Thursday, March 6, 2014

Poirot and Me - David Suchet

Movie & TV adaptations of favourite books can be infuriating or wonderful, depending on the book & the adaptation. One of the best, most faithful adaptations of a series has been London Weekend Television's adaptation of the Hercule Poirot stories by Agatha Christie. The series began in 1988 & ended in 2013. Every Poirot short story & novel had been adapted & everyone involved in the project could finally rest. The final episode in the final series, Curtain, has just been shown on television here in Australia & I think I've watched every episode over the years. My favourites will always be the early series of one hour episodes based on the short stories with the occasional two hour episode based on a novel. The production values were just superb & the opening titles are so wonderful that I can hear the music in my head right now. If you've never seen those opening titles with their gorgeous Art Deco styling, you can watch them here on YouTube.

Finding the right actor to play Poirot was the biggest challenge for the producers. David Suchet was a well-known but not famous actor when he took on the role. He played Poirot for 25 years & the role has come to define him in the eyes of many. He has now written a memoir about the series & about the way that Poirot has, in a way, taken over his life.

Suchet describes in detail how he prepared to play the role, from reading all the books to writing a long list of characteristics & attributes that he felt described Poirot. He kept the list with him always & referred to it at the beginning of each new series as he prepared to inhabit the little Belgian detective. The list is reproduced in the book along with many photos of the locations, guest stars & crew who often worked on the series for years. Suchet had a terrifying lunch with Agatha Christie's daughter, Rosalind Hicks, when she told him that Poirot must never be laughed at. One of the accolades Suchet cherishes the most is that Rosalind & her son, Mathew Prichard, approved of his portrayal & thought that Agatha Christie would have approved as well.

Suchet says over & over again that, as an actor, all he wants to do is serve the author of the words he's saying. He fought producers, directors & script writers over the years when they wanted him to do or say something that he believed Poirot would not do. Gradually he had the confidence & the clout to get his way & eventually he became an associate producer. The continuation of the series was never assured though & Suchet describes well the uncertainties of an actor's life. After the first two series which were very successful, he heard nothing about a third series so took another role to pay the mortgage. Luckily, when a third series was commissioned, the producers were willing to wait for him to be available. Then, after a gap of several years, the series was resurrected with a new producer & an American company, A & E, producing the programs & then selling them to LWT. New producers wanted a new look so the wonderful Art Deco opening titles & music were gone & the one hour episodes replaced with ninety minute episodes. There was more money spent on the cast & locations but I've never been as fond of these later episodes. I enjoyed the ensemble feel of the first series with Suchet & the regular cast of Hugh Fraser as Captain Hastings, Philip Jackson as Inspector Japp & Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon.

Poirot and Me is definitely a book for fans of the series & David Suchet. I enjoyed it very much because I was fascinated by the details of the filming, the guest stars, anecdotes about the fans & the behind the scenes machinations that went on between series. Suchet also writes about other roles he's played, such as Salieri in a stage production of Amadeus or Robert Maxwell in a TV film. If he seems to quote every glowing review he's ever received, well, he's rightly proud of them. However, if you're looking for gossip or candid comments about his colleagues, you won't find them here. Maybe he just doesn't mention any guest stars that he didn't like but everyone who appears in the book is praised, especially his regular co-stars in the early series & Zoë Wanamaker, who played Ariadne Oliver in the later series. He does admit that some episodes were better than others, because the source material wasn't great or the adaptation lacked something, but, in general, this is an affectionate memoir about a role that could have buried his career but instead, made David Suchet one of the most recognisable actors of his generation - even without the moustache & the spats.

18 comments:

  1. This looks like an excellent book, Lyn. David Suchet is wonderful, and for me, no one has ever compared with him in his portrayal of Hercule Poirot. He gave Poirot a warmth, and has such beautiful, twinkly eyes!

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    1. It was very good & if you're a fan of the series, I'm sure you'd enjoy it.

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  2. Thanks for this one Lyn. Tony is quite the Poirot fan, I think he will enjoy it.

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    1. If he's a fan I think he'll love it!

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  3. I would enjoy this! II didn't know that ALL of the books and short stories had been filmed. Did you see the documentary about his trip on the Orient Express? That was good. He made an appearance during one of the public TV pledge drives here a few years ago and kept slipping back and forth (on purpose) between his own voice and his H.P. voice - very funny.

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    1. I haven't seen the Orient Express doco but he made a very good program on Agatha Christie that was on TV a little while ago. He's definitely the definitive Poirot.

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  4. I agree about the early adaptations of the short stories, Lyn. We watched one the other night: it was so good.

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    1. Now that I've read the book I plan to go back & watch the early series again. They were wonderful.

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  5. Interesting, and we agree totally ,the early ones had a warmth,charm and wit lacking in the later ones,very well made but a little hollow and Poirot seems old and sad...thank you for so many excellent reviews! The highlight of my inbox!

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    1. Thank you, I'm glad you enjoy the blog.

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  6. Oh, the early stories were SO fabulous, Lyn. Yes, we're in agreement. :) I hadn't heard that Suchet had written a book. Where have I been? I will definitely be reading this. The best Poirot episodes are available currently on Netflix - streaming. Or at least they were recently. I love those early ones so much that I can watch them over and over. I hated when they changed the stories. I mean, why trifle with perfection?

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    1. I bought the early series on DVD as I do like to watch them again. I liked the stories with Hastings, Japp & Miss Lemon & it's good to know that the actors got on as well in real life as they seemed to do on the screen.

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  7. Yes this is very much a book for fans of Poirot. It was very interesting to learn that basically after each series they could have dispensed with Suchet as Poirot and looked elsewhere? Imagine?

    Do try and see the documentary he did on the Orient Express, it will give you even more of an insight into Suchet and his role.

    Here in the UK they repeat the episodes time and time again and they are just great to watch.

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    1. Yes, I couldn't believe they ever thought they could find a better Poirot but then, look what they've done with Miss Marple!! I will look out for the Orient Express doco. Maybe it's on DVD.

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  8. I've seen very few of the movies. Mostly read the books. Enjoyed the post.

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    1. Thanks Mystica. The early series especially are an Art Deco treat if you ever get a chance to see them.

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  9. I'm a huge Poirot fan and love DS. Thanks for getting me onto the book, Lyn (have just bought a signed version online). I've watched them all repeatedly and never tire of them.They're the ultimate in comfort viewing, especially the early ones. Mad for Art Deco too.
    Best, Star.

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    1. The early series were definitely the best, I think they captured the period so well. I hope you enjoy the book.

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