Show name: The Labours of Hercules
Release date: 2013
Genre: Murder Mystery
Starring: David Suchet, Simon Callow
Director: Andy Wilson
Screenplay: Guy Andrews
Length: 89 minutes
Before we begin, I’d just like to be clear that this is a review of the ITV Agatha Christie’s Poirot episode rather than a review of the short-story collection of the same name.
ITV owned the rights to adapt Miss Marple and Poirot for TV for quite a while, and the Poirot adaptations were a particular triumph in that they featured David Suchet in the title role in every single episode.
The Labours of Hercules is the penultimate episode. The last ever episode was broadcast a week later.
When the story opens, Poirot is working in London to catch a jewel thief who is notorious for his love of killing.
Marrascaud murders a young woman whose priceless necklace is used as bait at a society party. He also steals a valuable painting at the same time.
The death of the young woman, who Poirot was pledged to protect, leads the detective traumatised.
He finds solace in his work when he agrees to find a missing young woman: Nita, the maid to a famous ballerina.
Poirot undertakes this case on behalf of the maid’s lover, a chauffeur who is mystified by her disappearance. They had been on the verge of getting engaged.
The case takes Poirot to the Hotel Olympos in the Swiss Alps. The hotel is set at the top of a mountain and is reached via a dramatic ride up a funicular railway.
After an avalanche, the hotel is cut off, producing the complete isolation that features in so many powerful murder mysteries.
The customary variety of guests and staff come to the fore and the rumour circulates that Marrascaud is with them at the hotel. Poirot is therefore well placed to catch the killer and find the missing maid.
Other than a supposed police inspector undercover at the hotel, Poirot’s only fellow authority figure and man of honesty is an MP Harold Waring (Rupert Evans), who has recently taken the blame for a political scandal involving the Home Secretary.
Poirot soon establishes that Katrina Samoushenka (Fiona O’Shaugnessy) is present at the hotel, but the ballerina denies ever having had a maid. She then abruptly declares ‘Nita is dead’, causing more confusion.
Samoushenka’s psychotherapist Dr Lutz (Simon Callow) attempts to keep his patient away from all contact with guests at the hotel, but Poirot is not deterred.
Poirot’s attention is also drawn to a mother and daughter (Sandy McDade and Morven Christie) travelling with the daughter’s husband, Mr Clayton.
Harold Waring also gets drawn into the troubles, and when the daughter allegedly kills her violent husband one night he pays a substantial bribe to the hotel management to keep the matter quiet.
However, the women’s story soon unravels.
Perhaps the biggest surprise among the guests comes in the return of Poirot’s love interest Countess Rosakoff (Orla Brady). We also meet her teenage daughter Alice Cunningham for the first time (Eleanor Tomlinson).
After many years of estrangement, Poirot has never truly forgotten the countess. He remains as vulnerable to her charms as ever, but is intrigued to discover that Alice studies criminal minds and the detectives who catch them.
The Labours of Hercules is as much a reckoning with Poirot’s unresolved feelings for the countess as a murder mystery. His ability years earlier to let her go even though she was a criminal in the hope that she will have become a better woman is now tested to the limit.
The Labours of Hercules is a wonderful drama. Simon Callow’s Dr Lutz calls out many of the Poirot behaviour patterns in terms of Jungian and Freudian psychiatry, which is very funny (and in many ways justified), before being exposed as a fake himself.
Almost everyone staying at the hotel is dishonest in some way.
The location, the avalanche, the trapping of the guests in the hotel are all highly atmospheric. I do love a murder mystery where everyone is trapped by snow!
The performances were very strong, as to expected from an ensemble cast of such note. Eleanor Tomlinson produced a particularly subtle portrait of a young women who could be a ruthless killer or could be a criminologist of excellence.
Thank you for reading my review.
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