Underneath my yellow skin

Engaging My Little Grey Cells

but of course, mon ami
Using my little grey cells!

“You must use the little grey cells, Hastings!” How often have I read that in a Poirot story? More times than I care to count. I’ve been entranced with Hercule Poirot since I was a kid, reading every novel and short story I could get my hands on. I devoured them, reading each at least ten times and some up to a hundred. I’ve read other books by Agatha Christie as well, but none have captured my imagination as much as that little Belgian fusspot with the magnificent mustaches and OCD traits.

I have loved detective stories since I first learned to read. Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, to name a few. I wrote my first mystery when I was in fifth grade, and I illustrated it myself. It was atrocious, but there was a glimmer of the twisted, torturous mind that I would soon fully develop.

Back to Poirot. Many years ago, I started watching the Poirot movies, starting with the Peter Ustinov versions. I didn’t care for them much because I didn’t think Ustinov was the right actor for the role. I can’t exactly explain why, but he was too big, too bluff, and too…much. He was smug and condescending, and, yes, Poirot is both of these things, but not overtly so. I also watched the Albert Finney version of Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express (which was a cavalcade of top-tier stars). He was dreadful, though I read that Dame Christie said he was her favorite version. I think she was pulling everyone’s leg. She fairly hated Poirot by the end of her career (as evidenced by her writing the character Ariadne Oliver, a writer who’s fed up with her Finn detective), and she probably rued the day she created him.

I started watching the David Suchet series on PBS, and I was hooked. In the early days, they were fairly faithful to the books, though they had to make adjustments for cinematic purposes, of course. I thought the casting as pretty near perfect with Hugh Fraser as the bluff, hearty, auburn-haired woman-smitten, and dim but loyal Captain Hastings; Pauline Moran as the austere and efficient Miss Lemon, and Philip Jackson as the dour, sardonic, and dogged Inspector Japp. I do have a problem with the way they made Miss Lemon more warm and less like a human robot, but I still quite like Pauline Moran’s performance.

In the later years, however, I noticed that they started adding sex, drugs, and other more modern aspects to the series, and I wasn’t pleased with it. They also started changing the plots to make them more fantastic, and it really displeased me. I couldn’t understand why they did that because the people who’ve read the books aren’t looking for modernization, but apparently, the newer series have been quite well received, so what do I know? I’ll expound more on that in a moment.

what a devious mind
That’s a Dame (Agatha Christie) for you!

David Suchet is a tour de force as Poirot. I’ve seen him in other things, and I’m always surprised by how big he is and is very plummy British accent. I bought an audiotape of Death on the Nile because David Suchet was narrating it. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I started it and it was Suchet reading in his regular voice. I didn’t listen for more than a half hour because I was really hoping for Poirot to read it instead. Suchet has said that he read every story with Poirot in it, taking notes as he read. It seems he has a few of Poirot’s OCD traits as well. When he walks onto the stage/set, he simply is Poirot. All the mannerisms, which would be merely a collection of tics for anyone else, somehow coalesce into a coherent whole.

I quit watching the series around the ninth or tenth year. I just couldn’t stand the senseless changes in the plots, and I didn’t like that they did away with Hugh, Philip, and Pauline. I recently read that they were shown the door when the series changed hands (and all the ‘modernization’ started happening), which is a crying shame. I always meant to watch the final years of the series, but I never managed to do so.

Recently, I started wondering if they’d ever filmed Curtain, the final Poirot case. I had cast it in my mind many years ago, mostly based on people I want to fuck. David Suchet as Poirot, of course. Hugh Fraser as Hastings. David Yelland as Georges. Those are canon by now. My additions: Ewan McGregor as Norton. Kate Winslet as Mrs. Franklin. David Thewlis as Dr. Franklin. The late and much-beloved Alan Rickman as Sir William Boyd Carrington. Helen Mirren as Daisy Luttrell. Idris Elba as Major Allerton. What the hell. Let’s add Emma Watson as Judith Hastings, Emma Thompson as Elizabeth Cole, Colin Firth as Colonel Toby Luttrell. I haven’t figured out Curtiss or Nurse Craven yet, but they don’t really matter, anyway.

To my surprise, I found that they had filmed Curtain, and it was the last episode they shot. That’s fitting as it’s Poirot’s last case, and he *spoiler* dies in it. I was worried that they would fuck it up because they were so enamored with their new vision, but I was quite pleased in that they hewed pretty closely to the actual story. Aidan McArdle as Stephen Norton was brilliant, and a great last nemesis for the indomitable Hercule Poirot. I cried when Poirot died; I’m not ashamed to say it. I read that it was a hard day on the set as well, which I can well imagine. I’m pleased that they returned to their roots for this episode, and I’m pleased they brought back┬áthe Three Amigos.

