After 25 years, the time has come to say goodbye to David Suchet’s marvellous performance of Hercule Poirot. Of course, we’ll be able to experience his adventures again and again on ITV3 and watch them in full glory on Blu-ray and DVD, but never again will a new Poirot film grace our screens. Tonight saw the broadcast of the final adaptation in ITV’s long-running series of films based on Agatha Christie’s works. And it wasn’t easy to see him leave.
Since June, we have been treated to five films of varying quality that have made up the last remaining books ITV had left to adapt: Elephants Can Remember (passable), The Big Four (a bit weak), Dead Man’s Folly (excellent), The Labours of Hercules (interesting) and now, Curtain. So did Kevin Elyot’s screenplay do justice to Christie’s superb plotting and elegiac farewell? On the whole, yes it did. There was a very chilly, almost soul-searching tone to this final instalment, one which may take lovers of the original, warmer Poirot series by surprise. Gone are any notions of this being a cosy drama for happy Sunday nights (indeed, it’s a Wednesday). Director Hettie McDonald’s film is a mournful and at times upsetting story about cruelty and malice, regret and hatred, murder and manipulation. She handles it all very well indeed. (Article continues after video).
The story stuck pretty close to Christie’s novel – closer, at least, than many other adaptations in this final series. Elyot’s screenplay places Poirot and Hastings at Styles, the house where they solved their first murder together. There is, as ever, a collection of suspects – all well spoken, flawed and with substantial motives. The difference here is that Poirot is old, fragile and unable to walk and has to rely on Hastings (an as-ever fabulous Hugh Fraser) to be his eyes and ears.
With the novel, Christie intelligently subverts some of her more well-worn tricks, pulling the rug from under the reader in more ways than one. Elyot’s screenplay handles these with aplomb and wisely more-or-less sticks to the structure Christie employed. McDonald’s directing was subtle and wisely avoided exaggeration or hamming-up any distressing scenes (and yes, there were certainly distressing scenes). Bravely, the film places a lot of emphasis on Poirot’s religious convictions. In the later adaptations, there has been a growing amount of Christian iconography and reference’s to the detective’s Catholicism. It’s rare these days that we see a central character invested with Christian beliefs so strongly without asking us to judge or criticise. The filmmakers deserve praise for staying true to this aspect of his character.
Beautifully shot, with cold greys and blues, this film, liked The Labours of Hercules last week, had a superb visual style. Sadly, it didn’t quite feel as successful as two previous entries: near-masterpiece Five Little Pig’s and the hands-down series-diamond Murder on the Orient Express. But it was still a superb treatment of a difficult book, one that has never been adapted before now.
So this is goodbye, Hercule Poirot. Over the years, you have warmed the hearts of the nation and many corners of the globe. Now the time has come for you to leave our screens. If anything, this series has shown us what a momentous achievement one man can do with a single character. David Suchet is, and for many will always be, the true Hercule Poirot, and as we brush away that final tear let us remember those good days we spent in his company as he brought Agatha Christie’s marvellous creation to life in front of our eyes. Yes, mon ami; they were good days.
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain (2013), directed by Hettie McDonald, is available to watch on ITV Player for a limited time. The film will be released on DVD this Christmas.