Spoiler alert: some vague Curtain spoilers towards the end
In 2013, ITV’s long-running adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot novels and short stories came to an end. For nearly 25 years, David Suchet played Christie’s famous Belgian sleuth on screen, performing in versions of (almost) all the original source stories. And I watched (almost) all of these performances. But not all of them… because I still haven’t been able to watch Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case.
The first episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot (‘The Adventure of the Clapham Cook’) aired on the 8th January 1989. I was ten, and I watched it with my mum. As it was shown on a Sunday, my English grandma will have phoned us at some point (either before or after the episode was shown – I can’t remember exactly for the first series, but I know she rang afterwards for some later episodes). My grandma had read a lot of Agatha Christie novels – when the BBC broadcast their adaptations of the Miss Marple novels (1984-1992), I remember being very impressed that she already knew whodunit before the episodes even aired (though she would never ever tell me).
I read my first Agatha Christie novel when I was about 12 – I’m pretty sure it was Dead Man’s Folly, and I’m pretty sure I borrowed it while I was staying with my grandparents. By then, I’d have watched at least the entire first series of the ITV (or, more accurately, LWT) Poirot, probably the second one as well. So, in my young mind, Poirot was David Suchet, and that’s how I pictured him as I read (ditto Miss Marple and Joan Hickson when I read A Murder is Announced a year or so later). I continued to watch new episodes of Poirot with my mum, and to talk to my grandma about the stories – I have a vague memory that once, during a particularly tricky mystery, she rang during the last advert break to see if I’d worked it out. And she wouldn’t tell me if I was right or not either.
My grandma died in 1993, and I inherited her collection of Agatha Christie novels. In 1995, I started working in Oxfam shops and topped up my grandma’s Christie library with paperback editions of many of the remaining titles. At the time, I was working at Oxfam during the day and then shelf-stacking at Wilkinson’s in the evening; I had an hour and a half in between one job finishing and the next starting – not enough time to go home, but more than enough time to read a big chunk of an Agatha Christie novel. There are certain books – The Big Four, Endless Night, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, among others – that never fail to take me back to that period of my life. (To be fair, I also read a lot of Dorothy L. Sayers at this time as well.) I read Curtain for the first time when I was about 16 – I was quite a weird teenager, so the darkness of the story really appealed to me. It still does, to be honest (I’m quite a weird adult).
When I was an undergraduate, I took one module on Crime Fiction, which included writing an essay on the function/presentation of the detective in the work of a Golden Age writer (I chose Agatha Christie, and wrote a lot about Poirot). But other than this, I wouldn’t have thought I was a particularly ‘full-on’ Christie fan. In fact, for a while, I would’ve said I liked Margery Allingham more (and I do really love Albert Campion). After Poirot’s hiatus in the late 90s (when the short story adaptations were finished and the show switched to feature-length adaptations of novels), I carried on watching Suchet as the little Belgian detective. There was a bit of nostalgia by then, though. Christopher Gunning’s iconic theme tune (like Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley’s Miss Marple theme) took me back to my childhood with its opening notes, and there was something comfy and reassuring about that. I remember watching The Murder of Roger Ackroyd with my flatmate – the episode first aired on 2nd January 2000, and we were recovering from having seriously partied like it was 1999 – and the pair of us cheering like idiots when Inspector Japp appeared on screen. Because it was Inspector Japp, and that meant everything was probably going to be okay (in our defence – we were really hungover). I remember watching Sad Cypress on Boxing Day 2003 (while I was going through some horrible personal stuff), and it was like wrapping myself up in a comfort blanket (albeit a rather sombre, murdery one).
