Well, great news, folks: although it remains in negotation, David Suchet seems ever more optimistic that the remaining Poirot novels will be filmed in 2012. It’s been a long road, as period films don’t come cheap, particularly not when commanding the kind of cast and attention to detail expected. (Suchet is, wonderfully, a purist, who obsesses over the little things – perfectly cast, I’d say!) With the rise and fall of period drama being a regular fixture since television began, it was no surprise that Poirot would face uphill battles and, since the series debuted in 1989, it’s certainly had to fight to stay on the air. Thankfully, it looks like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

[THIS JUST IN: Thanks to the wonderful commenter below, who alerted me to the recent news that Suchet WILL get his wish: five final Poirot films will be made in 2012 and 2013.]

So, I thought I’d muse on what we can expect should Suchet get his wish:

Series twelve was one of the most accomplished to date, with particularly notable adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express and Hallowe'en Party. Series thirteen will almost definitely be the last - Suchet is planning to retire eventually (he is past 65 now), and obviously ITV won't go on funding things forever! It seems that whatever gets filmed next year will be the end of this long-running series.

First of all, there are the Poirot stories that simply won’t be filmed. This is an area on which a lot of fan sites get confused, but there are several short stories which were subsequently rewritten and expanded into others. (The originals generally weren’t published in book form, although many have since appeared in posthumous, completist collections.):

  • The Market Basing Mystery was expanded into Murder in the Mews (adapted for series 1)
  • The Submarine Plans was expanded into The Incredible Theft (also series 1)
  • The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest was rewritten as The Mystery of the Spanish Chest (series 3)
  • Christmas Adventure became The Adventure of The Christmas Pudding (adapted as The Theft of Royal Ruby as series 3)
  • The Second Gong became Dead Man’s Mirror (series 5)
Then there’s The Regatta Mystery, a Poirot short story which was subsequently never published in book form. Instead, Christie chose to rewrite is with the detective now being Parker Pyne, meaning that it is no longer generally considered a part of Poirot’s canon.

Japp, Lemon and Hastings re-envisioned (photo copyright Sandy Copeland)

(Above photo copyright Sandy Copland)
As for the remaining stand-alone short story The Lemesurier Inheritance? I think we can safely say that it won’t happen. It’s a pity from the standpoint of a completist, and I’m sure they could have expanded this Holmes/Watson-style tale into a film (which worked well for Miss Marple in The Blue Geranium) but, honestly, it’s a minor loss.
This leaves us with six items: three novels, two anthology-style novels (cobbled together from short stories) and a play.
The play Black Coffee (novelised after Christie’s death by Charles Osbourne) has a rather uncertain status in the canon. Suchet has previously included in his list of remaining stories to be filmed but technically, I’m sure he can skip it and still consider himself definitive. Indeed, given his use of the number ‘five’ in the clip linked above, I assume Black Coffee would be the first to fall in any negotiation.
Probably the easiest of the remaining five is Dead Man’s Folly, the most respected of these books, in which a murder-mystery garden party becomes horrifyingly real. It’s one of Poirot’s better post-war books (although it received a very lacklustre Peter Ustinov adaptation) and Suchet has stated that this was the first script commissioned for the new series, while ITV considered their options. Ariadne Oliver plays a key role though, so I hope they can find time in Zoe Wanamaker‘s busy schedule. Unfortunately, much as we’d like it, these films can’t afford to schedule themselves around every actor involved. We’re lucky that Britain is populated with such talent, and the itinerant life of an actor means there’s always great names available. But Wanamaker is always in high demand, and the scheduling of an entire series can’t function around her, I’m afraid, particularly when she isn’t the star.

