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Agatha Christie's Poirot (1989-)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Agatha Christie's Poirot (1989-)
LWT for ITV, 8/01/1989 -
36x60 min episodes in 5 series, 4x120 min, plus ongoing specials
ProducersBrian Eastman
 Margaret Mitchell
Original WorkAgatha Christie
Directors includeEdward Bennett
 Andrew Grieve
Writers includeClive Exton
 David Pirie
 David Renwick

Cast: David Suchet (Hercule Poirot); Hugh Fraser (Captain Hastings); Philip Jackson (Chief Inspector Japp); Pauline Moran (Miss Lemon)

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The cases of Hercule Poirot, the Belgian sleuth who by exercising his 'little grey cells' helps the police unravel mysteries in 1930s Britain.

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Although the novels and short stories featuring the monumentally fastidious and arrogant detective Hercule Poirot were published between 1920 and 1975, producer Brian Eastman and principal scriptwriter Clive Exton set Agatha Christie's Poirot in 1936, to capitalise on the glamorous Art Deco designs of the period. The scripts, including contributions by Anthony Horowitz, Andrew Marshall and David Renwick, occasionally emphasised this by introducing specific 1936 historical references, like the Jarrow March and Fred Perry's win at the French Open.

Mostly, though, the series projects a glossy, generic 1930s atmosphere, offering up for admiration the expensive and beautifully crafted period trappings of the era, including cars, aircraft, fashions and architecture. The décor is also crucial, with the layout of Poirot's Whitehaven Mansions flat (actually Florin Court in Charterhouse Square, near Holborn) central to the episode The Third Floor Flat (tx. 5/2/1989). This style is brilliantly evoked in Pat Gavin's animated title sequence and by Christopher Gunning's memorable theme tune.

The series' main strength, however, is its casting - aside from Suchet's splendid, Penguin-like Poirot, Hugh Fraser's car-loving Captain Hastings (always one of the stupidest Watsons in literature) is always sympathetic, and provides a strong comedic foil for the pompous detective. The other recurring characters are Felicity Lemon (Pauline Moran), Poirot's indefatigable secretary, and Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson); both roles have been greatly expanded from the original tales.

After exhausting the short stories, the series turned to the novels, with mixed fortunes. Murder on the Links (tx. 11/02/1996) works extremely well, combining a love story for Hastings and a splendid duel of wits between Poirot and a French police inspector clearly patterned after Georges Simenon's Maigret. Equally good is The Mysterious Affair at Styles (tx. 16/9/1990), which went back to the First World War to show Poirot and Hastings' first case. Hickory, Dickory, Dock (tx. 12/02/1995), however, feels padded, while Exton's brave attempt to preserve Christie's celebrated surprise ending to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (tx. 02/01/2000) sadly doesn't work.

Recent episodes have turned to Christie's darker, more psychologically penetrating Poirot novels. David Pirie's script for Sad Cypress (tx. 26/12/2003) was effectively sombre, while Kevin Elyot's adaptation of Five Little Pigs (tx. 14/12/2003) successfully brought out the story's homosexual subtext, while deftly handling its awkward flashback structure. These have also served to underline the strength and surprising depth with which Suchet, in his multifaceted interpretation, has imbued the role.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. The party gathers (2:27)
2. Poirot's reputation (2:43)
3. Italian figurines (3:38)
4. Poirot explains (2:43)
Complete episode: 'Affair at The Victory Ball' Part 1 (17:06)
Part 2 (13:02)
Part 3 (19:53)
Pirie, David (1953-)
Renwick, David (1951-)
Wanamaker, Zoë (1949-)
London Weekend Television (LWT)
Agatha Christie on Television
TV Drama in the 2000s
TV Sleuths