Worlds collided on my TV Sunday night.
Running concurrently: a brand-new episode of Poirot to kick off this summer’s season of Masterpiece Mystery on PBS and the season finale of The Killing on AMC.
What’s that you say? “Nothing a DVR can’t handle”? You’d be correct, providing the DVR was functioning properly. Mine wasn’t, as I discovered when I attempted to catch up with The Killing, after watching Poirot in “Three Act Tragedy,” and discovered that my DVR has recorded 56 minutes of total blackness where Sarah Linden should have been. I now know why AMC runs an “encore” performance of The Killing immediately following the main event—and for that I say thank-you.
But we’re here to talk about Poirot who has returned to Masterpiece Mystery with three new episodes—Series XI if you can believe—and David Suchet is as adorable as ever in the role. (Am I the only one who feels the urge to give him a cuddle from time to time?)
The uncuddly Charles Laughton was the first to portray Poirot on the stage. In 1928’s Alibi, an adaptation of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, they slapped a magic-marker moustache on Laughton, plastered down his hair, wrapped him in a tuxedo and called it day. Audiences liked him, and the play eventually traveled from London to the United States. Agatha Christie, however, was unimpressed with the adaptation and with Laughton’s interpretation of her creation. By some accounts that original production was what prompted her to write her own works especially for the stage.
In fact, Christie was reluctant about any physical portrayal of Poirot. She would not allow his image to be depicted on the covers of her novels and in four instances when she adapted her Poirot books for the theatre, she wrote his character out completely.
Yet I’d like to think she’d change her opinion if she saw David Suchet as Poirot. He takes on the role with such a beautiful combination of relish and restraint. While it’s hard to believe such a person as Poirot could reasonably exist, David Suchet makes me think that he just might. At any rate, I dearly hope so.
And where would Poirot exist? In a perfect Art Deco world, where pencil-thin women while away their mornings in salons of fashion designers, tapered cigarette holders resting between their tapered fingers. Then, in the evenings, those visions of elegance join their tuxedo-clad men for cocktails mixed in silver shakers and sipped from crystal glasses. That’s where we are in “Three Act Tragedy,” which aired on Masterpiece Mystery Sunday (and will continue to air, so don’t fret if you missed it). You can also watch it online here at PBS Video.
I didn’t adore this one, but I have no doubt that “Three Act Tragedy” will grow on me once I’ve seen it fifteen or sixteen times as I have most of the others. (I have a soft spot for the earlier episodes that include Poirot’s colleagues Captain Hastings and Miss Lemon; George the silent butler hardly compares.) Nevertheless, the story of mysterious deaths by nicotine poisoning was twisty until the very end—Poirot would characterize it as “a crime most sinister”—and Martin Shaw as the aging actor Charles Cartwright was note-perfect.
What grabbed me right from the start, though, were the absolutely delicious Art Deco interiors. Where do they find these places? Well, at Eltham Palace for one.
The home’s incredible entrance hall with its walls of Australian blackbean veneer inlaid with gladiators and Vikings served as Charles Cartwright’s living room and (what else?) a murder scene. In the early 1930s, owners Stephen and Virginia Courtauld commissioned the Art Deco renovation of Eltham Palace complete with designated accommodations for their pet lemur. (What would Poirot have made of that?) Today the historic home is open to the public; and if I ever visited I would be sure to take the audio tour—it’s voiced by David Suchet.
Next week’s Poirot is a dramatization of “The Clocks.” Between now and then my DVR and I will have to have a little chat. If we don’t come to an understanding soon, it could face a most sinister demise of its own.
This summer, PBS will air new episodes of Poirot, Miss Marple, a debut series based on Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen mysteries, and Inspector Lewis. Follow them all in our Masterpiece Mystery feature.
Leslie Gilbert Elman blogs intermittently at My Life in Laundry She’s written two trivia books and has a few unpublished fiction manuscripts in the closet to keep the skeletons company.