Afterwards, I went back and started watching the series I hadn’t watched before. Once I finished that, I decided to watch all the episodes, in the order the books were published. Then, a fair way into it, I decided to watch them in chronological (for Poirot) order, and I have about twenty more episodes to go. It’s a great escape from the real world, and I have no qualms about bingeing on Poirot episodes. I love the clothes and the carefully crimped hair, the foppish hats, and the elaborately made-up faces. Everything looks so lush and rich, and even though I would never dress that way, I can’t get enough of watching it. There was an episode in which Poirot dressed down to impersonate a locksmith. Yet, he was still dressed as if he were about to go to a ball. I also noticed that they wear gloves quite often, which is handy for committing crimes.

poirot at your service
I am Belgian, not French!

I also love how most of the people who die on the show so amply deserve it. Most of the victims are tyrannical, venal, grotesque, and worthy of being killed. There is usually a clear-cut line between good and evil in Dame Christie’s world, and that’s exactly how I want it. It’s strange because normally, I’m very much a moral gray area kind of gal. I like nuance and subtlety with complex and interwoven plots. In the world of Poirot, however, I like that bad is bad and good is good. In addition, I usually enjoy it when I can figure out who the murderer is, but I don’t care that Christie doesn’t always play fair. There was some brouhaha concerning the Murder of Roger Ackroyd because it turned out that *spoiler again* the narrator was the murderer. People accused her of cheating, but I think it was brilliant. It was so different for the time, and so daring. It’s not one of my favorites, but it’s quite an enjoyable read.

I really like that Christie makes fun of societal norms in her books. I have a hunch that she didn’t care much for high society and for which fork you’re supposed to use for which course. Another thing I’ve been marveling at in the episodes is how complicated societal manners were in that time. How even if you hate someone, you have to dine with that person if they’re your peer. You have to make small talk and pretend to get along. I watch as people dress in tuxes just to eat dinner, which seems like overkill to me. It’s so elaborate and none of it means anything, and, yet, I can’t stop watching. Oh! I also like how the series pokes gentle fun at actors whenever they have pretend plays/films in the series. They’re always overwrought and hammy.

I must confess that I love anything British. Well, not anything, but most things. So, it’s no surprise that this is right up my alley. I can watch from a distance, too, so things that would bother me in real life hardly ruffle my fur here. The chemistry between the main actors is solid. Hugh Fraser and David Suchet have an easy rapport, and it’s not hard to see them as an odd couple pair of friends in real life. Every brilliant man needs a loyal sidekick, and Hugh Fraser plays that part to perfection. I read that Philip Jackson takes a very in the moment approach to acting. He didn’t read any of the stories, and while he memorized his lines, he didn’t rehearse because he liked to react to the situation. He said that while he and Suchet had diametrically opposing methods of how they approached their acting, they worked together surprisingly well. I like that Jackson’s Japp was disheveled, impatient, sometimes surly, but never mean. As for Pauline Moran, again, I had mixed feelings. The first time I watched the early series, I hated her portrayal of the coldly efficient Miss Lemon. In the books, Miss Lemon has on affection for her employer at all. She’s terrifyingly efficacious, and she dreams nothing more than of the perfect filing system. There is one novel in which at the start of it, she makes two mistakes in a letter. Poirot is incredulous, and then finds out that her sister is having problems. Poirot didn’t even know Miss Lemon had a sister before this problem.

Watching the episodes with her in it now has made me reevaluate my opinion. No, she’s not the same as the Miss Lemon of the books, but she’s a more believable person in the series, and she’s loads of fun to watch. I like having her more involved, especially as the other three main actors are male. It’s good to have a woman in the mix, one who can hold her own with the boys.

The centerpiece is David Suchet, of course. In my recent obsession, I read that he was in a performance of Black Coffee, the only Poirot story that has only been a screenplay, and I was so unhappy I didn’t get to see him in it. David Yelland, who plays Georges in the series, played Captain Hastings in this play. I’m sure he was capable, but it’s all about David Suchet. His mincing walk. His expressive eyes. The way he carefully grooms his mustaches. He *is* Hercule Poirot, no two ways about it. Funnily enough, he was Japp in Thirteen at Dinner before he became Poirot, and he wasn’t very good at Japp. I think part of the reason Suchet hasn’t had as much work as he should is because it’s hard not to think of him as anything other than Poirot.

Will there be another Poirot one day? Probably. Actually, verily. I learned on Twitter that there is going to be another Murder on the Orient Express, and it’s going to star…drum roll please…Kenneth Branagh as Poirot. Surprising choice, but not so surprising considering that Branagh is also the director. I have difficulty picturing Branagh as Poirot because Branagh is Branagh ACTING. He’s a THESPIAN! He was a good sport in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, basically aping himself. Johnny Depp is going to be Ratchett, which is probably a good choice, but I can’t stand him now. Am I going to watch it? Probably. Will I like it? Probably not. I’ll try to keep an open mind, but I freely admit my biases. I will say that there have been three versions of this movie made, and none of them are great. I would say the Suchet version is the least-terrible, but, again, biases.

I will finish out the series, and I’m grateful to it for taking my mind off all this American craziness. It’s a cracking good show.

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