This is another book that I borrowed off my sister quite a long time ago (whoops!) In what may seem like a scandalous confession, my first impressions of Christie and Poirot came from the series which Suchet starred in. It was only a number of years later that I ever read any of the books, so the Suchet adaptations have always had a special importance for me. The series took place over 25 years and it is amazing that Suchet was able to film all the Poirot short stories and novels, barring one very short story, The ‘Lemesurier Inheritance’. So once you’ve got over the shock of my revelation do feel to carry on and read the rest of review. Hopefully you had your smelling salts to hand.
The opening of the book begins with Suchet’s recollections of filming the final Poirot novel, Curtain and the difficulties this imposed on him. Not only was it understandably emotionally difficult, but he also had to lose two stone in weight! This episode was one me and my family watched together and it was quite an emotional one to watch. Yet it is interesting that Suchet talks more about avoiding sentimentality, excessive melodrama and sugariness in the final death scenes. The book then takes on a chronological approach to recounting the earlier series and episodes, whilst also incorporating information on the other work Suchet did in between series. It quite surprised me how varied these roles were and how often they were for villainous personalities Early on in the book Suchet explains his love of being a character actor and I think it can be seen in the roles he has taken on. It also explains why he is so good at acting across a range of character types, as a few years ago I saw him when he played Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest and after the initial thoughts of “Wow! Poirot looks different today,” I really got into the character Suchet was playing.
Moving back to his time as Poirot though, I found it interesting to see how Suchet describes his response to the role and how he went about representing the character, a job he undertook with a great deal of seriousness. In particular it is said that Suchet wanted to avoid Poirot looking like a comical buffoon or a figure of fun, an anxiety he may have had, coming to the role from the previous adaptations first before the books themselves. Captain Hastings and Inspector Japp are also played more straight and Suchet writes that Hastings was ‘never allowed to look like a complete fool,’ as he is representative of the audience and that ‘one of Hastings’ functions is to elucidate what is going on in Poirot’s mind.’
For the remainder of my review I decided to offer some interesting titbits which I came across in the book…
Some things I didn’t know about David…
- He was quite a sporty youth, being very good at rugby and tennis (having played in the Wimbledon Junior finals when he was 14).
- He starred in the film Harry and the Hendersons and even played Inspector Japp in the Peter Ustinov version of Thirteen at Dinner (1985). Suchet recalls that Ustinov ‘liked the part [of Poirot] because he could bring out what he saw as the comedy in the role, but he knew that he could never play the Poirot that Agatha Christie had actually written,’ due to his too large a personality and person. Though he did also say that Suchet could play Poirot well.
- Before beginning to play Poirot he wrote out a 5 page dossier of characteristics about his habits and character – 93 items in total and throughout the book his research into Poirot and Christie’s work does shine through. Some pieces of information I already knew, but there were lots of others bits which I had forgotten or not known at all. For instance I never knew that Sad Cypress and The Hollow were two Poirot novels that Christie thought were ruined by having Poirot in them. I also found out that Poirot orders his books by size (definite head shaking and tutting moment).
- At one stage he bought Ronnie Barker’s house, who incidentally had appeared as Poirot in Christie play Black Coffee.
Some of the stars who have featured in the Poirot series…
There were quite a lot of other names featured in this book, but I did find it interesting that two of the Dr Who’s incarnations, Peter Capaldi and Christopher Eccleston both starred in some of the Poirot episodes.
Some things I didn’t know about the ITV Poirot series…
- That Suchet’s original moustache for the earlier series was based on a description in Murder on the Orient Express. It’s design was changed later when Chorion and Arts and Entertainment Network took over the producing of the series. I kid you not there were actual moustache consultation meetings!
- In order to get Poirot’s walk right, Suchet walked around with penny between his bottom cheeks.
- A dinner Suchet had with the royal family on his 44th birthday led to the mango eating scene in ‘The Royal Ruby.’
- Ever keen to get the details right, Suchet could be quite hard on himself, always regretting that in episode, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, he did not brush his hair before opening a window to talk to Captain Hastings.
- Suchet has had quite a lot of fan mail unsurprisingly, though I think one of the oddest and sad, (not as in lame), examples is when ‘a young woman in her twenties wrote to ask[s him] if [he] would come and meet her in a park one day, dressed as Poirot, so that she could know what it would be like to be treated like a lady.’
- £5 million was spent on the first 10 episodes, though of course by the time the series were coming a close in the 2010s, each episode was costing into the millions each.
- From the second series he was keen to make Poirot less stiff and more human and when it comes to the Chorion and Arts and Entertainment Network takeover, the subsequent series were keen to delve into Poirot’s psyche more deeply, revealing his loneliness more and his Catholicism.
- The Blue Train Mystery was one of Suchet’s favourite episodes to star in.
- One day on the London Underground a nun loudly told Suchet that his Poirot series were a forbidden secret pleasure for her and her fellow nuns at their convent.
- Suchet’s driver and children have been extras in the series.
- As a rule the episodes tend to be situated in the 1930s regardless of their original publication date. Suchet details the reasons why they desired this consistency, but personally I don’t think they really hold true. I think audiences can cope with episodes progressively moving into a later time period and I think moving books such as The Third Girl, a 60s novel, back into the 30s, takes something away from it.
So all in all I think this was a good read. With this type of book it is always intriguing to see what areas are focused on and what areas are skipped or glossed over. One such example of the latter is the ‘number of liberties’ which writers took with the adaptations of The Big Four and The Labour of Hercules; which in my opinion are two of the weakest adaptations out of all the series. One final thing I found interesting was a comment Suchet’s son in law said which is that ‘what makes Poirot so appealing, enduring and timeless as a man is that he possesses one of the finest and clearest moral compasses of any fictional character.’ Do you agree? Unsurprisingly having read the book I do feel like I need to do a Poirot marathon of some kind, as not watched any for quite some time. Do let me know which are your favourite and least favourite episodes from the series as well. My memories are a bit woolly so it would be good to have some pointers before returning to watching them.