Poirot, Curtain, the final episode

AIDAN MCARDLE as Stephen Norton, HELEN BAXENDALE as Elizabeth Cole, JOHN STANDING as Col. Toby Luttrell, ANNE REID as Daisy Luttrell, SHAUN DINGWALL as Dr Franklin, DAVID SUCHET as Hercule Poirot, HUGH FRASER as Captain Hastings, PHILIP GLENISTER as Sir William Boyd Carrington, ANNA MADELEY as Barbara Franklin, MATTHEW MCNULTY as Major Allerton and ALICE ORR-EWING as Judith
Gathering round Hercule’s last case. Pics: ITV
David Suchet with make-up artist as he prepares for the last day of filming the iconic series, Agatha Christie's Poirot
Behind the scenes

Curtain: Poirot’s Final Case brings an end tonight to an epic endeavour by ITV and David Suchet to film all of Agatha Christie’s mysteries with the Belgian sleuth. After 24 years in the role, the actor – who has been directed on stage by Harold Pinter and conquered Broadway as Salieri in Amadeus, among other acclaimed portrayals – found filming Poirot’s final scenes the hardest day’s filming of his career. So, tonight fans will have to be ready to see their hero in a wheelchair, not quite as sparkling and precise as he once was, as he returns with Captain ‘Astings to Styles – the scene of his first investigation 30 years previously – to try to unravel a series of apparently perfect crimes. The episode goes out on ITV at 8pm, and later the channel is also showing Being Poirot at 10.35pm, with Suchet exploring the character, his roots and worldwide appeal (the series has been shown in 200 countries). It should be some adieu…

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Poirot – Elephants Can Remember, ITV, with David Suchet, Greta Scacchi PREVIEW

ZOE WANAMAKER as Mrs oliver, DAVID SUCHET as Hercule Poirot and GRETA SCACCHI as Mrs Burton-Cox.  Poirot: Elephants Can Remember Copyright ITV.
Zoë Wanamaker, David Suchet and Greta Scacchi. Pics ITV

Rating: ★★★½

ITV: Sunday, 9 June, 8pm

Story: While Poirot is pre-occupied with investigating the strange and gruesome murder of an elderly psychiatrist, his old friend, the crime writer Ariadne Oliver, has a case of her own to solve.

MES AMIS, it is almost time for a last au revoir. Having first played Hercule Poirot 1988, David Suchet is stepping into the spats for the last few times as ITV starts showing the final five remaining Agatha Christie adaptations of the Belgian sleuth’s mysteries.

Elephants Can Remember is a suitably lavish and star-studded production, featuring the return of Zoë Wanamaker as Poirot’s old chum Mrs Ariadne Oliver, along with Greta Scacchi – rather shockingly the former screen siren turns up as an old battleaxe – Iain Glen, Vincent Regan and Vanessa Kirby.

Who shot who?

It’s a tale of two investigations. Ariadne is cornered at a crime writers’ convention by a domineering old

VINCENT REGAN as Chief Sup. Beale, ANNABEL MULLION as Lady Ravenscroft and FERDINAND KINGSLEY as Desmond.  Poirot: Elephants Can Remember Copyright ITV
Vincent Regan, Annabel Mullion and Ferdinand Kingsley

boot, Mrs Burton-Cox (Greta Scacchi), who insists she look into two 10-year-old unsolved murders. Did General Ravenscroft shoot his wife, Margaret, Ariadne’s old school chum, or did Margaret shoot the general?

Ariadne requests Poirot’s assistance, but the buttoned-up detective is already fully engaged in the case of a psychiatrist who has been murdered in one of his old treatment baths, a rather cruel looking contraption.

It would be interesting to compare this latest Poirot with one of ITV’s productions from the early years. Surely those originals come nowhere near today’s almost fetishistic recreation of the 1920s, with its luxurious settings and beautiful furnishings, clothes and wirelesses, right down to the tea sets. If you like period setttings, this is a feast.

Ariadne and Poirot

Another trademark is the gentle humour in the scenes between Ariadne and Poirot, who’s often perplexed by his friend, and during Ariadne’s questioning of several forgetful old biddies in her quest for a solution to the Ravenscroft case.

