Poirot in Perfection
Hercule Poirot is one of the most famous detectives in literary history. Yet, strangely, except for his portrayal by Albert Finney in the star-studded 1974 movie version of Murder on the Orient Express, for a long time, there did not seem to be an actor who could convincingly bring to life the clever, dignified little Belgian with his unmistakable egg-shaped head, always perched a little on one side, his stiff, military, slightly upward-twisted moustache, and his excessively neat attire, which had reached the point that “a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet,” as Agatha Christie introduced him through his friend Captain Hastings’s voice in their and her own very first adventure, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). But leave it to British TV to finally find the perfect Poirot in David Suchet, who after having had the dubious honor of playing a rather dumbly arrogant version of Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Japp in some of the 1980s’ movies starring Peter Ustinov as Poirot, was now finally allowed to move center stage.
And the match is spot-on, not only physically but also, and most importantly, in terms of personality. Suchet shares Poirot’s inclination towards pedantry: “I like things to be symmetrical … If I put two things on the mantelpiece, they have to be exactly evenly spaced,” he once said in an interview, comparing his real-life persona to that of Poirot, but adding that unlike his on-screen alter ego, “I don’t need the same sized eggs for breakfast!” Although previously not interested in mysteries, his habitually meticulous research allowed him to quickly become intimately familiar with Christie‘s Belgian sleuth and the workings of his little gray cells – and to slip so much into Poirot’s skin that I, for one, can no longer pick up a Poirot book without instantly hearing Suchet‘s voice as that of the great little detective.
Agatha Christie’s Poirot ran a total of 14 years and, in 70 episodes, contains dramatizations of all but one of Poirot’s adventures (the sole exception being the play Black Coffee, which for copyright reasons could not be filmed, after having been novelized – though with the consent of Agatha Christie‘s estate – by novelist Charles Osborne). The series began with three seasons of shorter episodes based on Poirot short stories (Seasons 2 and 3 each opening, however, with a feature-length movie based on a novel; that of Season 3 being, by way of a flashback as it were, the pre-war acquaintances Poirot and Hastings’s wartime reunion in The Mysterious Affair at Styles). A fouth season comprised solely of movie-length novel adaptations, a fifth season collecting the final set of shorter episodes based on short stories, and from Season 6 onwards, the remaining novels were again broadcast as movie-length feature films; including all of Poirot’s greatest cases: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, The A.B.C. Murders, Lord Edgeware Dies, Cards on the Table, and the “little grey cells'” somewhat involuntary holiday outing, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas.* – The penultimate episode, The Labours of Hercules, is a movie-length conflation of the twelve interlinked short stories jointly published under that title, combined with elements of the story The Lemesurier Inheritance (from the 1974 compilation Poirot’s Early Cases), which had not been adapted separately in any of the previous seasons.
In the canon of shorter episodes, as well as in the majority of the initial movie adaptations of Poirot novels, Philip Jackson stars as a rather sturdy, down-to-earth incarnation of Chief Inspector Japp, Pauline Moran is Poirot’s epitome of a secretary, Miss Lemon (whose role, like Japp’s, is added into a number of stories not originally featuring them, thankfully without greatly disturbing the narrative flow and setting of Christie‘s originals); and Hugh Fraser takes on the role of Captain Hastings, whom the screenplays, unfortunately, make come across as a bit more of a well-educated but vacuous gentleman than do the novels narrated from his point of view, such as The Mysterious Affair at Styles and Lord Edgware Dies. (And this although ITV did so well in debumblifying Sherlock Holmes’s friend and chronicler Dr. Watson!) The final feature-length movies include dramatizations of the seven mysteries in which Poirot is joined in his investigations by his novelist friend (and presumed Agatha Christie alter ego) Ariadne Oliver, who is portrayed in “to a T” perfection by Zoë Wanamaker – fuzzy hairdo, seemingly scatterbrained ways and love of apples included. The final episodes’ recurring cast is rounded out by David Yelland as Poirot’s wonderfully unobtrusive, perfectly-trained, yet very observant butler George.
*Note: Brief reviews of the feature films comprising Seasons 7 and 8 (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Lord Edgware Dies, Evil Under the Sun, and Murder in Mesopotamia) are included in the episode descriptions below; reviews of the episodes The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The A.B.C. Murders, and Hercule Poirot’s Christmas are set out in separate posts.
The Shorter Episodes
The Adventure of the Clapham Cook
Poirot probes the disappearance of a wealthy woman’s cook, and soon uncovers an elaborate plot to hide an ever darker crime.
Murder in the Mews
When a woman is found shot in her flat after Bonfire Night, Poirot is enlisted to decipher whether the victim died by her own hand, or by someone else’s.
The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly
Poirot tries to prevent the kidnapping of a country squire’s son. While his plan fails, all is not what it seems.
