A new Poirot film is always a bit of a treat. On the whole, ITV have done a grand job with Agatha Christie’s works over these past twenty four years, and this latest instalment was enjoyable enough (mostly thanks to the great David Suchet). However, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. I don’t know who cut that wonderfully effective trailer for the film (which you can watch below this review), but whoever it was did a sterling job in making it look far more exciting, radical and darker than the film actually was. It set me off with high hopes. All the quick cutting, images of people being drowned in baths and young women being terrorised. It looked more reminiscent of Waking the Dead than Agatha Christie. I was intrigued. But sadly, the episode resembled some of the safer, more homely adaptations, and so I did start to crave something with a little more bite.
There has been a noticeable drop in production values too. The filming style now feels very, well, cheap. The series used to have a wonderfully rich textured feel to it, particularly in the 2003 to 2006 episodes. It was shot on actual real film (16mm stock, I understand). Now, we have a rather bland-looking digital video image. It isn’t the same, nor does it look anywhere near as good. Digital HD doesn’t suit Christie. The grain-free cleanness makes it feel as if we are watching a stage play, rather than a handsomely produced film. There are also some very poor green-screen effects used that betray the limited budged. Maybe the cheap feel can be explained by the lack of an American broadcaster on the co-production side of things. Up until now, Poirot has usually been helped along by cash from the States, either from the A&E Network or PBS. Now, ITV is helming it as a purely British production with Agatha Christie Ltd.
The plot concerned the death of a married couple on a cliff top. One had shot the other, then shot themselves. But, this being the 1930s, nobody knows which one was the killer and suicide and which was the victim. If this was 2013, Silent Witness’s Nikki Alexander would have been all over this, comparing blood-splash patterns and the angle of the gun. But this is Christie, so the mystery is dragged out (in a generally enjoyable way, of course). Luckily Poirot and Ariadne Oliver (marvellously played once again by Zoe Wannamaker) are on the case. It is worth mentioning, however, that this book was published in the 1970s, but as is the case with most ITV dramatisations of Christie works, the screenplay has relocated the plot to the 1930s. This is a shame, as it sacrifices the author’s observations of the social changes and shifting attitudes of the time, but I can understand ITV’s desire for continuity.
The script, like the direction, is competent if not very exciting. It’s frustrating, as occasionally you get a Poirot film which breaks away from the usual conventions and does something truly magnificent with the source material. 2003’s Five Little Pigs, for example, was a near-masterpiece, and a fantastic movie in its own right. Philip Martin’s pitch-black and sometimes harrowing vision of Murder on the Orient Express, shown in 2010, was astonishingly good and radical in style (a lot of handheld cameras). But Elephants Can Remember felt very unremarkable and miles away from the quality of these two films. Whereas before Poirot movies could have passed off as cinema features, this one felt very televisual. Enjoyable enough, but when you know a series has the power to do more, you can’t help but be tough on the episodes that simply plod along without anything very interesting to say.
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Elephants Can Remember is available to watch for a limited time on ITV Player. Watch the trailer below.