Of course Poirot and his stablemate Miss Marple are hardly cutting-edge television. Poirot is a pretty

VINCENT REGAN as Chief Insp Beale and DAVID SUCHET as Hercules Poirot.  Elephants Can Remember Copyright ITV
Chief Insp Beale and Hercules Poirot confer

dull character (Ariadne is more fun), and much of the dialogue is dreary exposition – ‘Awful business… they left the house for a walk… didn’t come back… somebody or other found them dead… the revolver was lying by their bodies… bloody hard on the dog…’

But there has long been a big audience for period whodunits, and as Poirot comes to an end, ITV has fairly perfected the recreation of Agatha Christie’s world.

This thirteenth series still has The Big Four, Dead Man’s Folly (still to be filmed), The Labours of Hercules and Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case to come. Poirot and the whole cosy drawing-room whodunit game feels dull and bland to many of us, but there is no doubt that a swathe of fans will miss him in their millions. Man alive, the thing airs on over 200 broadcasters worldwide including: USA (WGBH), Australia (ABC), Brazil (Globosat), France (France Televisions), Italy (Mediaset), Japan (NHK) and Russia (TV Center).

So, perhaps a homburg should be raised to ITV for lavishing so much care on the detective for 25 years. They’ve done him justice.

Cast: David Suchet Hercule Poirot, Zoë Wanamaker Mrs Ariadne Oliver, Greta Scacchi Mrs Burton-Cox, Vanessa Kirby Celia, Adrian Lukis General Ravenscroft, Annabel Mullion Lady Ravenscroft, Ferdinand Kingsley Desmond, Iain Glen Dr Willoughby, Jo-Anne Stockham Mrs Willoughby, Vincent Regan Detective Inspector Beale, Alexandra Dowling Marie, Danny Webb Superintendent Garroway, Elsa Mollien Zelie, Claire Cox Dorothea, Caroline Blakiston Julia Carstairs, Hazel Douglas Mrs Matcham, Maxine Evans Mrs Buckle, Ruth Sheen Madame Rosentelle
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David Suchet on Agatha Christie, Arne Dahl’s Intercrime series on BBC4, and Point Blank at the BFI

David Suchet and Agatha Christie biographer Laura Thompson against the backdrop of Blackpool Sands, one of Agatha Christie's favourite beauty spots. ITV
David Suchet with Agatha Christie biographer Laura Thompson. Pic: ITV

• Whether you like Agatha Christie’s implausible novels or not, there is no denying her worldwide popularity. A new strand of the Perspectives documentaries begins with David Suchet, who has made the role of Poirot is own on ITV, investigating her appeal. As he prepares to don the spats one last time as Christie’s Belgian sleuth, Suchet sets out to learn more about his character’s creator, the woman whose books are only outsold by Shakespeare and The Bible. The doc goes out on ITV on Sunday, 17 March, at 10pm. Watch out too for Jonathan Ross on Hitchcock in coming weeks.

• BBC4’s excellent scheduling of European crime dramas will soon be including a new Swedish season of five two-part adaptations of Arne Dahl‘s novels from his Intercrime series. Dahl is the pseudonym of Jan Arnold, whose stories to be screened this spring on Saturday nights will include The Blinded Man, Bad BloodMany Waters, Europa Blues and To the Top of the Mountain. The tales focus on a team of older detectives. Further good news is that there will be four new Montalbano films in the autumn, along with a spin-off about Young Montalbano.

• The BFI in London is keen for us to flag up its forthcoming screenings of a new print of John Boorman’s classic crime movie Point Blank. Tickets go on sale today for the screenings of this power-packed revenge tale, starring Lee Marvin, who was perfect as the bruising brute Walker, and Angie Dickinson. The direction is startling at times and the action unfolds in a fragmentary style, creating a fresh and exhilarating thriller that grips from start to finish. It was a bravura US debut from the British director.

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Hidden with Philip Glenister PREVIEW

Thekla Reuten, Philip Glenister and David Suchet. Pics: BBC/Origin

Rating ★★★

BBC1 from Thursday, 6 October, 9pm 

It must be a sign of scandal-plagued times that TV is getting paranoid. Hidden is the third in a recent sequence of absorbing conspiracy thrillers following Exile and The Shadow Line, and is at least as good as its predecessors.

It’s a murky piece of noir with dark streets, a femme fatale and a dodgy hero, played very believably by a brooding Philip Glenister. He is Harry Venn, small-time solicitor suddenly confronted by ghosts from his past.

He gets a visit from a mysterious lawyer, Gina Hawkes (Thekla Reuten), who is representing an old mate of Harry’s, Steve Quirke. Steve wants Harry to find another old chum – and criminal – by the name of Joe Collins.

Harry Venn – out of his depth?

