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Blu-ray Review: ‘Poirot – Series Ten’

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Acorn Media has released for the first time on Blu-ray Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Series 10. The four feature-length mysteries included on these discs feature some of Christie’s most tragic plots, but her victims and murderers are not her typical “bad guys.” The four films were originally broadcast in 2005 and 2006 and include some of the series’ most stellar guest stars, including Lucy Punch (Doc Martin, Ella Enchanted), Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, 12 Years a Slave) and Elliott Gould (Ocean’s Eleven, MASH). Zoë Wanamaker (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Prime Suspect) returns as Poirot’s friend and foil, eccentric crime novelist Ariadne Oliver (a self-portrait-like spoof of Christie herself.)

Mrs. Oliver (Zoë Wanamaker) and Poirot (David Suchet) attend a very strange dinner party

Mrs. Oliver (Zoë Wanamaker) and Poirot (David Suchet) attend a very strange dinner party

The production is its usual high quality, with costumes and set designs accurately and attractively reflecting the period setting, which the series has kept in the 1920s/1930s Art Deco era. The images on the discs look sharp, especially on a large-scale high-definition television screen, with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The dialogue and the musical soundtrack are also crisp and clear (DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0), with English SDH subtitles available. The mournful soundtrack is by Stephen McKeon. There are bonus features too: a photo gallery and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

The episodes on the two discs appear in their original U.K. broadcast order. Fans of Christie’s books may not be pleased by how the original stories have been modified in these filmed versions, but changes to the novels do keep viewers who may think they know what’s coming guessing — especially in the first episode in the set, “The Mystery of the Blue Train.” The basic plot, which concerns murder and the theft of a priceless jewel aboard a luxury train, is still there, but Poirot now finds himself on the spot, much like his other famous case, “Murder on the Orient Express.”

Liberties with Christie’s text continue in the second episode, “Cards on the Table.” The original novel, like many of Christie’s puzzles, had an ingenious set-up — four sleuths (including Poirot and Mrs. Oliver) pitted against four “successful” murderers — people who had committed crimes but had never been accused or convicted. But this version switches murderers, makes a neat yet intricate premise unnecessarily complicated, and adds more “contemporary” sexual goings-on, a tactic that has been used to spice up the more recent incarnations of Marple, but until now, not Poirot.

The second disc includes the most successful and entertaining episodes in the set, “After the Funeral” and “Taken at the Flood.” In “After the Funeral” Poirot is asked by a lawyer friend (Robert Bathurst) to help determine whether a family patriarch and his sister were murdered — and by whom. Every member of the Abernethie family is a suspect, and the cast includes Michael Fassbender, Lucy Punch,  and Geraldine James. The adaptation is classic drawing-room Christie.

Cousins George Abernethie (Michael Fassbender) and Susannah Henderson (Lucy Punch) in "After the Funeral"

Cousins George Abernethie (Michael Fassbender) and Susannah Henderson (Lucy Punch) in “After the Funeral”

The real jewel in the set is “Taken At the Flood,” which has been updated from its original post-war setting. Poirot once again finds himself dealing with a complicated wealthy family, the Cloades. Viewers will find themselves as affected by the outcome of this mystery as the detective himself, who believes he has witnessed one of the most evil crimes of his career. The impressive guest cast includes Jenny Agutter, Tim Piggott-Smith, and Celia Imrie.

“How depraved! God, how evil does a man have to be to cause the slaughter of so many innocent people? For the concealment of a single murder? If God should withhold his mercy from anyone on earth … it surely will be you.”

What makes the Poirot series so watchable is David Suchet in the title role as the brilliant yet persnickety Belgian detective. In all four mysteries Suchet as is as wonderful as ever, and imbues his character with real emotion, especially in the final mystery in the set, “Taken At the Flood.” Suchet recently has realized his goal of filming all of Agatha Christie’s Poirot mysteries. There may not be any new Poirots in the offing, but it is nice to know that thanks to Blu-rays like these, Suchet as Poirot can be enjoyed again and again.

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  • bliffle

    I love the Poirot TV mysteries, but for their decorous presentations, not the plots. I can never follow the plots anyway, and the outcome is always a surprise to me. But I love the locations, the cars, the clothes, the houses, and especially the formal interactions of the characters. Also, I can start watching an episode at any point and enjoy it. I recommend Poirot to all my fellow dilettantes.

  • bliffle

    Another Euro-period detective that I enjoy is “Nicolas La Floch”, set about 200+ years ago in France. Our hero, Nicolas, seems to start every episode by bouncing out of the bed of a beautiful woman, accompanied with repartee that would make Raymond Chandler smile. As he ambles through the streets and alleys of Paris and the chambers of various officials (and several boudoirs) questioning suspects and witnesses, reporting to his boss Louis XV, being waylaid by hoodlums, and, not infrequently, rather forward women, all to the accompaniment of obtuse witticisms that often become acute, one can only wonder at the mans endurance! But then he is one of the few men in Paris allowed to Open Carry, and he knows how to use that sword! When clues are scarce his sidekick Bourdieux can put a suspect to “the question”, which sometimes has the sad side-effect of resulting in death. Oh well.

    And it’s educational, too! Herein you will earn how a gentleman relieved his bladder on a Paris street (shunning the method of Rabelais and Gargantua so as to not distress bystanders) by summoning, with a small coin, an independent entrepeneur with a bucket of sand and an ornate folding waist-high discretion screen. Mission accomplished! You DO know that the French invented the word ‘entrepeneur’, right? No, it was not Newt Gingrich, contrary to rumors. That Newt probably started.

    It’s 1:40 of terrific detective action, at 9PM Sunday (after the childrens bedtime) here on Mhz Worldview (on our sterling College Of San Mateo KCSM 60.1 TV station, with English subtitles if your conversational French and patois are lacking).