Hercule Poirot and I have a long and complicated history. I read some of the classic novels at a relatively young age and distinctly remember the introduction to the first David Suchet Poirot episode on Mystery! way back when. I had such a great affection for Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective that in school I chose him for a class assignment that required us to portray a literary character.
Through absolutely no fault of my own, that project ended with me in a week’s detention (seriously, two decades later I insist that I was in no way at fault for anything that may have occurred during the interview portion of my portrayal). It also caused me to take a break from the detective for a while. However, to this day, I still come back to him from time to time, and every time I do, I find David Suchet’s portrayal of the fastidious little man wonderful.
Now available, for the first time in their original British broadcast order, is series five of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. The two-disc set features eight mysteries at roughly 50 minutes a piece, and all the episodes have been remastered.
What does this mean for you, the viewer? Well, it means you can see an incredible amount of wax on Poirot’s mustache but no stray bits of hair (or dirt or scratches) in the transfer. It looks great, and it’s made better by the caliber of Suchet’s performance.
David Suchet is by no means the first actor to play Poirot. Before Suchet made the character his own (and make no mistake, it is his now), Peter Ustinov was probably best known in the role, having played the character six times (three times on the big screen and three times for television movies). While Suchet’s career as the detective is, apparently, coming to the end with the filming of the final episodes of Poirot, series five features him in his prime.
Hercule Poirot is, unquestionably, a maddening character to some. He can be obnoxious and he can be overbearing and he can be relatively immature. In the wrong hands, he can also be unwatchable. Suchet has a way of humanizing the detective which makes him not only watchable, but wonderful. Poirot’s ridiculously tiny breakfast, a breakfast which is belied by Poirot’s sizable stomach, becomes funny instead of exasperating. The smile then that Poirot allows himself—only in the dark mind you—with an order of fish and chips is wonderful. Suchet succeeds as the character because he takes these small moments and makes them big ones for the character.
That being said, series five does have something of a dated feel. This is most notable in the premiere episode “The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb” which utilizes would-be creepy close-up shots of an Egyptian sarcophagus in an attempt to add atmosphere. Instead, however, they end up being unintentionally humorous, pulling the viewer out of the goings-on.
This particular episode, which otherwise is exceedingly interesting and one of my favorites in the set, also features the unfortunate tendency to reveal a solution no viewer could have predicted. There is information Poirot receives to which we are not privy, an experience which I dislike. This isn’t the only episode which the viewer is left out of the opportunity to work out the solution either. Neil Simon complains of Agatha Christie and other mystery writer’s tendency to do this in his brilliant Murder by Death, and after knowing that complaint so well watching it occur is that much worse.
series five, which is towards the early middle point of the run of the show (if they are grouped together, the final mysteries will be season 13), also gives us an opportunity to see how Poirot got his start as a private detective in “The Chocolate Box.” The episode does not delve into how all of his mannerisms arrive, but any look at his history is welcome. Fans of the series will be happy to note that Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser), Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson), and Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) are all present for at least a few episodes.
What this new release lacks is not good storytelling, it is not an interesting set of mysteries, it is not great acting, and it is not an iconic character. What it lacks is any special features whatsoever. It is an exceptionally enjoyable set of mysteries, but there is no behind the scenes look at how any of it came about, and that is unfortunate.
Despite this oversight, it is easy to recommend Agatha Christie’s Poirot – Series 5 to any fans of mysteries in general or the detective in particular. With its period piece nature and the overbearing detective at its center, it may not be a great choice for those who aren’t already predisposed to mysteries, but those who are will find a lot to like.