Scandal for the Prime Minister, riots on the streets
Trouble is, most of these of former mates of Harry’s were involved in his own criminal past, for Harry is a solicitor with a lot of baggage. When he visits Steve in the nick events turn surreal, with Steve telling Harry he’s recently Hillman. Harry is angry to hear this because Hillman’s body was identified in a morgue many years before.

The action intercuts with a robbery from their younger days that went disastrously wrong, with Hillman and Harry’s brother both ending up dead, along with two policemen getting shot. Harry was the getaway driver.

While Harry’s head is spinning with his commission from the elusive Gina – who’s promised him £20,000 to find Collins – in the background are political scandals revolving around the Prime Minister, Brian Worsley, and riots on Britain’s streets.

It’s a terrific story from Ronan Bennett, who also wrote the Johnny Depp biopic about John Dillinger, Public Enemies. Night-time London is startlingly filmed, and Glenister moves up a gear from his recent indelible roles in Mad Dogs and Ashes to Ashes.

Drug taking, bribes and burglary
Harry Venn is a far more gritty performance. He’s man on the edge who sleeps with his ex-wife, is insulted by his son, takes cocaine, smokes dope and is willing to bribe and burgle his way to finding out who Gina Hawkes is really working for.

Gina meets Harry in a London hotel

But he is also a sharp operator. Asking a hotel employee how much he wants to allow Harry to snoop round Gina’s hotel room, he is told £500. ‘Let’s split the difference and call it 30 quid,’ Harry replies.

There is a nicely menacing scene between Harry and Gina’s doctor, and events finally turn very disturbing for the solicitor.

It’s a four-parter, with David Suchet joining the story after the opening episode as Sir Nigel Fountain. While it is always tricky to judge a series after one episode, Hidden was so good it already looks like one of the best crime dramas of the year.

Cast: Philip Glenister Harry Venn, Thekla Reuten Gina Hawkes, David Suchet Sir Nigel Fountain, Anna Chancellor Elspeth Verney, Mark Powley Mark Venn, Mark Flitton Paul Hillman, Thomas Craig Fenton Russell, Richard Durden Dr Sturgess, Richard Dormer Frank Hanna, Peter Guinness Jason Styles, Paul Ritter Steve Quirke, Lisa Kay Lauren

And a very Merry Christie to you all

David Suchet as Poirot (all pics ITV)

Murder on the Orient Express, ITV1, Christmas night, 9pm

ITV is spoiling Agatha Christie devotees by gift-wrapping three new dramas featuring Marple or Poirot this Christmas season – including a fresh adaptation of the author’s much-loved Murder on the Orient Express.

This is a different take on the story compared to the famous movie of 1974, more of what David Suchet, who plays the sleuth, calls a psychological drama.

 
David Morrissey as Colonel Arbuthnott
He says, ‘To be making the most famous and iconic Poirot story Agatha Christie ever wrote is possibly the most daunting task I’ve had in over 20 years of filming Poirot.
‘Albert Finney got an Oscar nomination for his portrayal as Poirot so to be making it again is a real challenge. And an exciting one because we’re not doing it as a remake of the film. Stewart [Harcourt, the screenwriter] has approached it from a very interesting and tantalising point of view.
‘Tragic occurrences happen before Poirot even steps on the train which affect him very much. First, a man commits suicide as a result of his evidence, and then he witnesses a stoning in Istanbul. 
Barbara Hershey as Mrs Hubbard
‘We see him, in both instances, full of his own self justification and almost self righteousness in saying “well, that’s the world – it’s nothing to do with me”. Then he boards the Orient Express and is  approached by this horrible man, Samuel Ratchett, who asks him for protection. 
‘Poirot turns him down because he takes an instant dislike to him. The man is later found dead. And so we’re dealing with a very different Poirot. You can’t make Poirot the same as he’s always been with those three things happening in his life. 
Hugh Bonneville as Masterman
‘It’s really a psychological journey for him, one that absolutely breaks him. The decision he is forced to make at the end forces him to drop his whole raison d’être, which is ridding the world of crime. He is made to dig deep and finally do the right thing against his better judgment.’
ITV has lavished a fine production and international cast on this Christmas Day two-hour special. 
Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) plays Edward Masterman, David Morrissey (Thorne, State of Play) is Colonel John Arbuthnott, and Barbara Hershey (Portrait of a Lady) is Mrs Hubbard. Serge Hazanavicius (I’ve Loved You So Long) is Xavier Bouc, Denis Ménochet (Inglourious Basterds) is Pierre Michel, and Dame Eileen Atkins (Cranford) is Princess Dragomiroff.

