Closing time is fast approaching for David Suchet as Poirot.
In what is an amazing production feat, all the novels and collections of short stories featuring Poirot will have been filmed, with David Suchet playing the role, by next year. I’m not sure if this is unique for TV in terms of size (Clive Merrison has played Sherlock Holmes in all sixty stories and novels but only on radio and there are only semi-complete Maigret series out there), but it’s pretty impressive all the same, especially with today’s spiraling costs. The character originally appeared in 33 novels and 51 short stories.
It has been announced that David Suchet will appear in new adaptations of the remaining Agatha Christie stories featuring Hercule Poirot. Although a few of the short stories have been skipped, usually because, with the notable exception of ‘The Lemesurier Inheritance’, they had plots that were recycled in stories already adapted, the unfilmed books are what is being referred to in the press announcement. It says that ITV Studios will go into production this year, adapting two collections of short stories, The Labours of Hercules and The Big Four, which is the first time that the shorter works have been used in nearly two decades. In addition there will be the one remaining title from the 1950s, Dead Man’s Folly, which was one of three TV-movies made with Peter Ustinov as Poirot in the 1980s; and then the last two published Poirot cases, Elephants Can Remember and Curtain, although as most fans know the latter, which was designed very much as the great detective’s final hurrah, depicting him in old age, was actually written thirty years before its eventual publication in 1975.
The more recent Poirot adaptations have increasingly not been much to my taste. Made after a break in production when it went over from a one-hour series based on the short stories to two-hour films based exclusively on the novels, the format and production personnel were both overhauled, with Suchet remaining the only regular character. This saw the sad departure of Philip Jackson as Chief Inspector Japp, Pauline Moran as the kiss-curled Miss Lemon and, most damaging of all perhaps, Hugh Fraser as Captain Hastings. This largely reflected changes in the original books (very few of which actually feature Japp and Miss Lemon) and initially produced some excellent results, such as Kevin Elyot’s adaptation of Five Little Pigs and David Pirie’s version of Sad Cypress. Indeed it made sense given some of Christie’s more psychologically in-depth post-war depictions of her Belgian sleuth.
But of late it seems to have been used to make the adaptations both more sombre and occasionally camper. The elegance of Suchet central portrayal remains, but he seems to have been made into an unnecessarily melancholy figure, frequently playing cupid for lover’s quarrels only to be left alone at the curtain call, with none of the humour associated with the earlier adaptations, while visually the style has become very mannered with heavy use of gauze and tricksy cinematography. Even the appearance of Zoe Wanamaker as Ariadne Oliver has signally failed to alleviate the gloom of these more resent films. The style in fact seems closer to the recent spate of garish and often fairly faithless Miss Marple adaptations originally starring Geraldine McEwan. She has now been replaced by Julia Mackenzie (a piece of casting I approve of personally) and according to the press releasem she is also set to appear in a new adaptation of A Caribbean Mystery, previously filmed with Helen Hayes and Joan Hickson, as well as versions of two Christie novels that are not part of the Marple canon: Endless Night and The Seven Dials Mystery.
In a separate announcement, lucky viewers in America will soon be able to buy Blu-ray editions of the first two series of Poirot, presumably in versions using the masters created for recent HD broadcasts. One can only hope that these will also be released in the UK soon.