Poirot Films: An Overview

I'm a big fan of David Suchet. I think he is THE definitive Poirot, and I very much enjoy the Poirot series episodes.

I have more mixed feelings about the movies. In my opinion, a movie made from a book can and should make changes. However, I think the movie should (1) keep the same overall plot points; (2) demonstrate an appreciation of the author's genius/creativity; and (3) demonstrate an appreciation of the overall sense/feel of the book. If not, I don't see the point in using the book to begin with.

With Agatha Christie mysteries, this means the writers should realize that Christie's books are popular for a reason. She was a superb craftswoman. Although she would occasionally change the identity of a murderer between her books and plays, other writers should not. They are never as good at mystery writing as they think they are. (I discuss Agatha Christie more in my post "Thoughts on Agatha Christie and Literature".)

This is one reason I cannot bear to watch the Geraldine McEwan Miss Marples. Geez, people, if you disrespect Christie that much, have the guts to write your own stuff without stealing Christie's titles. (These are the same people who massacred the superb non-Miss Marple book The Sittaford Mystery.)

On the other hand, I thought the 1997 Pale Horse, despite various changes, was extremely well-done. It kept the order of events, the identity of the murderer (more or less) plus the aura and theme of the book. All the changes were consistent and intelligent.

Out of the Poirot (David Suchet) movies, some do an excellent job meeting my criteria and some . . . do not.

There are some spoilers in the following list:

Peril At End House: The first Poirot/Suchet movie keeps the order of events and the identity of the murderer. It also retains the aura and theme. It isn't the best out of the first set but worth watching.

Mysterious Affair at Styles: This is one of the few movies that actually makes more sense than the book. Mysterious Affair was Christie's first book, and it is rather difficult to follow. In general, although Christie throws out lots of red herrings, her explanations are always crystal-clear. If you have difficulty following the clues in the book, check out the movie: it helps.

The ABC Murders: The best of the first set, really excellent. It demonstrates a great appreciation for the book--everything is spot on.

Death in the Clouds: Okay, but surprisingly boring. Well, its setting revolves about tennis, so what do you expect? Doesn't play havoc with the book at least.

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe: Pretty good, but then it has the amazing Eccleston and the amazing Peter Blythe. It also has one of Christie's better double-identity tricks; even if you figure out the double-identity, you won't be sure what it is being used for immediately.

Hercule Poirot's Christmas: Okay, but something of a disappointment for me. This is one of my favorite books, and although the murderer's identity is kept, a missing character changes the overall aura of the piece.

Hickory Dickory Dock: One of the few movies I think is more interesting than the book. It does an excellent job retaining the aura of student life from the book plus it uses Miss Lemon absolutely correctly. Colin Firth's brother, Jonathan, stars. Yeah, that's right, the brother who WASN'T Darcy. Still, he's managed to have a fairly successful career, and there's something to be said for NOT being the typed-cast brother. For Life fans, Damian Lewis also stars and does a great job.

Murder on the Links: Well-done if a little dull. Retains both the plot and aura of the original.

Dumb Witness: Well-done if a little dull. The dog is cute.

This concludes what I think of as the first set although I believe the above movies are sold in two sets. There is a four years difference between Dumb Witness and the next movie; also, the feel of the movies changes, hence the separation here between "early" films and "later" films.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: Not bad. Narration changes are made for obvious reasons. It kind of works. Basic plot points are retained. All in all, an okay production.

Lord Edgware Dies: Extremely well-done. Helen Grace as Jane Wilkinson does a superb job. Plot, murderer, and aura are all retained. The best movie since The ABC Murders.

Evil Under the Sun: Okay movie, but the femme fatale isn't done correctly. I'm not sure the writers understood Christie's character. She's supposed to be THE woman women-love-to-hate, the bad girl who breaks up marriages except . . . strip away the glamour, and she's actually rather pitiable. For a good rendering of this character type, check out "Triangle at Rhodes."

Murder in Mesopotamia: I think I would like this movie more if it wasn't one of my favorite books. The book is told entirely from the nurse's point of view; the nurse has a very distinct voice and perspective. She makes the book live. The movie, however, is told all from Poirot's point of view. I understand this on one level; the writers have to use the guy who is being show-cased. But it is still a disappointment. That said, the movie is worth watching. It keeps the main plot points and the aura.

