Fictional detectives are about as easy to find as a pregnant woman in a maternity ward. And there are an awful lot of ‘em — story bound private investigators, I mean, not expectant mothers (although there are a lot of those, too). A quick glance through the mystery section at any book store, be it a new or used one, will confirm it. The hard part is finding one you really like to get involved in reading, and whose author had a firm enough finger on the pulse of reality so that things don’t get too outlandish. What’s even harder is finding a motion picture or television adaptation of said character that doesn’t outright kill any joy the author originally had instilled within their pages.
There are a few exceptions, of course — and one of my personal favorites would definitely be the great Agatha Christie’s ever-famous detective, Hercule Poirot. Now, having been made and remade on big screens and small ones alike time and time again, it can be downright hard to choose a good adaptation of the eccentric Belgian sleuth’s adventures. Fear not, though, mystery hounds — for the British television series starring David Suchet has been hailed as one of the best interpretations since the show first aired on ITV in 1989.
Wait. 1989? Has it really been that long? Yes, indeed it has. And, just when you thought they couldn’t improve on the original episodes of the long-running Agatha Christie’s Poirot, the folks at Acorn Media decided to go through and completely remastered the entire series in High-Definition. Plus, their revisiting of this British television delight has given them the option of releasing the entire series in its original broadcast order — as opposed to those old individual Standard-Def DVD titles that seemed to come out in no order whatsoever. But, best of all, these new Blu-rays are very stunning releases.
We begin with all ten hour-long episodes from Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Series 1, which was broadcast from January to March in ‘89 on ITV.
A tenant at the swanky art deco-styled Whitehaven Mansions in London, M. Poirot makes a living using his “little grey cells” for detective work — solving everything from missing objects to murdered persons. Aiding him in most of his cases is the faithful Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser), who might not be an overly-bright fellow, but whose heart is most definitely in the right place. Miss Lemon (the wonderful Pauline Moran) — Poirot’s secretary — is also on-hand to show us the latest in ‘30s hairstyles or to just get frustrated over her employer’s unconventional behavior or stinginess. A third regular in the original episodes, Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) — the Inspector Lestrade of this universe — manages to pop up in almost every other case, as well.
As Series 1 begins, Poirot finds himself investigating a missing cook, only to find a greater mystery once he discovers her whereabouts (“The Adventure of the Clapham Cook”). An apparent suicide is brought to the attention of our hero by Inspector Japp in “Murder in the Mews,” followed by the kidnapping of a wealthy family’s young son (“The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly”). How do the consecutive demises of two estranged elderly brothers connect? Hercule finds out in “Four and Twenty Blackbirds,” only to be bored beyond belief after a tepid theatre presentation in “The Third Floor Flat” — a performance that is concluded with a murder in the apartment directly below Poirot’s.
Whilst on a vacation on the island of Rhodes, Poirot gets involved in a murder investigation at his hotel (“Triangle at Rhodes”), which is followed — coincidentally enough — by another holiday: a cruise, wherein there’s a “Problem at Sea” (in this case, a murder). A British industrialist who has created a new fighter plane is on the bad side of the government, though there’s a Nazi sympathizer who is definitely interested in “The Incredible Theft.” Series 1 concludes with “The King of Clubs,” which follows Hercule’s search for the killer of a movie studio honcho, and “The Dream” — where a meat pie tycoon’s recurring nightmare of suicide apparently comes true.
During this time, we get to see the development of Suchet’s Poirot, as he comes to terms with his character — though it’s clear from the get-go that he was truly born to play Hercule Poirot. As we approach Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Series 2, we not only get to see Suchet hone in on the character, but we are also treated to the personas Fraser, Jackson, and Moran inhabit — parts that were originally very minor in Christie’s novels — “beefed-up” for the ten 1990 hour-long episodes. But the new developments weren’t only the pages: those pressing the proverbial pens onto paper also made a few improvements. While the episodes of the previous series were all inspired from short stories, Series 2 gives us the first novel adaptation: the two-parter “Peril at End House,” wherein Poirot works to protect an attractive heiress whose life he believes is in danger.
The changes are quite noticeable throughout this selection of episodes, as Suchet’s character gains more flair: witness his failed attempt at being a criminal (!) in “The Veiled Lady” — a career change he embarks on in order to save a blackmail victim. Poirot also searches for the missing map to a silver mine (“The Lost Mine”) and the man who stole it from its now-deceased owner. A visiting woman informs Hercule she’s being poisoned by her husband in “The Cornish Mystery,” and, upon his arrival at their home, discovers she has in fact been murdered.
“The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim,” wherein Japp bets Poirot he can’t solve the case of a missing man without leaving the pad, is one of my favorites — if just for the “I have a parrot for Mr. Poirot” line alone. In “Double Sin,” a young lass is given the task of delivering an antique set of Napoleon miniatures by her aunt, but the collection goes missing en route. The set concludes with “The Adventure of the Cheap Flat,” wherein some missing submarine plans result in a loud-mouthed, annoying FBI agent arriving in the country; a frantic 32 ¼-hour search for a missing PM (“The Kidnapped Prime Minister”); and the case of two missing — valuable — diamonds in “The Adventure of the Western Star.”
Shot on 16mm, these classic episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot used to look like, well, they came straight from late ‘80s/early ‘90s British television when they were first issued on DVD. Frankly, when the news that they were coming to Blu-ray surfaced, I was a bit skeptical about the whole matter. Thankfully, Acorn Media has gone beyond expectations here, presenting Series 1 and 2 in stunning transfers that are truly marvelous. From the wax on Poirot’s moustache to Captain Hastings always-fashionable threads, the amount of detail here is superb, and the transfers are so clear, crisp, and colorful, you’d almost think they were shot far more recently than they were. There are a few moments of grain in some of the darker scenes, but for the most part, the presentations here are near-pristine.
Audio-wise, each series gets a Dolby Digital mono track that is split into 2.0. I imagine there wasn’t much in the way of restoration that could be done here, and I have to say what we have here sounds wonderful. Optional English (SHD) subtitles are included.
The only real drawback to both sets are the lack of any special features. Apart from a few promos for other (non-related) Acorn Media releases, neither Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Series 1 or Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Series 2 sports anything new or exciting to view apart from the episodes themselves. However, when you consider the fact that these are some of the best adaptations of Christie’s immortal character ever, you really can’t start nitpicking, can you?