Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Cat Among the Pigeons: review


Cat Among the Pigeons was one of the first detective stories that I read. I liked it a lot the first time round, but later I realised that it was a long way short of Dame Agatha at her best. The plot is rather cluttered, and Mark Gatiss, who wrote the screenplay for Agatha Christie’s Poirot, addressed that by making a number of pretty radical changes to the story. By and large, however, they worked, and the result was very watchable.

One change sees Poirot in at Meadowbank School from the outset. The soon-to-retire head teacher (a suitably imperious Harriet Walter) has invited him to make a speech, but then asks him to stay on at the school to assess the quality of the potential candidates to succeed her. Not very likely, but a device to allow Poirot to dominate proceedings from start to finish, and in story-telling terms, this was a good idea.

Mrs Upjohn (played by Pippa Haywood, who I used to like in The Brittas Empire, and who seems destined to be typecast as a scatty woman) recognises someone at the school who is supposed to have died years ago – but nobody follows up on this tantalising remark, and she promptly takes herself off to Anatolia. A sequence of murders and other crimes duly ensue.

The cast includes Claire Skinner (best known as the harassed mum in Outnumbered), but inevitably David Suchet turns in the most memorable performance, somehow convincing us that Poirot would be completely at ease in the (to him) wholly alien surroundings of Meadowbank. Overall, I’d say this is one of those Poirots where the television version is on a par with the book which sourced it.

8 comments:

Hannah Stoneham said...

thank you for posting this interesting piece. I have read the book and although I am a true Agatha Christie fan - I found it rather unsatisfactory.... The changes sounds very good.

thanks for sharing

Hannah

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - I'm *so* glad you enjoyed this! I did, too, when I saw it, and I have to agree completely with your assessment. I liked Cat Among the Pigeons better than you did, I think, but I also think you're right that the television plot is pretty good.

Nan said...

I really enjoyed this televised version, though I have not read the book. I just saw the wonderful Harriet Walter in an episode of New Tricks. We are loving that show - three older men working on old cases under a great boss. I had a link on my blog a while ago to something she has put together which I think is terrific:

http://www.wimbledon.arts.ac.uk/51917.htm

Anonymous said...

Mark Gatiss is, I think, the best of the recent adaptors. He is not only a professional, he is also a Christie fan, and as such can remain true to the spirit of the book whilst knowing which parts of the story need to be changed.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I liked it a lot the first time I read it--but I was a teenager and haven't read it since. I wonder if I'd be disappointed now?

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Ann Elle Altman said...

I've seen it also.. and you're right, not where I've pictured him but I did like the changes the movie made as compared to the book.

ann

vegetableduck said...

Martin, I agree, I thought this was one of the best modern Poirot adaptations. It kept the charm of the book, refraining from introducing any thrilling modern-day innovations, like incest, serial killing or child molestation! There was rather a Harry Potter feel to the whole thing (no magic though, unless Poirot is a wizard).

Anonymous said...

I agree. I found the tv version a welcome relief after the increasingly dark tone of some of the recent adaptations; there was a sort of simple cheerfulness about it that made it more like one of the pre-war Christies.
I quite like the book, too, and it's worth reading in tandem with Josephine Tey's Miss Pym Disposes (1946), set in an upmarket Ladies Physical Training College. Like Poirot, Miss Pym is the outsider who through empathy and intellect brings resolution to a troubled institution. (That sounds pompous: actually, Tey has a light, often drily humorous touch and Miss P herself is a very likeable character.)
If you like to read such things in threes, there's the still earlier Laurels Are Poison (1942)by Gladys Mitchell, in which her Mrs Bradley temporarily takes over the running of a young women's teacher training college. I'm not sure Mrs Bradley ever leaves untroubled resolution in her wake, but it makes an interesting contrast to the other two!