Poirot has taken a tight, uncomfortable, constrictive sort of a place in my heart over the last six months. I secretly flick over to ITV3 to watch the cumbersome movements of David Suchet as the bloated Belgian detective when there’s nothing else on the box.
This new behaviour I’m displaying is a major watermark in my life. Like one of the great rites of passage- my first pint, my first kiss, my first day at school, graduation day. It signifies where I am in my ‘development’- tired, sceptical, fearful of the ‘esoteric’, miserable, basically old. But I’m 30…
Over Christmas I really had taken to the spirit of all things “christmassy”. Foo Fighters had been blaring the whole holiday season whilst the television screen was adorned with Christmas classics like the 1969 version of The Italian Job, the Thomas Crown Affair (the original with Steve McQueen not the unmentionable yet mentionable version with Pierce “Pouting” Brosnan…) and Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. And Poirot! Lots and lots of Poirot.
I watched four dramatizations of Agatha Christies most famous character over the festive period- David Suchet’s iconic made-for-TV portrayal, Peter Ustinov’s charismatic take on the greatest detective in the world, Kenneth Branagh’s bizarrely moustachioed version and most recently John Malkovich’s subtle yet powerful portrayal of the detective at his weakest- the end of his career.
The ABC Murders played back to back (to back) ((there were three episodes)) at some point in the vortex of time between Christmas and New Year. Poirot was reluctantly called out of retirement, being sent mysterious letters obscurely signed ‘ABC’, mocking the famous Belgian detective whilst warning of the next murder to take place somewhere along the British rail network.
In this version the famous Hercule Poirot is famous no more. Malkovich (and series creator Alex Gabassi’s) telling of Poirot is of a former detective and refugee thrown on the scrap heap by a police force moved on from using the help of flamboyant, eccentric, slightly conceited, and certainly foreign consultation. Instead the Met is now run by the young, forthcoming, slightly dim and “reassuringly British” Inspector Crome (played by a surprisingly good Rupert Grint).
I saw Malkovich produce a play that ran at the Kingston Theatre titled Good Canary in 2016. It was a remarkable piece of theatre that starred his fellow co-star in The ABC Murders, Freya Mavor- who seems to be coming along as one of the best up-and-coming melodramatic actors on screen and stage (if you’d seen Good Canary you’d understand no one can throw a tantrum like Freya.)
Good Canary was expertly produced, Malkovich bringing all his Hollywood experience to the small stage to create a slick, professional piece of theatrical art, and he’s used what seems to be his Midas touch once again on Poirot.
The ABC murders was an impressive looking piece of TV but what came across more than the stylish suits and the stunning steam engines of the 60s, was how dark this telling of Poirot was. Eamon Farren as the framed victim Cust demonstrates this best in some truly harrowing depictions of undiagnosed epilepsy in the mid20th century.
Poirot’s a right of a passage in the acting profession, similar to any Shakespeare protagonist. A character that can be taken up by any actor willing to pit their skills against their fellow luminaries. Malkovich put his reputation on the line in the vortex between Christmas and New Year, and came out shining.
Catch the ABC Murders on BBC iPlayer now.