Saturday, 26 October 2013

Poirot: The Big Four; or, The Big Two-and-a-half...

... that being the rating, out of four, that I would give last Wednesday's PoirotThe Big Four?  More like The Big Disappointment for this blogger, I'm afraid.

Still, by popular demand - especially from overseas readers - here follows a vague outline (so as not to spoil it for those of you who haven't yet seen it!) of the episode, focussing particularly on the welcome return of series stalwarts Japp, Miss Lemon and Captain Hastings!

Well, focussing as much as possible considering one of the biggest problems with Wednesday's episode - after all the fanfare of their much-anticipated return Miss Lemon and Captain Hastings appear in this two-hour drama for all of about 10 minutes.  Japp fares better - being the policeman he is with Poirot for most of the investigation but really, to build up a chap's (or chappette's) expectations and then give us the barest serving of Lemon & Hastings - especially when the latter is so crucial to the plot of the original book - just isn't bally well fair!  Giving us an opening shot of Hastings on his hacienda and having him utter his immortal catchphrase as the first words of the drama certainly created the impression in my mind that he was going to play a major part in this adventure.  Oh well.

Hastings seems to have settled down to the life of an Argentinian rancher...
As befits a working landowner, Hastings sports a combination of checked tattersall
shirt, spotted neckerchief and matching waistcoat and felt sun hat.
All together now... "Good Lord!"

Things seemed to progress nicely, albeit to the more sombre scene of someone's funeral, with all three of the old supporting characters together again - even though it be in sad circumstances (possible spoiler alert ahead!).

Miss Lemon!  Best shot I could get of this dress, which begins a line of simple,
patterned tea dresses(?) with a nice neckline
Japp (Philip Jackson) has aged well and his wardrobe has improved too, as befits
his new rank of Assistant Commissioner
Traditional funeral attire for Miss Lemon and Captain Hastings

At the wake and some of the old magic glints through the sadness as everyone is in Poirot's flat again.

Not much to add about Captain Hastings' black [pinstripe] suit. 
Miss Lemon's outfit has a few nice touches around the neck and sleeves.
It all gets a bit too much for Hastings.  Awww!

And that for much of the episode is all we see of Miss Lemon and the good Captain, as the action moves swiftly on to the main meat of the story.  Which, sadly, bears little resemblance to the original novel.  This is a great pity, as The Big Four has long been one of my favourite Poirot novels with its cases of international espionage and high adventure all held together by the thread of the mysterious "Big Four".  I admittedly haven't read it for some time but it has always stuck in my memory as a particularly thrilling book in which Hastings had much to do, some of it quite dangerous as I recall.  Much has been written already, including by fellow blogger Porcelina, of the difficulties inherent in adapting a convoluted series of cases into a 90-minute TV drama (Mark Gatiss himself has called the original plot "an unadaptable mess") but I still think they could have done better than the disjointed parody that has resulted.  They certainly could have and should have used Captain Hastings more prominently!

Anyway, for a good while there wasn't much worthy of comment so here are just a few general shots of the episode that I felt could be included here:

Japp's wardrobe, as mentioned, is at it's best ever.  He even looks halfway decent
in white tie (although still not a patch on Poirot)!
Quite a nice suit for the Assistant Commissioner
The old brown trilby and overcoat make a welcome return, though.

Some things that thankfully haven't changed too much are the production values.  Certainly like all Poirots since the series' 2003 "re-imagining" everything has been filmed in much darker, tenebrous style which can still take a bit of getting used to after the lighter tone of the earlier episodes.  As a result the fashions on show tend to be a bit duller and more limited, as was the case in The Big Four.  A couple of the effects were a bit ropey too.  The props were splendid, though, as were the locations (despite being less wide-ranging than those in the novel).

Poirot has a beautiful Art Deco chess set (of course!).  Which, I'm delighted to
see, you can buy an example of yourself.

For the ladies, these were the best shots of the few fashions that cropped up during the episode:

Madame Olivier seems to favour checked suits...

This particular adaption also seemed to have been cursed with the inclusion of an annoying, gabby actress (Flossie Munro, played by Sarah Parish) and an annoying, arrogant newspaper reporter (Mr Tysoe, played by Tom Brooke), neither of whom endeared themselves - or the plot - to me very much.  The episode was also extremely hamstrung, in my opinion, by a disappointing Big Reveal.  Even taking into account the smaller scale of this version, the unmasking of the villain turned out to be not only unexpected but also unbelievable.  He was completely without menace and had a motive so flimsy and far removed from the novel's dénouement that it made the previous 75 minutes seem rather disconnected and, dare I say it, almost hardly worthwhile.

Let's not end on such a sour note, though.  Part of the way through, Miss Lemon, Japp and Captain Hastings return [briefly] as we find ourselves back at the funeral/wake that began this story:

A highlight of Captain Hastings' wardrobe, limited as it is in this outing, is this
wonderfully well-fitted double-breasted overcoat.
Back at Poirot's, Hastings is determined to do what he can to catch The Big Four
I mean, he's really determined.  Remember that time he decided he'd solve the
case in Double Sin?  Even more determined than that.
He even has strong words with Japp.  I haven't seen him this angry since he
punched Miss Lemon's ex-boyfriend in The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman.
Once outside he calms down and stops to think.  In quite a poignant moment he is
heard to quietly ask "What do I do now, old chap?".

Here is where the could have introduced a bit more Captain Hastings - had him trying to follow leads, meeting with the reporter, the actress, Mme. Olivier.  But no, we don't see him again until about a minute before the end.  Thanks for that. (As an aside, it's struck me that no-one - from the Christie estate or otherwise - has thought to do a story or two with Captain Hastings as the main character.  Wouldn't that be great?  Adventures from his side of a case, or away from Poirot, or in Argentina.  Someone should really do that.  Are you listening, the Christie Community?)

A better look at Miss Lemon's black blouse

So having teased us half way through with another brief appearance of Hastings and Miss Lemon, we now have to wait until the very end to see them all together again.

Miss Lemon sporting a simple red dress with some nice collar detailing again.
Japp back in his [now usual] three-piece, and another look at Miss Lemon's dress.
Hastings burst in, having not been seen since he stormed out half an hour previously.
The episode ends not ten seconds later.  Still, every second with Hastings is a joy...

By and large then a fairly mediocre affair, saved only by the presence - however fleeting - of three beloved supporting characters from the past and David Suchet's consummate portrayal of Poirot.  There were a couple of gems in the dialogue - when confronted with a "Death" tarot card found on a victim's body Japp ruminates "Mrs Japp was dealt one just like that on Southend Pier.  'Gypsy Meg'.  Three weeks later the cat died".  We also get to see Poirot run for perhaps only the third time in the entire, well, run.  But for me the whole episode was neatly summed up by Poirot himself.  When his friends gather round at the end, he remarks "Where is Hastings?  Where is Captain Hastings?!".  It was a question I'd been asking myself for most of the preceding two hours...

2 comments:

  1. Thanks so much from across the pond! Sorry to hear this episode didn't live up to expectations, but I have found that to be the case often with the more recent episodes (The Third Girl comes to mind, where the one of book's villains becomes the hero -- probably to save money, because the book's hero doesn't even appear).

    However, even a smidge of Hastings and Lemon, and a bigger taste of Japp, are to be celebrated.

    And I love your idea of a Hastings-only story -- perhaps Miss Lemon could even visit the pampas!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I missed that one, I'm afraid. It's the Miss Marples without Joan Hickson that make me cringe, sooooo bad!

    ReplyDelete

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