Four and Twenty Blackbirds
When a reclusive painter is found dead, Poirot finds the vital clue in the dead man’s last meal.
The Third Floor Flat
Poirot investigates a murder that hits close to home after the new occupant of a flat two floors below his is found shot.
Triangle at Rhodes
An enchanting beauty is fatally poisoned while Poirot holidays on the Greek island of Rhodes.
Problem at Sea
Poirot’s Mediterranean cruise is disrupted when an unlikeable passenger is found murdered in her stateroom.
The Incredible Theft
A wealthy industrialist’s plan to snare a Nazi sympathizer goes awry when the secret plans for a new fighter plane inexplicably go missing.
The King of Clubs
A deck with a missing card provides Poirot with the clue he needs to solve the murder of the tyrannical head of a movie studio.
A famous pie manufacturer tells Poirot that he has dreamt of his own suicide, then dies under the same circumstances he dreamt about the very next day.
The Veiled Lady
Poirot becomes a criminal himself when he agrees to help a beautiful woman recover a letter written in her youth that is being used to blackmail her.
The Lost Mine
When a Chinese businessman with a map to a long lost silver mine is found dead in Chinatown, Poirot must find the map and killer.
The Cornish Mystery
Alice Pengelley visits Poirot in London, telling him she thinks she is being poisoned by her husband. When Poirot arrives in Cornwall the next day to investigate Mrs. Pengelley’s charges, he is too late, and finds her dead.
The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim
Poirot wagers Chief Inspector Japp that he can solve the mystery of a missing banker without leaving his flat.
A young woman is delivering a set of antique Napoleon miniatures to an American collector when they are stolen from her suitcase. Captain Hastings, under Poirot’s guidance, sets out to find the thief.
The Adventure of the Cheap Flat
When U.S. Navy plans for a new submarine are stolen and the thief tracked to London, the FBI sends an agent to work with Inspector Japp to recover them.
The Kidnapped Prime Minister
When the prime minister is kidnapped right before an important international arms summit, Poirot has just 32–and a quarter–hours to find the prime minister.
The Adventure of the Western Star
After receiving threatening letters, an aristocrat is robbed of her famed diamond in front of Poirot’s eyes.
How Does Your Garden Grow?
At a flower show, an older woman in a wheelchair approaches Poirot, gives him an empty seed packet, and asks him to visit her the next day. When Poirot arrives the next day, the woman is dead, murdered with poison.
The Million Dollar Bond Robbery
Poirot is entrusted with transferring $1 million in Liberty Bonds to America on the Queen Mary, but the bonds are cleverly stolen anyway.
The Plymouth Express
A mining entrepreneur hires Poirot to solve the brutal murder of his daughter and the theft of her jewels aboard the express train to Plymouth
Poirot realizes that a murder is being plotted, and with the help of Hastings’ latest hobby, he sets out to prevent it.
The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor
Poirot is drawn into a case where a man is found dead on the grounds of his estate, apparently frightened to death by the spirits that haunt it.
The Double Clue
Poirot helps Chief Inspector Japp try to find a jewel thief, but is sidetracked when a bewitching Russian countess arrives on the scene.
The Mystery of the Spanish Chest
Poirot is asked to protect a woman from her violent husband, but events take a turn when the husband soon becomes the victim of a gruesome murder.
The Theft of the Royal Ruby
Poirot reluctantly agrees to help an Egyptian prince recover a valuable royal ruby that was brazenly stolen from him during the Christmas holidays.
The Affair at the Victory Ball
Poirot and Hastings attend the Victory Ball, a popular costume party. During the festivities, one of the guests is found stabbed to death, and another succumbs to a drug overdose the next day.
The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge
Poirot is taken ill during a weekend shooting party, which ends when the unpopular host is found murdered in his study.
Feature films only (see below).
The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb
Shortly after opening an ancient Egyptian tomb, members of an English-American museum expedition start dropping off like flies. Can it truly be the Pharaoh’s curse? Poirot travels to Egypt to unravel the mystery.
Poirot investigates when the cruel CEO of a chemical company is bludgeoned to death in his home after the company’s formula for a revolutionary new synthetic rubber is targeted by a thief.
The Yellow Iris
A man celebrates the two-year anniversary of his wife’s sudden death by cyanide while in Argentina – a death which Poirot himself had witnessed, but could not solve at the time.
The Case of the Missing Will
A terminally ill man asks Poirot to be executor of his new will but is murdered before he can write it, and it is later discovered the old will has been stolen.
The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman
Poirot investigates the murder of an Italian count who was also the employer of Miss Lemon’s new boyfriend. He soon learns that the victim was being targeted by a blackmailer.
