This set, "Agatha Christie's Poirot - Classic Crimes Collection," consists of four of Dame Agatha's Poirot novels dramatized at TV feature length. The four novels are "The Mystery of the Blue Train" (1928), "Cards on the Table" (1936), "Taken at the Flood" (1948) and "After the Funeral" (1953). Four other novels are dramatized in the companion set, "Agatha Christie's Poirot - The New Mysteries Collection." The two sets display the output of the new A&E production team.
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 reviewers, 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 reviewers note that the new scripts make references to modern sexual sensibilities in ways 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 on leave to recover back in England. 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 1849. 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 convenience, the original series was notionally 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 considerations aside, her older sister had made a bet with her that she couldn't do it!) She and her dashing husband Archie Christie were bright young things, but on their beam ends financially. She once wrote a self-pitying letter in which she complained she 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, with twelve stories of his Canon yet to be written. After collecting a set of galling rejections, Agatha's first book, "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" and Hercule Poirot finally 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, a background figure in all but a single short story.
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, I presume, to humanize the little Belgian detective and to ease the endless task of explaining plot points.
In 1926, Christie hit the big time with her seventh book, "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd." She was 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 now-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. The producers really ought to bring the trio 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. (And yes, I am aware of such people as Sackville-West and Trefusis, but that was a juicy scandal, not a casual aside, as in "The Hollow" in the companion series.)
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 well-designed 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, uninteresting. Instead of bright, clean-lined Art Deco, we see nothing but the same-old-same-old Masterpiece Theater/A&E Presents visuals blahs that turn up a dozen times a week on PBS. Even worse is the rhythm of the new series. With the regularity--not to mention the soul of a stopwatch, everything periodically comes to a lurching halt. (Why they do not display a black 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 productions of (sometimes VERY) loose adaptations of Christie's mid-career novels. They're good enough, but 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.