Agatha Christie’s Poirot Season One (ITV, DVD, 1989)
ITV’s version of Poirot topped all others in that it covered every story and novel about the detective (except one play, Black Coffee) and featured the same actor as the world-famous sleuth in every episode. It ran for almost a quarter of a century, from 1989 to 2013.
The first season constituted of ten short episodes based on stories rather than novels, beginning with ‘The Adventure of the Clapham Cook’. Poirot is called to help with a domestic mystery, which he finally agrees to tackle when the wife of the family points out to him that ‘a good cook is a good cook’ and that in suburban households this matters every bit as much as more glamorous cases. He then discovers that the cook has been lured away from her post on false pretences intended (in a very complicated fashion) to help the murderer get hold of a battered trunk that would not attract attention.
Other episodes in Poirot Season One revolve around quite modern themes. Young women leaving home and sharing a flat together, something Agatha Christie returns to a few times with Poirot, are the central theme of two of the episodes in this season: ‘The Murder in the Mews’ and ‘The Third Floor Flat’. This is a world of unmarried women, working or living on private wealth. They enjoy freedom outside the traditional confines of remaining at home until they married. This is something that clearly intrigued Agatha Christie.
The dynamics of Poirot’s professional life are firmly established during this opening season and do much to establish the viewers’ expectations about the structure of each episode. His sidekick is Captain Arthur Hastings, who is quicker and stronger than Poirot and able to chase suspects down when needed.
The secretarial side of their work is under the capable hand of Miss Lemon, another independently-minded woman. Poirot’s link to the police is provided by Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard, who doggedly follows the evidence but always ends up needing Poirot to solve the mystery. It’s a cosy setup, full of camaraderie, good humour and mutual trust.
One of the features of Agatha Christie’s work that I love most is her frequent use of nursery rhyme phrases in her titles. ‘Four and Twenty Blackbirds’ establishes this motif here in season one, something that would persist right through her writing about Poirot and into other scenarios which did not feature her famous detective at all, such as her 1939 novel And Then There Were None.
Agatha Christie’s private situation involved the affairs of an unfaithful husband, and she addressed this personal pain head-on a number of times in plots that revolve around a weak husband lured away from his loving wife and into the arms of a temptress with charisma and beauty with terrible consequences.
The recurrent use of this structure indicated how deep her pain went, but it is here in ‘Triangle and Rhodes’ and ‘Problem at Sea’, episodes shown a week apart in February 1989, that the viewer sees it in its earlier form. Later novels such as ‘Evil Under the Sun’ and ‘Death on the Nile’ would develop this concept further.
I love David Suchet’s portrayal of Poirot and all the performances delivered by the supporting cast members, Pauline Moran, Hugh Fraser and Philip Jackson. The consistency brought to the entire experience comes directly from having the same lead actors in all the key roles, even though later novels do not feature all the supporting characters in quite the same way as the early ones. The fact that Hugh Fraser went on to provide the voice talent for the audio books too is an added source of pleasure to fans of the Poirot TV series.
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