Zoe Wanamaker as Mrs. Oliver and David Suchet as Poirot

Then there’s Elephants Can Remember: one of my least favourite of Christie’s novels. But it’s a tale of old age and memory, so would make a fitting character tale for the final season, and the writers have done marvels with lesser stories in the past. Elephants also features Ariadne Oliver, and – if we have to choose between them – I’d probably ask for her here. Wanamaker’s vibrancy will certainly fit into the palette of Dead Man’s Folly but she may be necessary to liven up this one. (Of course, I’m probably being Chicken Little here: let’s hope Wanamaker is free for both!)
Structurally, The Labours of Hercules will prove a greater pain; it’s really 12 interconnected short stories, connected thematically by Poirot’s desire to retire once he has solved 12 cases that resembled the ancient fables. It would’ve been lovely to do a 12 episode season chronicling these cases, but that’s certainly only a dream at this point. They obviously can’t do all the stories, so I’d imagine we’ll instead see the highlights – perhaps picking three or four and doing an anthology-style film? To be honest, I really can’t fathom what the concept is for this one, but I hope that – at some point in the last two decades – someone in Suchet’s camp has come up with something clever. More to the point, the book features appearances from Inspector Japp, George, Miss Lemon and Countess Vera Rossakoff. The fanboy inside me would give up five years of  my life to have Philip Jackson, David Yelland, Pauline Moran and Kika Markham back to continue in their roles. I expect we’ll see Yelland, but I won’t get my hopes up about the others just yet. It would be wonderful to see Japp nearing (or in) retirement, but I suspect that Miss Lemon’s return would be contrived, given that Poirot is retired. As for the Countess – – well Suchet has so powerfully portrayed Poirot’s rueful side, pondering the love that he never found, and so her reappearance would certainly be the fitting end to one of the series’ more subtle undertones.

The old team: Philip Jackson (Inspector Japp), David Suchet (Poirot), Hugh Fraser (Captain Hastings) and Pauline Moran (Felicity Lemon)

Next, there’s that spanner in the works: The Big Four. This is a novel they’ll regret not having adapted earlier. As one of Christie’s silliest (yet easily-swallowed) confections, The Big Four is nothing more than a Bond film. It’s strange enough to imagine a young Poirot chasing four supervillains across the globe, let alone Suchet in his late ’60s! In some ways, I’m most looking forward to this one, since it’s so far afield from our naturalistic series that the writers will have to play up the lavish, espionage angle which featured at moments in The Clocks, for example. I’m sure it will be heavily reworked, as the ideas of secret underground lairs and surprising twin brothers are… unlikely at best. Perhaps they can make more of the Vera Rossakoff connection, since she’ll have two stories in this series. On the other hand, I doubt we’ll see Hastings back for this: the story may function better with a younger companion, as has worked well for Marple. Perhaps they could bring back Tom Burke‘s Lt. Race from The Clocks, since he’ll also tie in nicely with the espionage plot?

Finally, there’s Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case. I’m not going to spoilt it for those who haven’t read, but the novel really does take us full circle: back to Styles, and centering on the heart of the Belgian’s moral compass. It’s a definite and complex endpoint for the character, and I look forward to seeing Suchet employ his consummate skill to bring the story to life. For this, Hastings really must return. Honestly, if we see none of the other recurring characters (knock on wood), I think that Hugh Fraser‘s reappearance is mandated. I don’t mean to sound negative about the possibility of the return of these characters – after all, they were written out in keeping with the novels, and I’m sure they’ll all appreciate a high-profile job – but it’s going to be one of those trade-offs required as part of the inevitable budget negotiations, particularly in this day and age. (Even Doctor Who, which routinely gets twice Poirot‘s viewers, scores record-breaking Audience Appreciation, and has endless merchandising options, is fighting a budgetary battle at present.) But Hastings is vital to the closure of Poirot’s arc in Curtain. I hope that Fraser’s longstanding relationship with the Christie estate – he is a frequent narrator of the audio book range – will mean that he’ll return to the fold. And I’m sure that Suchet, being such a purist, will reach out to his fellow castmates, and do his best to make sure their schedules (and paychecks) align.

You know what? I was going to write a list of elements I’d like to see in the final series of Poirot but – at the end of the day – I have great faith in the people involved. Four of these five novels have never been filmed (and Dead Man’s Folly was an unfortunate endeavour at best), so having the complete Poirot canon on film will be a landmark achievement, and one to be cherished for decades to come. If this doesn’t happen, it will be a disgrace. And given the surprising quality of the Marple adaptations of non-Marple books, it seems that we now have quality adaptations of a solid majority of Christie’s canon. Some of these novels will require some cutting-and-pasting to tighten them up, but I trust the instincts, given the twenty years’ worth of solid storytelling we’ve had to date.

ITV has the chance to contribute something great to our popular culture: the complete stories of Poirot, gorgeously designed, cleverly acted by guest cast, regular cast, and the unending depth David Suchet brings to the role, and the remarkable character evolution he has delivered over the last two decades. What greater monument to Dame Agatha could there be?

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