The Chocolate Box
While in Belgium, Poirot relates to Chief Inspector Japp a case from his early days in the Belgian police force that nearly eluded the brilliance of his ‘little grey cells.’
Dead Man’s Mirror
An obnoxious man who outbid Poirot at an auction for an antique mirror is murdered after seeking Poirot’s assistance to look into the dealings of his business associate.
Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan
While Poirot vacations in Brighton to boost his health, the beautiful pearl necklace of a theatre actress staying at his hotel is mysteriously stolen.
Seasons 6 – 13
Feature films only.
The Feature Films
Seasons 2 & 3
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Hastings renews his friendship with Poirot and involves him in the mysterious poisoning of the mistress of a manor house married to a man twenty years her junior.
Peril at End House
While Poirot is staying at an exclusive Cornish resort, he meets a beautiful heiress whose life is in danger.
The A.B.C. Murders
Poirot receives taunting letters from a serial killer who appears to choose his victims and crime scenes alphabetically.
Death in the Clouds
While Poirot sleeps on an airplane flight from Paris to London, a notorious French moneylender is murdered with a poisoned dart.
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
After Poirot pays a routine visit to his dentist, the doctor apparently shoots himself to death a short time later. Chief Inspector Japp appropriately recruits the detective as both witness and consultant.
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas
The tyrannical patriarch of a dysfunctional but wealthy family summons his adult children for a Christmas reunion, but prior to the holiday his throat is slashed apparently by one of them.
Hickory Dickory Dock
Miss Lemon persuades Poirot to investigate a series of apparently minor thefts in a university hostel, but simple kleptomania soon turns to baffling homicide.
Murder on the Links
While Poirot and Hastings are holidaying in France, a businessman tells Poirot that his life is in danger. The next day he is found stabbed to death on a nearby golf course.
An elderly woman confides to Poirot that she fears one of her relatives is trying to kill her for her money. He persuades her to disinherit her heirs, but she is murdered anyway.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
As the story’s title indicates, the case centers around Roger Ackroyd, an industrialist, the richest man in his home village of King’s Abbot and “more impossibly like a country squire than any country squire could really be,” as village doctor James Sheppard describes him in the novel. When he is found murdered, Poirot finds himself compelled to step out of a rather prematurely-chosen retirement, to investigate Ackroyd’s death … as well as its connection to that of Ackroyd’s friend, the only recently-widowed Mrs. Ferrars.
For as it happens, only a short while before his industrialist friend Ackroyd’s death, Poirot had removed himself to the country, where he had resolved to, henceforth, devote his life to the singular pursuit of growing the perfect vegetable marrow. And the detective’s chosen place of retirement is the very village that Roger Ackroyd had called his home, too: King’s Abbot, an archetypal English village like those that would later become so crucial to Christie‘s Miss Marple mysteries, the first of which – Muder at the Vicarage – was published in 1930, four years after this particular novel; and Christie later said that both the setting of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and the character of Dr. Sheppard’s spinsterish sister were elements she had enjoyed writing so much that she had instantly resolved to explore them in greater depth in a separate book.
Story-wise, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of the most remarkable entries in all of Christie‘s canon, not least because of its completely unexpected turntable conclusion – which is, surprisingly enough, maintained extremely well in this adaptation, by means of a simple but very effective directorial slight of hand.
Lord Edgware Dies
Poirot is asked to intervene on behalf of beautiful young actress Jane Wilkinson, Lady Edgware by marriage, who now seeks her husband’s consent to a divorce. When shortly thereafter Lord Edgware is found murdered, Lady Edgware is Inspector Japp’s obvious suspect; never mind that she has a cast-iron alibi for the night of the crime. But is the inspector right after all? Poirot, somewhat dazzled by the Lady, is not sure – and unfortunately, his little gray cells do not work quickly enough to prevent a second murder, that of American actress and mimic Carlotta Adams, and even a third one, of a young playwright.
Evil Under the Sun
Poirot’s rehabilitative health retreat on an island resort becomes an even more stimulating mental exercise when a flirtatious film star is found strangled on a nearby beach. This story, like the other Season 8 installment, Murder in Mesopotamia (see below), features a now classic pattern, in assembling Poirot and all suspects in a hotel on a small island off the English coast, with no possibility to leave until after the murder it solved. Christie herself had already employed such a setup two years prior to writing this present story, in 1939’s And Then There Were None, where the murderer kills one person after another in the style of the Ten Little Indians nursery rhyme, and she repeatedly returned to it; probably most famously in the 1965 Miss Marple story A Caribbean Mystery, which – tropical setting aside – is similar to Evil Under the Sun not only in its primary setup but also in its solution, and which I find the more successful of the two stories: If there are ever easily-detectable red herrings and obvious hints in an Agatha Christie mystery, Evil Under the Sun is it; and it is probably one of the few stories where at least those familiar with Christie‘s writings have a decent shot at solving all or part of the mystery before the famous final conclave.