Five Little Pigs: This is one of the best of the later movies. It is the most artistic of the films and effectively captures a nostalgic aura that works well with the plot. It keeps the plotting of the book as Poirot questions each "pig" in turn. There is a subtle change regarding the Philip Blake character (played by the superb Toby Stephens). However, the change actually makes sense and doesn't play havoc with Christie's text at all. The actor who plays Amyas Crale isn't at all how I see Amyas Crale physically, but he captures the character.

Sad Cypress: Overall, the plot is well-rendered. However, a major change between the book and movie tells me the writers missed the point. I discuss that change more in my post "Thoughts on Agatha Christie and Literature".

Death on the Nile: Better than the 1978 version. Plus the 2004 version has JJ Feild! It's such a sad movie, I rarely rewatch it. Plus none of the movies has my favorite line. When Jacqueline is speaking to Poirot at the end of the book, she says, "I followed a bad star," and then she mocks a line given earlier in the book: "That bad star, that bad star fall down." When I read Death on the Nile as a teenager, that line encapsulated for me the essence of Jacqueline's character.

The Hollow: Pretty good. Like with Death on the Nile, it is missing some good lines from the book. Otherwise, the characters and plot are skillfully handled. It is also very sad. But then, so is the book!

The Mystery of the Blue Train: Not bad although I'm not as familiar with this book as the others. A romance change is made that I dislike (this becomes more common in the later movies).

Cards on the Table: Great book. So-so movie. A number of fundamentals are needlessly changed (this becomes more common in the later movies). The motive for the murder is changed but not the murderer. It kind of works.

Actually, I think the movie would be a dud if it wasn't for the awesome Zoe Wannamaker. She plays Mrs. Oliver; she doesn't look like Mrs. Oliver, but she captures her character exactly (and it's Zoe Wannamaker!). Alexander Siddig makes an appearance as Mr. Shaitana and does a great job (he also reminds you how tall he is; in Deep Space Nine, he is one over-6-feet man amongst many over-6-feet people--except for Nana Visitor).

After the Funeral: One of my favorite movies though substantial changes are made to Susannah and George's characters. I like the changes, and I don't think they undermine anything. The clever motive and clever murderer are retained, and the clever murderer is absolutely fantastic.

Taken at the Flood: Surprisingly well-rendered. This is Christie's scary psycho piece, and Elliot Cowan as David Hunter, the psycho, is very good. By the way, this movie captures the idea of emotional (and sexual) enthrallment (see my comments about Sad Cypress). A romance change is made that I regret, but I can understand why the writers did it.

Mrs. McGinty's Dead: Well-rendered. This movie also retains very funny dialog from the book. One is the argument between Mrs. Oliver and Robin about the adaptation of her books to plays (Agatha Christie used Mrs. Oliver to spout off about writing); the other is Poirot's line to a suspect: "It is amazing to me that you could be hanged because who do not pay enough attention to the things people say to you!"

Cat Among the Pigeons: I admit this is one book I would be tempted to play with if I were the writers. I have this entire subplot involving Adam and Julia. However . . . by the criteria I established above, the movie is pretty good. The plot and murderer's identity are retained but not, I think, the aura. The removal of one character kind of destroys the original feel. Also, although Harriet Walter does a magnificent job as Miss Bulstrode, I'm not sure she is the Miss Bulstrode of the book, and this kind of matters.

Third Girl: Tremendous disappointment, and the reason, really, that I wrote this post. The movie destroys the book. The book is extremely well-plotted and very clever; the resulting movie mess is just that: a mess. Things happen for no good reason. The new motives are slender and convoluted. The double-identity (a Christie special) is disregarded. Mrs. Oliver is misused. Doctor Stillingfleet, a very important character, is discarded. The entire ambiance as well as the book's time period have been thrown out. Jemima Rooper, who I quite like, is completely wrong for the part of Norma. The movie is a huge wreck.

I can only assume the recent Miss Marple people took over. Please, if you don't admire Christie enough to reread her books several times, savoring her plots and characters and recognizing her for the incredible craftswoman she was . . . if you are arrogant and blind enough to think you can "improve" on her plots, stop writing for Christie movies!

I haven't viewed the remaining Poirot films yet. Appointment with Death is on my Netflix list. It has Tim Curry, who is worth watching, but I've pretty much lost hope. I see on IMDB that Halloween Party aired this year. Yeah, well, I bet they completely messed that up too.

An era has ended. I'll just have to wait about 20 years for someone else to decide to redo all the Christies . . . and redo them right.

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