Suchet to film remaining Poirot stories

Now available from headline

Now available from headline

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.

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25 Responses to Suchet to film remaining Poirot stories

  1. TomCat says:

    I have not exactly been enamored with a lot of these (recent) adaptations, with Death on the Nile as an all-time low that put me off them for a long time, but I will probably pick up the series again for this final batch – especially for Curtain.

    By the way, weren’t Hastings and Japp shoe-horned in some of the earlier, two-hour adaptations? I remember them appearing in Evil Under the Sun and Hercule’s Poirot Christmas.

    • Hi TomCat, Hastings and Japp were definitely glued into several adaptations. I definitely prefer the Ustinov version of DEATH ON THE NILE to the Suchet, though I think my personal ‘least’ favourite Suchet of late is probably APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH which has now been made twice into a really crummy movie (the other also with Ustinov of course) . Fraser last appeared as Hastings 10 years ago in MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA, also the last written by the series’ original scriptwriter, the late Clive Exton, which rather oddly included some completely extraneous references to the Russian Countess / thief first encountered in a fairly early episode, ‘The Double Clue’ from 1991. Japp and Miss Lemon were last seen as long ago as 2000 in the so-so adaptation of EVIL UNDER THE SUN, which had a great time with this absurd-but-fun amphibious machine used to cross from the mainland to the island but which otherwise was a bit flat I thought. Not a patch (again) on the Ustinov version which is very camp but works really well thanks to a witty script by Anthony Shaffer and some lovely Cole Porter tunes on the soundtrack.

  2. Sarah says:

    I too have mixed feelings about the Poirot adaptations. I think Suchet is excellent as Poirot but why do they feel the need to tinker with the plots? I watched ‘Cat among the pigeons’ recently and this was a travesty – a completely different murderer of one character.

    • Hello Sarah, thanks very much for the comments. I do find the modifications somewhat hard to fathom – recently they seem to have done this more and more often. The recent Miss Marple adaptations seem to go out of their way to only use the original books as a template, if one is being generous, and then updating them despite the period settings. Sometimes this can work quite well I think, as in Body in the Library which added a gay subtext to the murder motive that I thought meshed quite well. But when it was done again for Cards on the Table I found that it seemed to have been done to ‘spice up’ the narrative and served no other obvious purpose. In the case of Marple it certainly makes the series distinctive from the BBC version, but in the case of Poirot it seems to denote a real lack of confidence in the basic material, which is a shame – one would like to think they were working hard to make it work on screen, not having to work against it because they think contemporary audiences will find it too remote. If you are going to set it in the 1930s (the original 1 hour episodes were always set in 1936 – it now seems to be 1938 as far as I can tell) and do old-fashioned whodunits, I don’t really think that such tampering is really going to expand your audience base much, but instead frustrate the ones you already have. Here’s hoping the final batch will be more respectful – and wouldn’t it be great if Hastings, Japp and Miss Lemon all came back for Curtain?

  3. I think when it comes to the changing of the plot-points in Marple, I don’t mind so much because, as you say, the BBC version is still fresh in the memory. Similarly, I like the notion of adapting the non-Marple canon with her inserted, as otherwise, some of these great stories wouldn’t get seen. You’re also right about Julia McKenzie – I think she’s great.

    As for Poirot – the only one I watched any of recently was Murder on the Orient Express and it bored the pants off me. I will keep an eye out for a repeat of Five Little Pigs and Sad Cypress though.

    • Hello mate – I agree that amongst the best of the new Marple stories are the ones that were adapted from Christie’s other books – Towards Zero was pretty good (and is one of the better books of the period) and I really liked the adaptation of By the Pricking of My Thumbs too, which cast Greta Scacchi and Anthony Andrews as the now middle-aged Tommy and Tuppence and inserted Marple into it with ease. On the other hand, I think the Sittaford Mystery, while very entertaining, literally only had Marple in half a dozen scenes at most! And personally I thought that the version of the canonical Nemesis with the killer nuns, really took the biscuit – and not in a good way either.

  4. John says:

    I look forward to seeing The Big Four and The Labors of Hercules. And Curtain is truly one of my favorite Christie books. I hope they do it right if they film that book. I have liked many of the Suchet adaptations – especially the short stories in the original series. I liked most of Murder in Mesopotamia but mostly because I was enthralled with seeing Elizabeth McGovern who was was a real favorite of mine back in the 80s. I may be the only person in the universe who admires the oddly somber Murder on the Orient Express done a few years ago. But I have strong opinions of all the new Marple movies. Jane Marple in Endless Night? Forgive me for this but – OH MY GOD! So utterly wrong. If they have to stick her in something she’d be more at home in The Pale Horse. I loathed the McKenzie version of Murder Is Easy and have refused to watch any of the other re-written books in which the TV writers so casually insert Jane. Imagine someone having the temerity to add an incest angle to a Christie novel! I was as angry as when I watched a travesty of The Woman in White that also used incest to shock the viewer because apparently the TV adapter thought bigamy was too tame for a contemporary viewer.

