In the Summer, ITV started airing this final series of Poirot films with the story Elephants Can Remember. I wasn’t very impressed with the adaptation. There was a noticeable drop in production values (including some dreadful green-screening) and the whole thing felt very cheap and televisual. Of course, this is television, not cinema, but up until recently many of the Poirot feature-length instalments would have passed for cinema features. We are now drawing nearer to the end, and on the menu is murder-mystery-cum-espionage-thriller The Big Four.
The good news is, this episode is much better production-wise. It looks gorgeous, it’s handsomely produced, well-directed by Peter Lydon, and the whole thing feels a lot more “proper”, if you know what I mean. This is particularly notable in a snowy funeral scene at the start which may shock viewers expecting to begin this instalment with the famous Belgian detective alive and well.
It’s a shame that the step-up in production values has come now and not earlier, as this story is actually a lot weaker than that of Elephants Can Remember. It’s convoluted and has an outrageous and very obvious twist. To be honest, the story is borderline nonsense. Agatha Christie quite often gets a bit silly, but part of her genius is that she makes the ridiculous seem plausible. This really isn’t plausible.
Part of the problem here is that the original work has been butchered, almost beyond recognition. The Big Four, in book form, was a collection of interconnected short stories, originally published in The Sketch and then bound together in one volume. This film irons out the cases into the work of a single serial killer in the lead up to the Second World War, thus removing the initial structure of Christie’s rather original attempt at a sort of epic crime-saga.
Fans of the series will celebrate the return of Captain Hastings, Inspector Japp (now Assistant Commisioner) and secretary Miss Lemon, though the sombre reason for their return casts a sad light over the proceedings.
The best thing ITV could have done was produce an entire mini-series for The Big Four, adapting one case at a time, spanning four episodes, and then tie it all up at the end. But that would have been expensive, so here we have a middle-of-the-road excuse for a plot: a ludicrous piece of bonkers fiction, co-penned by the usually reliable Mark Gatis. It’s entertaining but only just about respectable.
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Big Four (2013), directed by Peter Lydon, was broadcast on ITV HD and ITV on October 23 2013. The film will be available to view on ITV Player for a limited time.