeably different from earlier episodes: particularly, austere art deco settings and decor, widely used earlier in the series, were largely dropped in favour of more lavish settings (epitomised by the re-imagining of Poirot's home as a larger, more lavish apartment)’

As the article accurately points out, Poirot’s home is now a ‘larger, more lavish apartment’. But in context, the description feels more negatively charged than I think is reasonable. In this post, I hope to convince you that there are, in fact, several reasons to prefer this apartment to the first one (if one of them has to be seen as "better"), and that there is a sense of continuity between the two apartments, both in terms of layout and design.

Let us return to the first question – why was there a need to create a new apartment? I think there are several possible answers to this. Firstly, I think the Wikipedia article is partially right in claiming that it has something to do with the new direction of the Agatha Christie brand. The new producers (post-2004) seem to have made a conscious decision to distance themselves from the previous series; these adaptations should be considered as independent feature-length films rather than episodes from a television series, and therefore a ‘more lavish’ apartment seems appropriate. (see more after the jump)


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Apartment in Text and on Screen: Christie v. TV series



As anyone who has read my other blog – The Chronology of Agatha Christie’s Poirot – would know, I have already researched this topic quite a bit. There is a separate page on that blog which gives you a bunch of screenshots of Poirot’s apartment, both in the earlier and later years of the series.

In this post I aim to go a little further. As I was reading Anne Hart’s fantastic biography of Poirot, I came across a chapter on Poirot’s domestic life. This made me consider how faithful the production designers of the series have been in terms of Poirot’s flat. Many (if not all) aspects of Christie’s descriptions are retained in the two flats.

(I also want to explore the continuities between the first and second flats – and how the changes made in his second flat are more reasonable than one might at first expect. But I’ll come back to this in a later post.)

All quotations in this post will be from Christie’s descriptions as quoted in Anne Hart’s book, unless otherwise stated.

First, the building itself. Hastings describes Whitehaven Mansions to us as he returns on a visit from Argentina in The ABC Murders:

 ‘I found him installed in one of the newest types of service flats in London. I accused him (and he admitted the fact) of having chosen this particular building entirely on account of its strictly geometrical appearance and proportions’ (p. 179).



This would obviously be an accurate description of Florin Court as well, the building that was used for the TV series. This is a highly 'geometrical' building – though I suspect Christie envisioned one

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Some links

I thought I might share some of the web sites I regularly visit for news and insight on the series. I'll add some more later when I reach specific topics of interest:

The official Agatha Christie website - obviously the one place to start if you want information on Agatha Christie and her stories. But they also have a reasonably active Community and a good 'News and insight' section, including so-called Christie papers (which look into different aspects of her stories and the adaptations) and the 'blog' of Mathew Pritchard, Agatha Christie's grandson.

The IMdB page - quite an active forum, where people discuss different aspects of the series. If you are looking for reviews of the episodes, this is also a good place to start.

David Suchet's Twitter - yes, the leading man is surprisingly active on Twitter. Some of the news he has posted so far: Filming of the final series will start in mid-October, script development meetings are taking place, Hugh Fraser (Hastings) is very likely to return, Pauline Moran (Miss Lemon) is more uncertain (and if you ask me, much as I love her character, that's a good thing, as anyone who have read my thoughts in the Poirot chronology would know!). So this is certainly a place to check once in a while if you want up-to-date information.

David Suchet - Fansite - Danish David Suchet fan Sanna is the mastermind behind this website. Full of information on Suchet, including lots of interviews and stuff on Agatha Christie's Poirot. She is usually very quick to post important news on the series.

David Suchet - Unofficial site - This website, created by Russian fan Daria Pichugina is absoluitely amazing! Loads of interviews and up-to-date info on both the series and Suchet himself.

ITV Press Centre - the place to go for news on the new episodes, including principal photography (when they start filming).

Mammoth Screen - the current production company of the series (and a lot of other UK crime series). Their Twitter is also a good place to stop by every once in a while (if you're interested in news of the production).

UPDATE: I just have to add one more - since I never seem to get around to adding a separate post on reviews and such: The Agatha Christie Reader. This is a jaw-droppingly fantastic site with insightful and detailed reviews of Agatha's stories, as well as almost every adaptation ever made of her books (including, of course, all the Poirot adaptations).

Digital restoration of the first six series!

In 2010, ITV (the UK channel that airs the Poirot episodes) commissioned a digital restoration company, JCA TV, to restore the first six series, using the original film negatives. A featurette explains how it was done and showcases the results (see vimeo.com/30227200 & vimeo.com/36075598). And it is astonishing:
















Of course, these screencaps aren't even in HD (or Blu-ray, as the final release almost certainly will be); they are only compressed elements in a video on Vimeo. Still, you can clearly spot the difference between the transmission master and the restored film. (Both of these examples are from 'The Adventure of the Clapham Cook', the very first episode, shot in 1988).

Series 1-4 have already been released in the US and Canada, through Acorn Media, and Series Five is scheduled for release in late June. I reccomend the reviews from Blu-ray.com: http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Poirot-Series-1-Blu-ray/32957/#Review. This is also a good place for fantastic high-quality screencaps from the remastered episodes. Here's just an example, in comparison with one of my own screencaps from the previous DVD releases:


For the rest of us, let's hope the wait for these astonishingly improved films won't be too long... (I would make a guess at a 2014 release for ITV's complete box set). In any case, such an improvement of a classic series is always welcome.

UPDATE: Have a look at the following video if you are interested in the process behind the restoration. I am completely amazed at how detailed the process really is: http://vimeo.com/30227200.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Welcome to 'Investigating Agatha Christie's Poirot'!

Hello there, and welcome!

This is a spin-off blog from poirotchronology.blogspot.com. I decided to create this second blog to enable posts not strictly speaking related to the chronology of the ITV series Agatha Christie's Poirot, but to more general aspects of the series (and stories).

My goal will be to provide a place for fans to visit and get information on all aspects of the series. It is not my intention, at least to begin with, to concentrate on writing reviews of episodes, episode synopses etc., since this has been done so brilliantly by other bloggers. I will instead try to provide links to stuff around the Internet that I think might be of interest to fans. Also, I might be adding some photos, some extracts from interviews, some thoughts on different aspects of the episodes etc.

As of today, this is very much on a planning stage. And I'm not even sure if I'll be able to find the time for all of this. But we'll give it a go. Stay tuned for more updates, hopefully I'll have my first proper post up by the end of the week.


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)