Acorn Media // 1989 // 519 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 5th, 2012
The brilliant Belgian detective is on the case!
"This sort of air is intended for birds and little furry things. The lungs of Hercule Poirot demand something more substantial. The good air of the town!"
When most crimes are committed, the people of Great Britain call Scotland Yard. When a crime of an exceptionally strange, private, challenging, or puzzling nature is committed, they call the Belgian privated investigator Hercule Poirot. Poirot is a charming, intelligent, impossibly well-organized detective best-known for his relentless perfectionism. The nature of his personality can cause him to be mildly irritating at times, but he's unquestionably the man you want in your corner if you're in an impossible fix. With the aid of his competitors and associates Captain Arthur Hastings (Hugh Fraser, 101 Dalmatians) and Chief Inspector James Japp (Philip Jackson, My Week with Marilyn), Poirot attempts to solve the disappearance of a cook, the kidnapping of a young child, a murder that occurs on a pleasure cruise, and several other intriguing cases.
When most television shows about famous literary detectives are created, the showrunners are generally forced to deviate from the source material and create original adventures that attempt to recapture the spirit of the more well-known tales. However, ITV's Poirot has the benefit of 33 novels and 51 shorts stories featuring the title character at its disposal, and over the past couple of decades the series has devoted itself to adapting nearly all of them. Rarely have I seen a television series so devoted to faithfully bringing stories from page to screen; Poirot consistently works hard to ensure that Ms. Christie won't begin stirring in her grave. As such, watching an episode of the series provides the same sort of quiet pleasure that reading one of Christie's stories offers.
Poirot is a somewhat different series these days than it was when it began. This first season is comprised of ten 51-minute episodes, whereas later seasons would begin to shift towards fewer episodes with feature-length running times. Beyond that, it should also be noted that the first season contains a steady supply of gentle humor (the series would become a bit less lighthearted later on -- see the surprisingly grim adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express that aired in 2010) and contains an unintentionally hilarious main title sequence in which we view a beaming Poirot through a series of cheesy CGI prisms (the fact that the show's musical main theme sounds suspiciously like John Barry's score for Body Heat doesn't help).
Still, then or now, laced with humor or not, watching David Suchet play Poirot's title character is always a pleasure. It's undoubtedly the defining role of the actor's career, but it actually might take newcomers an episode or two to grow accustomed to Suchet's performance. The actor's accent is a little inconsistent early on, as those distinctively sonorous, British inflections keep slipping through the cracks of Poirot's sing-song voice. Even so, the voice improves quickly and the physical performance is spot-on from the very beginning. Suchet effortlessly manages to convey the intense intelligence lurking beneath Poirot's deceptively harmless demeanor, and the ease with which he susses out buried information is a source of delight and frustration for his peers.
Given that each mystery is entirely concluded by the time the end credits roll on each episode, Poirot is most satisfying when viewed in smaller chunks. Marathon viewings of the show can lead to a sense of repetition, as there's really no long-arc forward momentum of any sort to be enjoyed. Thankfully, the quality of the self-contained stories is consistently high; there isn't a stinker in the bunch. Special merit badges should go to "The Third Floor Flat" (in which Poirot begins to fret that there's nothing which can sufficiently challenge his considerable mind) and "The Adventures of Johnny Waverly" (in which a kidnapper taunts the authorities by brazenly declaring when and where he is going to kidnap a child before he actually does so).
Poirot: Series One (Blu-ray) offers a perfectly satisfactory 1.33:1/1080p transfer. I honestly wasn't expect much from this release given the fairly shoddy video quality of many older British television shows, but Poirot looks clean, crisp and handsome throughout. The production design is classy throughout; not once does the show look as if it's penny-pinching. Flesh tones are natural and there's a moderate amount of grain present throughout which gives the series a warm, filmic look. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track is pretty low-key (the tracks are primarily dialogue and occasional snippets of moody score), but gets the job done well enough and never suffers from distortion, hissing or other notable problems. Sadly, there are no extras of any sort included. I would have loved some interviews with Suchet or the series creators, but for now we'll have to make do with the episodes themselves.
After a string of somewhat confusing, unsatisfying DVD releases of the program, the complete first series of Poirot is finally available in its original broadcast order. Agatha Christie's cozy little murder mysteries are the ideal antidote to the bluster of shows like CSI and Criminal Minds, and Suchet delivers about as faithful a portrait of Poirot as we are ever likely to see.
Not guilty. Bring me my tea and biscuits.
Review content copyright © 2012 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 519 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site