    • Hi John, la McGovern was for me also the best thing about Murder in Mesopotamia, which was a solid enough adaptation and certainly preferable to the fairly ridiculous version of Appointment with Death, while I found the whole overblown style of Mrs McGinty’s Dead a massive distraction (sometimes it looked as though a whole jar of vaseline had been tipped on to the lens). I yearned for the more straightforward Margaret Rutherford Murder Most Foul version frankly. Incidentally, you are going to get your wish regarding The Pale Horse as McKenzie has done a version of that (no idea if it’s been on the US yet though). You might be pleasantly surprised by the Marple iteration of By the Pricking of My Thumbs though as I really thought it worked given its fairy tale ambience and setting among the elderly.

      It’s funny you should pick on that 1997 version of Woman in White as it’s the one adapted by David Pirie, one of my favourite TV authors and in fact I’m planning on reviewing his first novel here fairly shortly …

  5. Yvette says:

    I’m with John – OH MY GOD!! – when it comes to twisting the plots around to insert Marple or Poirot where originally Christie most definitely had not. I’m also OH MY GOD -ing over the changing of the stories. My feeling is: why try to ‘improve’ on perfection? Most of Christie’s plots are perfection far as I’m concerned. Wasn’t plotting considered one of her strongest suits? YES!

    I refuse to watch any of the new Marples. Don’t like either actress. Miss Marple was never ‘jaunty’.

    For me, Joan Hickson is the one and only film Marple and that’s that.

    I love David Suchet as Poirot. He was born to play the part. BUT, I don’t love what they’re doing to the stories, the character of Poirot and the tone of the films. I miss Hastings and the camaraderie between him and Poirot. And is it possible that SOMEONE somewhere will actually film PALE HORSE – one of my favorite Christies – without inserting either Marple or Poirot? Or how about CAT AMONG THE PIGEONS? A splendid story in which Poirot doesn’t actually appear until much later in the book. Why? Because the story gets along quite well without him. Luckily for me, Netflix is currently streaming the first season of the wonderful BBC Agatha Christie’s Poirot and I’m waiting with bated breath for the second season to unfold..

    • Hi Yvette – I should put my cards on the table (to coin a Christian phrase) and admit to not being necessarily the world’s biggest fan of the Great Agatha, great though she clearly was, so a few changes here and there I can easily live with. So for me I don’t always mind the adaptations even being fairly loose sometimes, if at least you can understand why they did it. ITV has made most of the recent Christie adaptations in the UK and in the case of the 2003 version of SPARKLING CYANIDE updated the novel quite successfully I thought (better than the version scripted by Sue Grafton in the 80s with Anthony Andrews) and had an excellent cast headed by with Pauline Collins and Oliver Ford Davies, who together made for a very attractive pair of older sleuths, but it never took off as a potential series sadly. Have you ever seen the 1997 TV version of PALE HORSE with Jean Marsh and Andy Serkis? Not necessarily the last word in textual fidelity but quite an amusing 60s-set romp all the same with the Shakesperean references more or less intact. The original POIROT series made for ITV (not the BBC, they made the Hickson MARPLE series) in the late 80s and early 90s did work extremely well on their own terms and what seems problematic about some of the more recent ones is that they seem to be imitating other kinds of shows like MORSE to make 2-hour shows – the same thing happened when the same network started making two-hour films for the SHERLOCK HOLMES series with Jeremy Brett and new episodes of VAN DER VALK with Barry Foster, which had been very popular as a 1-hour drama but which when revived at double the length in the 90s was pretty dull really. I will say though that none of them match the genuine horror of the modern-day version of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS with Alfred Molina which changed Poirot to such an extent that they gave him a belly dancer as a girlfriend (I kid you not).

  6. Ela says:

    The Big Four is a novel isn’t it, not a collection of short stories? IIRC, its plot is a bit convoluted and Hercule Poirot’s brainier brother Achille appears – or does he? I think the short story adaptations were much better done, so it will be interesting to see what ITV make of The Labours of Hercules – I particularly remember enjoying the one about Hippolyta’s cloak, and the Nemean Lion was very entertaining (also where Poirot does a great Miss Marple impression when he spots a resemblance to soap manufacturer in Liege).

    I hated Appointment with Death – pretty much everything was changed to the detriment of the whole film. And in the latest versions of the books Poirot can’t prove anything, since the producers/writers have changed so much but failed to provide rational clues! I particularly found this with the McEwan version of The Body in the Library, where the gay relationship mirrored that of the original novel, but of course couldn’t be proved in the same way as a marriage could be.

    Did you see The Clocks over Christmas? I missed it (being in Germany), and unfortunately ITV don’t have an I-Player equivalent. Was it any good?

    • Hi Ela, The Big Four was marketed as a novel but really it was a ‘fix-up’ to use terminology from pulp publishing – it was based on previously published short stories with a bit of connecting material written to try and make it into a whole. I agree completely with you about the short story adaption working much better and you’re right, Appointment With Death was pretty horrible. The Clocks was a lot more faithful and worked fairly well I thought – the two plots still don’t really connect up properly and they tried with mixed results to make the business of the clocks a bit less of a total red herring. In other words, its faults are manly the same as those of the book.

