Sunday, January 25, 2015


Hercule Poirot never steps back in front of fate


These seventy episodes, these eighty-four hours of film, these thirty-five DVDs are worth a mountain of gold of course. Agatha Christie created this particular character who is probably as famous as Sherlock Holmes, and that is telling a lot. The stories themselves are nearly anecdotic but the character is absolutely fabulous. And the actor composed his character so well that we really think he is the man in the story. Some extras explain that transformation of an actor into his character.


First this character is surprisingly original for an English detective story writer. He is Belgian. He is some kind of refugee in England. He kept a delicious French accent, in fact a mixture between the Belgian and the French accents of the French language. This accent is kept constant and unvarying over twenty-one years by the very same actor who is aging of course but since Poirot’s adventures stretch from the very end of the First World War to just before the Second World War this aging is natural. The actor ages the same number of years as the character.

Second the character has a distinctive physique, walks in a distinctive way, has an astonishing moustache that evolves with age but not that much, though in the last episode he reveals the most astounding secret. He dies in that last episode and the explanation of the last case is post-mortem, in fact four months after his own death. Hercule Poirot can reach beyond his own grave.

The character has a final characteristic that is particularly distinctive but also irritating. He is absolutely vain and his vanity makes him consider he is the most intelligent detective, and probably man, in the world and that his little grey cells have no equal. He has no real competitor, not even Sherlock Holmes, of course. That vanity makes him extremely nasty with most people around him and first of all his secretary, Captain Hastings and his valet-butler, not to speak of all the policemen he has to deal with. This vanity becomes a feature without which Poirot would not be Poirot. Agatha Christie made him like that and he has to be like that. She even includes in many episodes a female detective story writer who is her own impersonation as a fictional doppelganger of herself. And of course that doppelganger is not that swift and she often lets herself go into the traps of false logic, I mean false criminal logic. The logic of a criminal has little to do with that of a story teller.

But the whole series has another quality that makes it nearly real. It is rooted in real life. Poirot is rooted in England in 1918 as a veteran from the front on a convalescing period. Then the cars, the trains, the radio, and every single fixture in society move up with time little by little, year after year. All the characters, policemen and others age and go up in society, are promoted or just go away, disappear or die. The treatment of this environment, settings, buildings, people, theaters, etc, makes the series believable and true to the core.

Of course I would advise you not to watch the thirty-five DVDs in one go. Take your time and alternate four or five DVDs with something else for a few days. It may become slightly tiresome in heavy doses. But then you will find out that the various episodes are always a tremendous description of all kinds of social or cultural situations, in London and out of London, and quite a few on the continent. Of course Agatha Christie’s stories are quite realistic, but the TV production was very careful to look for and find the proper elements that makes the whole thing rich and entertaining but with enough variation for the series not to become tiring. We will also note how the political situation is clearly alluded to and evoked particularly the rise of Hitler and some Nazi party or groups in Great Britain. This political and historical realism was typical of Agatha Christie and it is perfectly kept in this series, and you will enjoy it.



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