The ‘Curtain’ falls – au revoir Poirot … I mean David Suchet!

Collection:WireImage Credit:WireImage Courtesy: Getty Images
Credit: WireImage  Courtesy: Getty Images

This is my tribute to the celebrated Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian detective character created by Dame Agatha Christie. I discovered him in my early teens and of all characters created by Christie, I fancied Poirot the most. Hercule Poirot featured in 33 novels and more than 50 short stories along with 1 play. Well I must have read nearly all of them over the many years that I have read Christie’s books.

Attempts had been made in past to bring Poirot to people through various mediums including Radio Shows, TV and Movies but none has been as assiduous as David Suchet playing Poirot in the ITV series that began in 1989 and concluded only last week. It spanned nearly 24 years and included 13 seasons that consisted of 70 episodes of Poirot. It claims to have covered all the novels and short stories featuring Poirot. A tremendous effort and to me Suchet is the quintessential depiction of Poirot bringing to life his quaint English, celebrated ‘ little grey cells’, his magnificent ego, his obsession for order and method, his apparent distaste towards English food and customs, his loving affection for Captain Hastings, his game of ‘one-upmanship’ with Japp, his camaraderie with Miss Lemon … one could just go on with this.

So it was a great treat to revisit all the 70 episodes in an orderly manner of following the sequence laid out by the series. And the production values are so good – as early as 1989 they beat even my recent experience of watching TV serials on the Indian television. Typically the episode begins with the signature Poirot theme – a delightful piece performed primarily using the Saxophone. The flourishes reach a crescendo and then finally drop off reminding me of the rain drops falling off the petals of a flower.

Adapting a novel or story to an episode format on TV brings in a lot of limitations. You necessarily pick and choose and cannot reproduce the original in full. This may even mean that you chop of some characters and even change the plot and situations to meet the requirement. And it does not leave much scope to develop the ‘red herrings’ – in fact the scenes seem to follow the ‘Chekhov’s gun’. Anton Chekhov famously remarked, “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. It you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” 

And some of the episodes are so very scenic – it is a delight to watch scenes from ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, ‘ The Mystery of the Blue Train’, ‘Death on the Nile’, and to some extent, ‘The Labors of Hercules’.

My personal 5 favorite episodes from the series, in the order of their appearance, are as follows :

Season 3 Episode 1 The Mysterious Affair at Styles

This is her first novel featuring Hercule Poirot. The ‘red herrings’ are deliciously dealt out and story line is very original.  But it has too many characters to make much sense of in the TV adaptation – the books scores on this count.

Season 4 Episode 1 The ABC Murders

Intriguing concept – it seems to be the perfect crime without any meaningful motive. Christie stoops to conquer. Poirot is shown to be defeated and nearly fails to solve the case.

Season 7 Episode 1 The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

A masterly act. The book is better, of course, to read and savor the delectable turn of phrase, the sharply delineated characters and an original approach in narrating a murder mystery. The provincial life in a village is well depicted.

Season 9 Episode 3 Death on the Nile

Amazing locales and nice twist and turns. The murder is planned well in advance and executed in a very novel manner. It takes time for the message to sink and you end up marveling the ingenuity shown in the alibi provided by the murderer. Nile too looks enchanting.

Season 13 Episode 5 Curtain

The final act has to be something special, one would like to believe. This is a very deceptive plot and the psychological construct of the protagonist does not excite strong reactions. And yet it is the very technique many people employ to manipulate people and situations to their advantage. So it deserves to be commended for the way it brings to fore the ‘Iago’ spirit found to reside in so many hearts.

And the curtain finally fell on the Poirot act with the last episode being telecast recently and reportedly watched rather avidly by about 5.2 million people. Thanks David Suchet for bringing Poirot to life and entertaining us so well over the years. We will miss you.

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