Acorn Media // 2009 // 267 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // June 24th, 2011
Poirot: "I need to think."
Poirot: "It is a mental process..."
Acorn Media brings us Poirot's latest adventures from the long-running ITV series in Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Movie Collection, Set 6; three tales of murder and mystery from the master...
* "Three Act Tragedy"
After guests at successive dinner parties drop dead, Poirot teams up with an old friend, retired stage star Sir Charles Cartwright (Martin Shaw, George Gently) to ferret out the malefactor. The poison is easily detected; what isn't so detectable is the connection between the two victims. While the pair struggles to unravel the mystery, Sir Charles faces a more personal challenge as he works up the nerve to ask the much younger Egg Gore (it's a nickname; don't ask) to marry him.
In some respects, this is the weakest of the three, but the overall weakness is balanced by the unexpected strength of the conclusion, not just in terms of the writing and acting, but also the directing.
* "The Clocks"
Temp secretary Sheila Webb (Jaime Winstone) arrives at an assignment to discover a body in the apartment. Terrified, she runs screaming into the street, right into the arms of MI-6 agent Colin Race (Tom Burke). The police immediately suspect Webb, but Race isn't convinced, and enlists the aid of one of his father's friends -- Hercule Poirot (Race's father, Col. Race, appears in Death on the Nile). Anna Massey (Frenzy) guest stars as the blind owner of the apartment in which the body was discovered. The story has added depth due to Race's circumstances -- his girlfriend was recently killed attempting to apprehend a Nazi spy -- a spy that Race himself was pursuing. The story focuses on Race and his obsession with the case to the point that Poirot almost becomes a supporting character -- which works in the story's favor. (In the book, Poirot is even less of a presence, solving the mystery from his armchair.)
Inspector: "This thing is getting more complicated by the
Poirot: "Which can mean only one thing -- the solution is exceedingly simple."
Poirot is, of course, correct. This episode also features a lovely scene in which Poirot is trapped in the audience of a mystery play; his expression as he anticipates every line and plot twist is priceless.
* "Hallowe'en Party"
Crime novelist Ariadne Oliver (Zoë Wanamaker, Doctor Who) asks her old friend Poirot to investigate a tragic children's costume party at which a young girl, shortly after claiming to have witnessed a murder, was found drowned in the bobbing for apples tub. Poirot begins his investigation by looking into the girl's claim that she had witnessed a murder, for, as he observes, "Old sins cast long shadows." As he delves into the past, Poirot discovers that in the country, everyone has secrets dark and deep.
Poirot: "Inspector, might I ask one more question."
Inspector: "Sure. Are you going to answer it, too?"
How is it that this series, now in its twelfth season, continues to keep our attention? Based on this latest offering, the answer is simple: stellar acting combined with exquisite production values. In front of the camera, there simply are no weak links; even the smallest character is brought to life with care and nuance. The production design is equally uncompromising -- the opening scenes of "Hallowe'en Party" is a case study in using lighting and sound to create a mood. If any of today's poseur horror directors could manage a fraction of the skill on display in the first five minutes, modern horror would be a much richer genre.
Of course, there is David Suchet, who simply is Poirot to a degree that no other actor has been able to achieve. The character could easily become a walking collection of tics and eccentricities, but Suchet incorporates them so effortlessly into the performance that they come across as a natural expression of character, and not just an annoying affectation. Hell, as he begins to lay out the solution in "Hallowe'en Party," Suchet manages to deliver the hoary line "It was a dark and stormy night" in such a way that we don't giggle at the cliché. Now that's an accomplishment. The key to Suchet's performance is that for all his intellect, he is a man of fierce passion. Those passions are generally only hinted at, but they do burst forth on occasion, whether in compassion for a victim, or outrage at a criminal.
Happily, the technical aspects are on a par with the stories. The video isn't perfect, but it's pretty good. Outdoor scenes are solid, but with obvious grain. Where the video really shines, though, is the interiors, which are lighted and framed with exquisite care. The stereo track has strong imaging, using the lower registers nicely for music as well as ambient sound.
There are no extras, which is something of a bummer. I doubt that there's little more that could be accomplished with another interview of Suchet, but the production design and direction are so good that a couple of commentary tracks from the directors would be most appreciated.
The good news is that Suchet has stated that he wishes to film the complete Poirot canon. Unconfirmed rumors suggest that ITV has decided to film the remaining stories, but should the series end, this set will at least serve as a testament to the advantages of going out on a decidedly high note. Keep your fingers crossed and your moustaches waxed.
Review content copyright © 2011 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 267 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Wikipedia: Agatha Christie's Poirot