Julia McKenzie and Dervla Kirwan
 Agatha Christie’s Marple, The Secret of Chimneys, ITV1, Monday, 27 December, 9pm
As well as being the 120th anniversary of Christie’s birth and the 90th anniversary of Poirot’s first appearance, 2010 is also the 80th year since Marple’s debut. 

ITV has continued to mount lavish productions of author’s two amateur detectives throughout this special year, rounding off with The Blue Geranium and The Secret of Chimneys. Among the cast of the latter are Gavin and Stacey‘s Mathew Horne and Ruth Jones, along with Edward Fox, Michelle Collins and Dervla Kirwan.

Classic Christie ingredients are all present here – the country house, aristos, a murdered Austrian count, and a secret love affair.

The Blue Geranium, Wednesday, ITV1, 29 December, 8pm
Yet another star cast is in the dock for this final Marple of 2010, including Donald Sinden, Patrick Baladi and Toby Stephens. Here, Jane Marple is appealing to an old friend, Sir Henry Clithering (Sinden), to get a court hearing into the death of unpopular Mary Pritchard (Sharon Small) stopped because she has some new evidence.

While Julia McKenzie still feels like the new girl in this role, The Blue Geranium is actually her eighth outing as Marple (and her fourth this year). After a lukewarm reception to her portrayal in some places, she now seems to have put her own brand on the character.

She says,  ‘I’ve gone for the sturdier version, as it were. Agatha Christie wrote Jane Marple in two different ways. When she first invented the character she was a more fragile, rather Victorian soul. Then she rewrote her about 10 years later and she came up a bit tweedier and more solid. I’ve really gone for the latter one because of the modern audience. I think, for her age, Miss Marple is quite a modern woman. She’s certainly got a tremendous intelligence and intellect that I have had to work hard at! But, I’ve based most of her on the fact that she’s a woman who’s very much of her period, but also modern.

‘I feel I’ve settled into it and would like to play her for the rest of my working life, if there are enough stories to go round.’

Agatha Christie Poirot: Hallowe’en Party PREVIEW

Ariadne and Poirot (pics ITV)

Rating ★★★

Wednesday, 27 Oct, 8pm ITV1

Since 1989 ITV has produced more than 60 Poirot’s with David Suchet as the smug Belgian.

There is no mystery in concluding that Agatha Christie’s sleuth has his fans, that a hardcore of viewers relish Suchet’s performance along with the period of steam trains, sensible cardies and roaring hearths.

Equally, there are many left bored by the formula, finding the implausible dramas as satisfying as solving sudoku puzzles, and ‘Ercule Poirot with his GCSE French (‘Oui,’ ‘N’est-ce pas?’ etc), references to himself in the third person (‘Poirot will find out all’) and all-round pomposity simply naff.

C’est la vie (that’s enough school French, Ed). But whether the series is considered a trick or a treat, it is back with a decent seasonal mystery that should delight devotees. Hallowe’en Party is dark and atmospheric, as should be expected from a script by Mark Gatiss (who not only co-wrote and starred in Sherlock this summer, but has his History of Horror on BBC Four, and is soon to be seen in The First Men in the Moon, also on BBC Four).


It features the return of one of Poirot’s few female friends, crime writer Ariadne Oliver in an almost affectionate performance again by Zoë Wanamaker. Timothy West, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Deborah Findlay are among the suspects.

It is Ariadne who is attending a children’s Hallowe’en party at Woodleigh Common when  a young girl, Joyce, brags that she once witnessed a murder. Everyone pooh-poohs her story, but when the child is found with her head submerged in an apple-bobbing tub, Ariadne knows who to call.

Poirot realises that even if Joyce was a fantasist she may not have lied about the murder, and that if he can work out which of three recent local murders the girl was talking about, he will be close to the killer.

Armchair sleuths will have to strain every little grey cell to fathom out whether a forged codicil in will, a missing au pair or a secret love affair is the key. 

Only six or seven Poirot stories remain to be filmed, and from what David Suchet says it is not only older viewers who will be saddened that the production line is coming to an end. ‘I’m now getting letters from seven year olds who have suddenly got hooked!’ the actor said. ‘I recently sent photographs to two eight year old twins who come home from school and make their mother put on Poirot! In the same month I sent a box of chocolates to someone who was 94 in an old people’s home. Almost 90 years difference in age yet they are watching the same programme.’

Go figure.   

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