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)
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?