Movie & TV adaptations of favourite books can be infuriating or wonderful, depending on the book & the adaptation. One of the best, most faithful adaptations of a series has been London Weekend Television’s adaptation of the Hercule Poirot stories by Agatha Christie. The series began in 1988 & ended in 2013. Every Poirot short story & novel had been adapted & everyone involved in the project could finally rest. The final episode in the final series, Curtain, has just been shown on television here in Australia & I think I’ve watched every episode over the years. My favourites will always be the early series of one hour episodes based on the short stories with the occasional two hour episode based on a novel. The production values were just superb & the opening titles are so wonderful that I can hear the music in my head right now. If you’ve never seen those opening titles with their gorgeous Art Deco styling, you can watch them here on YouTube.
Finding the right actor to play Poirot was the biggest challenge for the producers. David Suchet was a well-known but not famous actor when he took on the role. He played Poirot for 25 years & the role has come to define him in the eyes of many. He has now written a memoir about the series & about the way that Poirot has, in a way, taken over his life.
Suchet describes in detail how he prepared to play the role, from reading all the books to writing a long list of characteristics & attributes that he felt described Poirot. He kept the list with him always & referred to it at the beginning of each new series as he prepared to inhabit the little Belgian detective. The list is reproduced in the book along with many photos of the locations, guest stars & crew who often worked on the series for years. Suchet had a terrifying lunch with Agatha Christie’s daughter, Rosalind Hicks, when she told him that Poirot must never be laughed at. One of the accolades Suchet cherishes the most is that Rosalind & her son, Mathew Prichard, approved of his portrayal & thought that Agatha Christie would have approved as well.
Suchet says over & over again that, as an actor, all he wants to do is serve the author of the words he’s saying. He fought producers, directors & script writers over the years when they wanted him to do or say something that he believed Poirot would not do. Gradually he had the confidence & the clout to get his way & eventually he became an associate producer. The continuation of the series was never assured though & Suchet describes well the uncertainties of an actor’s life. After the first two series which were very successful, he heard nothing about a third series so took another role to pay the mortgage. Luckily, when a third series was commissioned, the producers were willing to wait for him to be available. Then, after a gap of several years, the series was resurrected with a new producer & an American company, A & E, producing the programs & then selling them to LWT. New producers wanted a new look so the wonderful Art Deco opening titles & music were gone & the one hour episodes replaced with ninety minute episodes. There was more money spent on the cast & locations but I’ve never been as fond of these later episodes. I enjoyed the ensemble feel of the first series with Suchet & the regular cast of Hugh Fraser as Captain Hastings, Philip Jackson as Inspector Japp & Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon.
Poirot and Me is definitely a book for fans of the series & David Suchet. I enjoyed it very much because I was fascinated by the details of the filming, the guest stars, anecdotes about the fans & the behind the scenes machinations that went on between series. Suchet also writes about other roles he’s played, such as Salieri in a stage production of Amadeus or Robert Maxwell in a TV film. If he seems to quote every glowing review he’s ever received, well, he’s rightly proud of them. However, if you’re looking for gossip or candid comments about his colleagues, you won’t find them here. Maybe he just doesn’t mention any guest stars that he didn’t like but everyone who appears in the book is praised, especially his regular co-stars in the early series & Zoë Wanamaker, who played Ariadne Oliver in the later series. He does admit that some episodes were better than others, because the source material wasn’t great or the adaptation lacked something, but, in general, this is an affectionate memoir about a role that could have buried his career but instead, made David Suchet one of the most recognisable actors of his generation – even without the moustache & the spats.