Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review - "Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Big Four"


"Agatha Christie's Poirot" continues after a fine adaptation of "Elephants Can Remember," which was broadcast in June, with "The Big Four." "The Big Four" is without doubt the most unusual of all Agatha Christie's novels. It reads like a Penny-Dreadful thriller and features none of the tight plotting which have made Christie's novels so beloved by mystery fans. To say that "The Big Four" is a curiosity is an understatement - and it seemed almost impossible to adapt to the screen. So, how was it done?

The answer: change plot details! Usually when an episode of "Poirot" dramatically changes the plot of a Christie novel, it doesn't go over so well with me. But this time things were different. The story is now set in the days before World War II. Poirot (David Suchet) is in attendance at a peace party gala at which a Russian chess master will display his talents in a symbolic act of uniting the two halves of Europe. But, four moves into his match, he slumps over dead - apparently caused by a heart attack. Hercule Poirot isn't so sure and as more unfortunate events begin to surround the peace party, rumours spread that an international group of villains calling themselves The Big Four are involved.

Despite the fact that much of the plot was changed, I am actually quite fond of this adaptation of "The Big Four." Even though its heresy to even think such a thing, I feel like this episode actually improved upon its source material. Christie's book reads like a wanna-be Edgar Wallace or L. Ron Hubbard, and what adapters Mark Gatiss and Ian Hallbard managed to do was to make the story feel like Christie. There's suspects, clues and a last-minute reveal with a typical explanation. What's more, many of Christie's original plot points are retained, so one cannot say that "The Big Four" doesn't have a passing resemblance to the novel.

Poirot (David Suchet) is reunited with Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran)
Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) and Captain Hasting (Hugh Fraser)
What excited me most about this episode is that it would see the return of Poirot's friend and colleague Captain Arthur Hastings as well as his secretary Miss Lemon and Inspector Japp. These characters had not been featured in an episode of "Poirot" for nearly ten years, and they were sorely missed. Philip Jackson, who plays Japp, had the most to offer in this little reunion as the inspector acts as Poirot's assistant throughout the episode. My biggest quibble is that Miss Lemon and Hastings have little to do in the episode. I am probably the minority, but I always liked Captain Hastings so his minimal involvement was rather disappointing. 

Overall, "The Big Four" was a very pleasant surprise. It surpassed my expectations dramatically and proved to be very entertaining. I only wish that the featured characters from yesteryear had had more involvement in the story. But, I give "Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Big Four" 4 out of 5 stars. 

7 comments:

  1. Hello there,

    I'm afraid I couldn't disagree more!! (respectfully, of course). I watched The Big Four with a lot of anticipation and initially was really happy - it was great to see Japp, Hastings and Lemon again. But I was quickly disappointed!

    They completely changed the majority of the story, and kept minor details, instead of changing minor details and keeping the majority of the story. I know I'm in a minority, but I absolutely loved the Big Four novel!

    I think with a few minor tweaks or even a couple of major ones it would've worked really well as a more or less faithful adaptation. They basically just kept the names and decided to make up a new story. We didn't even know the murderer's character until the end!

    I'm not sure what's going on with Poirot post-2002 but I think some people at the top are getting carried away with themselves .... I can understand plot changes due to the environment but honestly, changing absolutely everything about the story? The Big Four weren't even a Big Four!! And the nature of the final reveals has changed .... Poirot starts becoming a sort of psychotherapist, and every murderer suddenly had a troubled childhood.

    It just really annoys me that they kept on saying at the beginning they were trying to be "more faithful" to the series and then go and change the whole plot of a novel here ... I don't think it was unadaptable ... in fact Christie had a pretty engaging plot, unlike the film version!

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  2. ... sorry for the rant! Great blog by the way :)

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    1. First of all I'm glad that you like the blog. That means a lot. Second, if there's one thing you should know about me it's that I used to having the unpopular opinion so I take "rants" in my stride. However, I do see where you are coming from with your arguments. Was it the perfect episode of "Poirot" - no. But I found it very entertaining.

      When it comes to anything Sherlock Holmes or Christie-related, I am a stickler for fidelity. But, at this point in the series' history, I think that they would have lost some of their credibility if they had retained all of the novel's plot. I for one was rather glad that the climax in the underground lair, Achille Poirot and the sight of Hercule climbing down a wall of ivy were scrapped.

      Again, I thank you for your comments. There's more "Poirot" reviews on the way so I hope that you visit this site again.

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  3. First of all I enjoyed this adaptation as well. I've never considered the original a real novel ( wasn't it cobbled together at the last minute from a bunch of separate stories?) My only quibble was not enough Captain Hastings. I thought it should have been his hand bringing down the curtain on the villain. The reporter character just didn't deserve that much of a role. As an aside Hugh Fraser reads a series of the Christie audiobooks and his Poirot is excellent. I enjoy them more than the Suchet readings.

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    1. Glad to know I'm not the only one who liked this adaptation. And yes, you were right about the short stories. It was (as Raymond Chandler would have put it) "cannibalized" from elements of Christie's other works. There was certainly not enough High Fraser as Captain Hastings though.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

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  4. ["What excited me most about this episode is that it would see the return of Poirot's friend and colleague Captain Arthur Hastings as well as his secretary Miss Lemon and Inspector Japp. These characters had not been featured in an episode of "Poirot" for nearly ten years, and they were sorely missed."]


    People really have great difficulty in adapting to changes. I didn't miss Japp, Hastings and Miss Lemon that much. Hardly at all, if I must be honest. There are a good number of "POIROT" movies from the past ten years (2003-2010) that are among my favorites.

    Clinging to the past is really becoming a problem with many these days.

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  5. I didn't care for this movie. I've never read the book. And I was expecting a lot from this adaptation. Needless to say, the finale was a major disappointment.

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