Murder in Mesopotamia
This is one of several stories based on the impressions Christie gained while accompanying her second husband, archeologist Sir Max Mallowan, to the Middle East; and it features a classic “locked room” riddle: Poirot and Hastings are invited to visit an excavation site not far from Baghdad. During their visit, Louise, the beautiful wife of expedition leader Dr. Eric Leidner is found murdered – in her room, behind a closed door and closed window, and although nobody has been seen entering the courtyard and staircase leading to her room.
Five Little Pigs
Lucy Crale enlists Poirot to investigate the 14-year-old murder in which her mother was hanged for poisoning her artist father.
Elinor Carlisle seems to be the obvious murderer of her ailing aunt and the beautiful romantic rival who broke up her engagement, but Poirot uncovers darker motives.
Death on the Nile
A wealthy British heiress honeymooning on a Nile cruise ship is stalked by a former friend, whose boyfriend she had stolen before making him her new husband.
Poirot stumbles on the murder scene of philandering Dr Christow in a country house as his wife standing next to him with a revolver in her hand.
The Mystery of the Blue Train
Poirot investigates the brutal murder of an American heiress and the theft of a fabulous ruby on the Blue Train between Calais and Nice.
Cards on the Table
The enigmatic, sinister Mr. Shaitana, one of London’s richest men, invites 8 guests, 4 of them possible murderers and 4 ‘detectives’ to his opulent apartment.
After the Funeral
When a man disinherits his sole beneficiary and bequeaths his wealth to others just prior to his death, Poirot is called in to investigate.
Taken at the Flood
A young widow is left in sole possession of her late husband’s fortune, and her brother refuses to share it with her in-laws – so they enlist Poirot to try to prove that the widow’s missing first husband might not be dead after all.
Mrs McGinty’s Dead
A pair of photographs are the only clues that Poirot has to solve the murder of a village charwoman, and to prove the innocence of the victim’s lodger.
Cat Among the Pigeons
A foreign revolution, a kidnapped princess, and a trove of priceless rubies are linked to a prestigious girls’ school, where staff members are brutally murdered.
After a seemingly neurotic young heiress tells Ariadne Oliver and Poirot that she thinks she may have killed someone, her ex-nanny is found with her wrists slashed.
Appointment with Death
Syria 1937. While accompanying her husband on an archaeological dig, the abusive and overbearing Lady Boynton is found stabbed to death.
Three Act Tragedy
Poirot attends a party at the great actor Sir Charles Cartwright’s Cornish mansion. A local reverend dies while drinking a cocktail, but no poison is found in his glass. Poirot and Cartwright decide to investigate when another victim is claimed in the same manner.
During a village’s Hallowe’en party, a young girl boasts of having witnessed a murder from years before. No one believes her tale until her body is found later on in the evening, drowned in the apple-bobbing bucket.
Murder on the Orient Express
Poirot investigates the murder of a shady American businessman stabbed in his compartment on the Orient Express when it is blocked by a blizzard in Croatia.
Four clocks surround an unidentified corpse in a blind woman’s house, and a young typist is summoned to the crime scene. However, Poirot is convinced that the complicated setup is merely hiding a simpler solution.
Elephants Can Remember
Ariadne Oliver becomes an amateur sleuth when her goddaughter tasks her to find out the truth behind her parents’ mysterious deaths.
The Big Four
As the threat of world war looms large, Poirot seeks the help of friends both old and new when he is pitted against a dangerous group of dissidents responsible for a series of violent murders.
Dead Man’s Folly
Mrs Oliver is asked to devise a murder hunt for a Devon fête, but her sense of foreboding summons Poirot to the scene. Her fears are realized when the girl playing murder victim winds up truly murdered.
The Labours of Hercules
Poirot’s pursuit of an infamous art thief leads him to a snowbound hotel in the Swiss Alps, where he is met with a plethora of mysteries and the reappearance of a familiar face from the past.
Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case
An ailing Poirot returns to Styles with Hastings nearly three decades after solving their first mystery there in order to prevent a serial killer from claiming more victims.
Production Credits /
Cast and Crew
- Studios: Carnival Film & Television / London Weekend Television (LWT) / Picture Partnership Productions / ITV (1989 – 2013)
- Directors: various
- Producers: various
- Screenplays: various writers
- Based on books by: Agatha Christie
- Music: Christopher Gunning / Christian Henson / Stephen McKeon
- David Suchet: Hercule Poirot
- Hugh Fraser: Captain Hastings
- Philip Jackson: Chief Inspector Japp
- Pauline Moran: Miss Lemon
- Zoë Wanamaker: Ariadne Oliver
- David Yelland: George