But I would never have described myself as a massive Poirot fan. It was just something that was there, in the background, whenever you fancied it. After the advent of catch-up TV, I didn’t always watch new episodes when they were broadcast, and I missed some of the ones based on books I’m not as keen on (The Clocks, Taken at the Flood) completely the first time round. I was aware (from interviews as early as 2007) that it was David Suchet’s ambition to film all of Christie’s Poirot stories – and the completist in me saluted this ambition – but I lost track of how many were left to go. In 2011, it was announced that ITV were to film the last five stories, and that this would include Curtain. Again, I saluted Suchet as a fellow completist and was impressed by his commitment to tackle Curtain (it’s one of my favourite Agatha Christie novels, but a bold step for a beloved ITV drama).
And then came 2014. Because I didn’t consider myself a die-hard fan, I didn’t actually watch the final five episodes when they were broadcast in 2013. Instead, I bought them as downloads and saved them for later as a treat (in retrospect… maybe that’s even more fannish than watching them when they were broadcast?). I watched Elephants Can Remember and Dead Man’s Folly (both based on books I love) with a growing sadness that I was getting towards the end of a programme that I’d been fond of since I was a child. Suddenly, it felt like this might be a bit more momentous than I’d previously thought. And then I put The Big Four on…
… and I burst into tears during the opening scenes and switched it off. I can’t explain what happened – and I know I confused my husband a bit – but the idea that I would soon have to say goodbye to Poirot made me ridiculously emotional. To be clear: it wasn’t the idea of Poirot’s death that upset me – I’ve read Curtain several times and I love it – it was the idea of watching David Suchet’s Poirot die that I couldn’t handle. Sorry for sounding over-the-top, but I actually got a lump in my throat just writing that sentence.
I finally steeled myself to watch The Big Four and The Labours of Hercules, and then I cued up Curtain: Poirot's Last Case ready to play. But I didn't press play. And I still haven’t. This is a programme that has been a cosy, comfortable, reassuring background to my life since I was ten, something that I associate with my grandma and my childhood and my first job and various other ups-and-downs of my life… and I don’t know how to say goodbye. I’ve tried again (twice), and I’ve reread Curtain to prepare myself, but I just haven’t felt ready to watch that episode. I know this all sounds ridiculous, and I’m really not normally this sentimental, but here we are.
But Suchet has been completist, so I feel like I should be too. I feel like Poirot has been more significant to my life than I’d previously thought, so I owe it to the show to watch the final episode. Given that my earlier attempts failed, I’ve decided to try a different approach for 2016.
I asked myself: what would Poirot do? Order and method, that’s what. I will take a methodical approach to this and, by the end of 2016, I will be ready to watch Curtain and say goodbye to what is (apparently) my favourite ever television show.
And so begins the Poirot Project. I am going to reread and then rewatch each episode of Poirot, reviewing each one as I go. I’ll watch them in the order that they were broadcast in, and reread the source story/novel just before watching (and I have a spreadsheet to keep track – Miss Lemon would’ve liked my spreadsheet). Then, having completely done justice to the show, I’ll finally be ready to let go and watch Curtain. My plan is foolproof.
My next post will be a review of the first episode of Series 1, and it would be great if you followed my (slightly overthought) project as it develops. Here are a couple of general points if you do want to keep reading:
- After today, most of my posts will contain spoilers. I thought about keeping them spoiler-free, but I’d like to talk about the relationship between the books and the adaptations, and that’s really hard to do without mentioning key plot points.
- For the short stories, I’ll mostly be referring to the HarperCollins 1999 edition of The Complete Short Stories. Occasionally, I might refer to other versions of the story, in which case I’ll say which publication I’ve used. Novels will be whichever edition I happen to have on my shelf.
- I’m not a Christie expert by any means. If I get any publication dates and details wrong, please correct me!
- I’m also not an expert in the production details of the ITV show. I don’t know much about the production of each episode or (except in a few cases) the filming locations. Other bloggers have reviewed the series episode-by-episode and have a lot more information about this. This fascinating blog, for instance, has some great background info for each episode. I’m just writing my posts as a personal project, because I want to acknowledge my love of the show and its star.