“Come at once,” the telegram reads. “Need help. Urgent.”
Poirot obeys at once. He would not leave his old friend the crime writer Ariadne Oliver in distress, even if that means leaving London for the wilds of Devon where Ariadne is a guest at a country estate.
Devon certainly is not Poirot’s preferred milieu. Agatha Christie, on the other hand, adored it. Most of this episode was filmed on the grounds of Greenway, Dame Agatha’s country home, which is now a National Trust property.
The cast said they had a wonderful time filming at Greenway, the place that inspired the goings-on in Christie’s 1956 novel Dead Man’s Folly. Between takes, they walked the grounds in costume—and in David Suchet’s case, in character—and encountered tourists who (lucky them!) ended up with a more memorable visit to Greenway than they ever could have expected.
Populating the scene in this episode are the classic array of characters we have come to expect from an episode of Poirot, including the angry young man (more Fascist than Bolshevik this time); the horrible child; the undeserving lord of the manor (”awfully rich and awfully common” to quote Ariadne); and his unsuitably young, tiresome, ornamental wife. Surrounding them are the ordinary folk, any or all of whom might bear a grudge worth killing for. Plus the local constabulary in the form of Detective Inspector Bland (Tom Ellis).
I have to believe Zoë Wanamaker has good fun playing Ariadne Oliver. Her wardrobe alone is reason enough to envy her. In this episode she’s full-tilt Ariadne, hired to plot a “murder hunt” for a local charity fete, yet refusing to ignore the instinct that insists the hunt is simply a pretense for what will be an actual murder.
“It may well be...that you do not know what it is that you know,” Poirot tells her.
“Whatever it is, I feel certain that someone is going to die. We must do something about it,” she replies.
Well, of course, someone is going to die. We wouldn’t be here with Poirot if this was just a harmless weekend in the country.
Neither the victim nor the murderer were who I expected them to be, although it (mostly) made sense when Poirot spelled it out in the end. And anyway I watch these episodes as much for the clothing and scenery as I do for the mystery.
When Poirot and Ariadne first meet in this episode, it’s at the Napoleonic battery on the Greenway grounds overlooking the Dart Estuary. And you can understand why Ariadne—and Dame Agatha—would consider the Greenway boathouse an ideal place to conceal a dead body. The whole estate is beautiful, and definitely somewhere I’d love to visit. (You too, I imagine.)
Sinéad Cusack brings depth to the innocuous Mrs. Folliat, and it’s always a pleasure to watch Rebecca Front, this time as Miss Brewis, the housekeeper. You know her as Inspector Lewis’s boss Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent and we’ll see her again in a few months in Death Comes to Pemberley.
One question though: Did anyone spot a goof about 33 minutes into the episode? No spoilers, but do tell if something in the background behind Poirot seems amiss.
“Dead Man’s Folly,” the last episode of Poirot we’ll see on Masterpiece Mystery this season, gives us everything we expect from vintage Poirot—plus the man himself clutching a kewpie doll. Whether we’ll see the three remaining episodes of Poirot on Masterpiece Mystery is a mystery in itself. Next week we’re on to the 1960s and Breathless.
Leslie Gilbert Elmanis the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.
Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.