  7. Ela says:

    Oh, interesting – I hadn’t realised The Big Four was cobbled together from stories. I’ll have to-read it again. I rather like The Clocks – there’s a lovely bit where Poirot does a critique of crime writers both real and imaginary, and I think Christie had quite a bit of fun with describing Ariadne Oliver’s works.

    • Yes, I quite agree, in The Clocks that is definitely a highlight of the book but less so on TV – it’s partially in the adaptation too, but not to the same extent however. A bit of a shame though it’s easy to see why really as it’s not that plot-related, which I suppose tends to be the governing principle! Ans Ariadne’s work is very amusingly brought in as part of the opening section.

  8. Yvette says:

    I thought I read somewhere that the cobbling together of The Big Four was necessitated by the traumatic divorce (and disappearance) of Christie – she had stopped writing temporarily when real life interfered. But I could be wrong.

    Sergio I hadn’t seen your response to my comment until today when I was cruising around the blogs and stumbled upon it. Forgive me for that. I plead old lady memory.

    Yes, I so agree with you about the butchery done on the Sherlock Holmes series when they went to two hours and a different production team. I really do think that people who do this sort of thing are not real fans of the characters and should, therefore, have no part in adapting and televising these stories. It reflects badly on the original source and I hate to think what new readers might make of the early Christie stories if they’ve been exposed to the current slop.

    A belly dancer as Poirot’s girlfriend?!! Sacre bleu!! C’est impossible.

    • Hi Yvette – I think your memory is spot on about The Big Four as it was very much a stop gap made during the end of her mariage and following the death of her mother. I read it yonks ago but it didn’t make much of an impression – if they adapt it into a single film rather than an anthology or mini-series (which does seem unlikely given the way the seris is now structured as 2-hour movies) it may actually streamline and improve the lumpy narrative. I hope they they bring back Hugh Fraser as Captain Hastings!

  9. Marjie says:

    The series is dull and boring without Miss Lemon and Hastings. I stopped watching it.

    • Hi Marjie – the style certainly changed. Hastings, Inspector Japp and Miss Lemono will be back for one of the final crop of films (in Mark Gatiss’ adaptation of The Big Four) – there’s a press release about their being reunited here. Hastings of course also will appear in the very last entry, Curtain, to be shown in 2014.

  10. Jed says:

    For the purist, there will still be some Poirot stories omitted. While both the Plymouth Express and its expanded form, The Mystery of the Blue Train were both made, the other stories that were later expanded, The Market Basing Mystery, The Submarine Plans, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest, and the Second Gong have never been made. This is probably because their filmed expanded versions are too close to the originals. It’s disappointing too that The Labours of Hercules does not contain all the stories. It seems to centre on the Erymanthian Boar, with elements of The Arcadian Deer, The Stymphalean Birds, The Girdle of Hippolita and the Capture of Cerberus. I can’t find any part of the Nemean Lion, the Learnean Hydra, the Augean Stables, the Cretan Bull, the Horses of Diomedes, the Flock of Geryon or the Apples of Hesperides, or am I missing something? I’m not sure incorporating the Lemessurier Inheritance works either. It should have been filmed as part of the short stories series. Still, it could be said that in some form all the stories and novels are covered.

    • Thanks for all that detail Jed – I suspect that a certain value judgement was made about Labours, both as a single volume and as the source of hour-long adventures, and it was probably found a bit wanting and the overlap seems to have nixed the others. I personally thought the Suchet series was at its best as a series of hour-long shows with the original ‘team’ or Hasting, Japp and Miss Lemon and of the later film only the first, Five Little Pigs and maybe a few of the others really stand up on their own terms as a complete success, so it would have been nice to have more in the earlier style – though by any standards this was a very, very long-running show!

  11. Jed says:

    I agree, Cavershamragu. The earlier stories, all made into 1 hr. programmes, are certainly the best. I find it amazing that a mystery was published every week between 7.3.1923 and 18.12.1923 – a total of 22 stories, and all on the strength of Styles. Only four were not produced for the series, three of which appeared in their expanded forms, with the Lemesurier Inheritance alone never treated as a single story. The only other long run was the Labours which appeared monthly between Nov. 1939 and Sept 1940 in ‘The Strand’. Incidentally the last Labour, The Capture of Cerberus, was rejected by ‘The Strand’ and rewritten, not to be published until 1947 in’This Week’ in the USA.

    You either love Poirot or, like my dearly beloved, it drives you mad. Thank goodness we have two players or I’d never see a single episode. Still, she loves the appearance of Ogier Bros’ removal van which actually was still in operation with the original owners when we first moved house!!

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  13. I have enjoyed all of the Poirot episodes. Some of my favourites include Five Little Pigs and Sad Cypress. However, I have found all the episodes with Hastings, Miss Lemon and Japp the best. They have excellent chemistry and have such fun together. “The Gang” seems to bring out the best in each other.

    • Thanks Debbie – basically I agree with you – I thought the final four, including Curtain, we a bit dull though it was nice, as you say, to get the gang back one more time.

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