Underneath my yellow skin

Resting My Little Grey Cells With Hercule Poirot

People who know me might or might not know something rather strange about me–I am a rabid Hercule Poirot fan. I say it’s strange because my tastes run more towards the contemporary and what some would call noir or ‘gritty’. Poirot is none of those things, though later in the TV series, they tried their damnedest to make it so. I want to make it clear that I read the stories voraciously when I was a teenager, and I couldn’t get enough of them. I’ve read each at least three or five times, and some up to dozens of times. My two favorites are The Big Four and Curtain, and I’m trying my own hand at writing a Poirot story. It’s dashed hard, though, to write in someone else’s voice and not make it sound like parody. There is someone who has written two new ‘Poirot’ novels with the blessing of the Christie estate (money already running dry?), and I tried to read the first one. It wasn’t Poirot at all, and I didn’t make it past the first few pages. I didn’t even try to read the second one. Anyway, writing a Poirot story has been a good exercise, but I don’t know if I’ll finish it.

Back to the books. I loved Poirot’s finickiness, his preciseness, his ego, and his little grey cells. I didn’t care how ludicrous his denouements were. In fact, the more ludicrous, the better. I love modern murder mysteries, but I do have to say the insistence on verisimilitude can get tedious. I love the internet, but it makes it far too easy to check up on the details. “There’s no such place as Shop and Cop in Boston!” Who cares, really? It’s funny, but it even happened in the days before the internet. Agatha Christie had a character in her later novels named Ariadne Oliver whose famous detective is a vegetarian Finn named Sven Hjerson. Ariadne is clearly a stand-in for Agatha Christie, and she’s always lamenting about how she shouldn’t have made him a Finn and that people in Finland have too much time to read. It’s hilarious, and I’m quite sure it was Dame Christie’s way of venting her frustration because it’s said she came to hate Poirot by the end of her career.

I started watching the Ustinov movies, but he never really was Poirot to me. Funny note: David Suchet played Chief Inspector Japp in one of the Ustinov movies, and, um, let’s just say it wasn’t the right role for him. He IS Hercule Poirot, and there shall be no other. Yes, I will watch the (ugh) Kenneth Branagh version of Murder on the Orient Express, but I won’t like it. The trailer is atrocious, Kenneth Branagh couldn’t be more wrong for the part, and everything about is wrong. Then again, all three of the prior versions of the movie are terrible, too (including, sadly, the David Suchet version which got all Catholique at the end), and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better as a novel. Interestingly enough, even though it’s one of the more famous novels, it’s not one of my favorite. It’s too convoluted, even for a Poirot novel, and there’s no way to cram it in an hour and a half to two hours. Anyway, I don’t think there should be any more Poirot portrayals unless it’s done by an actual Belgian. It’s time to let it go and let David Suchet remain the gold standard.

I know as I watch that there are problems with the series. One, the way they portray the working class, often making them appear thick, slow, and conniving. Another is using English actors for other nationalities. Speaking of which, Dame Christie had some pretty provincial ideas about other nationalities, which is one of my least favorite part of the books. In watching the series again, I’ve been wincing at some of the portrayals (both as how they are written and the English actors portraying them). The biggest strength is also the biggest problem, and I hate having to talk about it, but talk I must. It’s David Suchet as Poirot. Now, my admiration for Suchet as Poirot knows no bounds. I am currently watching the first episode, and how he grew into the part until he embodied the character is amazing. He is Poirot to me that any time I hear him speak in his regular voice, I am jarred. It is a performance of the lifetime, and I adore every aspect of it.

However. He’s not Belgian, obviously, and I’m very vocal in my denouncement of appropriation. I watched a documentary (the video included) in which Suchet is treated like a god in Belgium, so apparently, they love his portrayal. I will say that the first episode was filmed in 1989, so I can forgive the cultural appropriation as it wasn’t a thing at the time. In addition, Agatha Christie wrote the role knowing not much of anything about Belgians, so having a Brit portray him is kind of fitting. Then Suchet became Poirot, and of course he had to continue in the role. I have mostly made my peace with it, and I still unabashedly love the portrayal. I love the period dress and the gorgeous, lush environments.  I also really like the theme song, although listening to it before and after every episode can get a bit wearying. I don’t like how in the later episodes they tried to inject more contemporary notes like car chases (ludicrously slow), shootings, and sex. But, I know they’re not the novels, and I know that they’re their own things, so I try not to be the ‘well actually’ gal as I watch.

It helps that the main actors are all amazing. David Suchet as Poirot, of course. But, also, Hugh Fraser as the affable, courteous, but somewhat slow Captain Hastings, Philip Jackson as Chief Inspector Japp, the dogged, puppy dog-eyed copper, and Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon. I’ve bitched before how the portrayal of Miss Lemon is wrong, but Pauline Moran is outstanding in what she’s given. Miss Lemon is supposed to be more machine than woman, dreaming only of the perfect filing system. She does not care one whit that her employer is a famous detective, and, indeed, she views him as a necessary evil. The Miss Lemon of the TV series is too interested in human machinations, though she does retain the highly efficient nature of the books’ Miss Lemon. I really think these three actors are highly underrated, and they don’t get enough credit for the admirable job they do.

That’s another thing I don’t like about the later episodes–Hastings, Japp, and Miss Lemon were all cut for budgetary reasons. Suchet is amazing no matter what, but he’s at his best when he’s surrounded by his three allies. Which made me extremely happy that they all returned for the final episode, Curtain*. My god. I can’t think abut that episode without getting chills. It’s one of my favorite novels in the series (indeed, it’s moving its way to number one), and it’s by far the best episode of the series. I really felt like in the latter seasons, they were moving away with what made Poirot, well, Poirot. The executive team changed hands years into the run, and it really showed.

I hesitated to watch Curtain for a long time because I don’t like the end of things and because I was afraid it would not live up to my expectations. In addition, I had already cast it in my mind, and I was pretty sure no one I chose would actually be cast in it. Alan Rickman as Sir William Boyd-Carrington, of course. Sigh. Anyway, it was brilliant. It was the closest to the novel that any of the episodes have been, and seeing Poirot as an old, frail man really hit hard. Seeing him dead on his bed, well, I shed more than a few tears. David Suchet talks (in the same documentary) about how hard it was to film the scene, and it’s the scene they shot last (of the film, if I remember correctly. Not the series.).

It’s a crowning jewel and a fitting end to the series. I still enjoy watching the shows, mostly because of David Suchet. I watch them in chronological order, not in the order of which they were filmed, because I’m OCD in that way. Watching David Suchet is like watching a master class in acting, and I am but a student.

*I did not remember correctly. Only Hugh Fraser were called back for Curtain. Philip Jackson and Pauline Moran did come back in the final series for a different episode, though. The Big Four, along with Hugh Fraser.

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