This set of Poirot adventures consists of four of Dame Agatha's novels dramatized at TV feature length. The four novels are "Death on the Nile" (1937), "Sad Cypress" (1940), "Five Little Pigs" (1942) and "The Hollow" (1946). Four other novels are dramatized in the companion set, "Agatha Christie's Poirot - Classic Crimes Collection." The two sets contain the output of the new A&E production team to 2007.
The new series diverge from the old in a number of ways. They concentrate on Christie's novel-length works rather than her short stories. Far more important to Amazon US vreviewers, though, seems to be the change in casting. The dim but endearing Captain Hastings, the hyper-efficient Miss Lemon and that stolid plod, Chief Inspector Japp are all gone. We find Poirot alone in his new, smaller, gloomier, distinctly less impressive flat--although he's apparently still in the same building. Some note that the new scripts make references to modern sexual sensibilities that certainly, unquestionably, indubitably did not appear in Dame Aggie's writings. Typical reactions among those who mention this change involve one or all of dismay, disgust and disdain. Others have drawn attention to production values for the new series. One reviewer put it this way: "[T]he production value of the films has gone through the roof. Simply put, these are the best looking Poirot films made so far, particularly with regards to `film moment' shots and the use of color in regards to theme." Finally, there has been the obvious effect of all-devouring time; the now portly Suchet is sixty-ish and he looks it.
Let's consider that point, the older Poirot. In 1920, Hercule Poirot appeared in Agatha Christie's first book, "The Mysterious Affair at Styles," a novel set in the middle of the First World War. Captain Hastings, wounded on the Western Front, is back in England to recover. He happens to meet an odd little man named Hercule Poirot (a name plainly impossible for any self-respecting Englishman to pronounce correctly.) Poirot is described as an elderly Belgian refugee who is a retired policeman. Considering the events that took place in Belgium in the late summer of 1914, it must be assumed that he retired no later than the first half that year. If Poirot retired at sixty--Christie writing at age 30 would probably have considered that to be elderly--he was born no later than 1854. If at sixty-five, then 1851. The earlier his retirement, the earlier his birth date.
Poirot's career in England stretched from the horrors of the Western Front to what he and his creator clearly regarded as the only slightly less baleful era of rock 'n roll. For production convenience, the original series was set in 1935. 1937 seems to be the date for this series, considering that the name of a certain Mrs Simpson appears in the newspapers. In 1937, Hercule Poirot must have been at least 83 years old. All things considered, David Suchet was and still remains entirely too young for the part.
In 1916, Agatha Miller Christie was thinking about writing a book for pin money. (Monetary cpnsiderations aside, her older sister had bet her she couldn't do it!) She and her dashing husband Archie Christie were bright young things, but on their beam ends financially. She wrote letter to a friend in which she whined that they could afford only two servants. She decided to write a mystery. At the time, there was only one true pattern for a detective and its name was S. Holmes, still very much a living literary figure. Twelve stories of his Canon were yet to be written and they wouldn't be published between hard covers until 1927 with "The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes." After collecting a set of galling rejections, Agatha's first book, "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" and Hercule Poirot saw print in 1920.
Holmes had a biographer named Watson, plodding colleagues at Scotland Yard, beginning with Inspector Lestrade, and a landlady-housekeeper, Mrs Hudson. Following the set pattern, Christie gave Poirot his biographer in Captain Hastings--the complete boob that Watson NEVER was--and he introduced Inspector Japp. Later, Poirot would find his London flat and enjoy the ministrations of Miss Lemon. In all but a single short story, she is a background figure.
In the older TV series, Hastings got into everything. Miss Lemon's role expanded beyond anything in Christie's writings. All police detectives combined into Chief Inspector Japp. All this, first to humanize the little Belgian detective, then to ease the endless task of explaining plot points.
In 1926, Christie hit the big time with "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd." She was universally acknowledged as the great successor to Conan Doyle. But Hastings wasn't even in "Ackroyd." She realized that she had no need to follow Holmes anymore, so she sent the tedious Hastings off to molt in some remote South American exile, bringing him back only on a rare, sentimental occasion.
In this Hastings-, Lemon- and Japp-free series, the new producers have done no more than follow Christie's lead. Nevertheless, I miss them, just as I sometimes miss them in the written versions. The producers really ought to bring them back for at least one show in each season.
Regarding post-Christie sensibilities on sexual matters, heaven knows it's mild enough stuff in these productions, but why do they bother? The stories are set in 1937, not 2007 or even 1977. Whatever people were doing then, they certainly were not talking about it freely, as here. (Yes, I am perfectly aware of such people as Sackville-West and Trefusis, but that was a juicy scandal, not a casual aside as in "The Hollow.")
Finally, there are the production values. Some reviewers are impressed. I am not. Whatever the current producers are paying, they are not getting their money's worth. The old series was a gem. Remember those opening graphics? And that annoying but unforgettable theme music? The old series showcased Art Deco artifacts and architecture. The Deco movement peaked, then fell away in hardly more than a decade--two at most. I am convinced the old series showcased every good example of Art Deco architecture to be found in all of Britain. By contrast, the new series is flat and uninteresting. Instead of bright, clean-lined Art Deco, we are shown nothing but the same-old-same-old Masterpiece Theater/A&E Presents visual blahs that turn up a dozen times a week on PBS. Even worse is the rhythm of the new series. Several times in each episode, with the regularity--not to mention the soul--of a stopwatch, everything comes lurching to a halt. (Why they do not display a card saying "Insert Commercial Here" I cannot imagine.) And the music! That old tune is still there, but almost inaudible in the background. What a waste! Let's not even talk about the opening credits.
In summary, these are acceptable, if sometimes VERY loose adaptations of Christie's mid-career novels. They're OK, but they are not the visual treats they used to be. On the other hand, even mediocre Poirot is better than no Poirot at all.
Four stars wit' ze little grey cells.