Monday 4 January 2010

Agatha Christie's Poirot - Three Act Tragedy: review

Three Act Tragedy, with David Suchet as Poirot, was shown on ITV1 last night and proved to be the best Agatha Christie adaptation I’ve seen in quite a while. The novel was one of the first mysteries I ever read, and stands out in my memory as a truly enjoyable read, so I was delighted that the screenplay by Nick Dear stayed as faithful to the original as one could reasonably hope.

The story opens at the Cornish home of a famous actor, Sir Charles Cartwright, played by Martin Shaw. Poirot is present at a party which turns to tragedy when a local vicar dies suddenly. An inquest rules out foul play, but Sir Charles is not satisfied – and neither, of course, is the typical Christie fan. A month later, in Monte Carlo, he shows Poirot a news report of the apparent murder of Bartholomew Strange (Art Malik, who seems to appear sooner or later in every detective series) at his Yorkshire home – in the middle of a party with an almost identical guest list. Sir Charles and Poirot hot-foot it to Yorkshire to investigate, and suspicion falls on an enigmatic butler, who has disappeared in mysterious circumstances. But can he really be the guilty party?

The locations in this story may not be quite as exotic as those in the Christies set in the Middle East, but they were equally sumptuous. As usual, the supporting cast, which included Jane Asher, was first-rate. It goes without saying that Suchet was great, but Martin Shaw, I thought, was as at his very best – he obviously relished the role. I was glad that the book’s excellent last line, one of Christie’s best, was retained.

The book tends not to be ranked along with Christie masterpieces, and I suspect this is because most of the characters have no compelling motive to kill either the vicar or Strange. They were equally lightly sketched in Nick Dear’s otherwise very effective screenplay (which omits altogether Mr Satterthwaite, who acts as a sidekick in the novel.) But I think the concept behind the book is marvellously cunning – especially in the way the first murder is explained – and as far as I know it is original to Christie. A clever mystery, turned into splendid Sunday evening viewing.


Anonymous said...

Martin - Thanks so much for reviewing this episode. You're right that this novel wasn't ranked among Christie's best, but for my part, I really liked some of the characterization. I liked Lady Mary Lytton Gore and her daughter quite a lot, and I thought Christie dealt with the motive for the killing in a way that was ahead of her time.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Haven't read this one for a while--thanks for reminding me about it, Martin. I'll give it another read.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Kerrie said...

I'm about to read this one Martin, but the idea of watching it with Martin Shaw in it is very appealing.
It would be lovely if you could add this to the Agatha Christie Blog Carnival too :-)

Deb said...

I hope this adaptation helps erase the memory of a very poor made-for-TV adaptation from the 1980s with Peter Ustinov as Poirot (he wasn't bad as Poirot in some of the other adaptations, but he was absolutely dreadful in this one--a complete ham) and Tony Curtis (!) as Sir Charles (what more needs to be said about the awfulness of the production when you have Ustinov and Curtis trying to out-do each other in the haminess department?)

It was filmed in a beautiful house in Mexico--the best thing about the production--and managed to transplant the story there (and enlarge the number of characters) to no avail. We watched it just a few weeks ago and our response was, "That sound you hear is poor Agatha Christie turning in her grave." It really was one of the worst Christie adaptations I've ever seen. I look forward to seeing this one--and forgetting about the other.

Nan said...

Oh, the man who played George Gently! How we enjoyed him in that part. I expect Three Act Tragedy will come over here sometime, and I'll be on the lookout for it. I'll try to read the book first. Just saw Art M. in a Lewis episode. The first time we saw him was in Jewel in the Crown ages ago. I'll have to see what other mysteries he has been in.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, as ever, for your comments.
Kerrie, will do.
Deb, the Ustinov and Curtis version passed me by - sounds as though it was just as well!
Hi Nan - you may also have seen Martin Shaw as the latest Adam Dalgleish, and - long ago - in The Professionals. Art Malik was in The Black Tower (with Roy Marsden as Dalgleish), amongst others.

Anonymous said...

Nan - you'll find Martin Shaw absolutely wonderful in this!

Deb - I saw the Tony Curtis, too. Really weird. Those shorts!

Deb said...

Oh bookwitch, I'm glad you mentioned the husband and I were falling down laughing at Curtis's shorty-shorts and bouffant hairdo. I kept saying, "He's nothing like Sir Charles in the book," to which my wise husband replied, "I think the first issue is that Tony Curtis is trying to play a character who is named SIR Charles!"

Unknown said...

I have grown to appreciate a good mystery and Poirot is very stimulating for my little grey cells!

The Rush Blog said...

There were two things about this adaptation that I disliked. One, the screenwriter changed the killer's motive . . . unnecessarily. Christie's motive was a lot more original and interesting. And two, the screenplay had Poirot losing his temper at the Oliver Manders character . . . unnecessarily. And I hate it when Suchet portrays an angry or outraged Poirot. He tends to get hammy.