Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Clocks: review

Agatha Christie's Poirot remains a real treat whenever I come across a new episode, and The Clocks has been the highlight of my holiday viewing so far (not that the competition has been hot or even warm, admittedly, given that I've never got to grips with Downton Abbey).

The Clocks is a relatively late Christie novel, first published in 1963, and it's not rated very highly by connoisseurs - though I have always liked the story. The discovery of a corpse surrounded by a mysterious array of clocks is a great plot device, and even though Christie's explanation is, some would argue, a cop-out, I find it striking and memorable. Another pleasing aspect of the book is Poirot's discussion of great detective novelists, including a passing reference to John Dickson Carr, whom Christie knew and admired. There is also mention (crucial to the story-line) of a prolific author called Garry Gregson, who I believe was based on John Creasey.

I wondered how the scriptwriter would adapt the novel for television, because the story-line does throw up a lot of challenges - not least the fact that Poirot only takes centre stage quite late in the book. Stewart Harcourt's solution was to adapt very freely indeed, and move the story back in time by a quarter of a century - a risky course. There have been all too many Christie adaptations over the years where radical changes have been made, and the result has been a bit of a mess. But that isn't always the case, by any means, and I'm not one of those purists who believes that a novel must invariably be translated to the small screen in a totally faithful fashion. The screenwriter often needs to have some licence. And in this case, I felt that the end justified the means. The mystery was pleasingly unravelled, and although I had one or two quibbles, I found the two hours passed very agreeably: Harcourt did a good job.

David Suchet, as usual, was splendid as Poirot. It was especially poignant to see the late Anna Massey playing the part of the blind but sharp-witted Millicent Pebmarsh - she was a terrific actor. And the supporting cast was good, with none of the over-the-top acting we've seen in one or two Poirots and Marples.

15 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - I'm so glad you liked this one. As you say, it's a good story, although it hasn't always been listed as Christie's best. And it's good to hear that the acting was good in this case. Of course, I'd expect no less from David Suchet...

Patrick said...

I think we're in agreement over this. The screenwriter did a very good job indeed, particularly well when he came up with an alternate explanation for the titular clocks. Christie's own explanation, unfortunately, was extremely dull.

The Passing Tramp said...

I'll have to watch this I guess. I was dubious about the obvious changes. I have always had a soft spot for the book, I feel like it's the last decent Poirot (Hallowe'en Party has good elements, but is sloppy). I love to think of my last image of Poirot as that of him happily composing his great history of the detective fiction genre....

As I recall Poirot/Christie mentions (under made up names) Elizabeth Daly and Freeman Wills Crofts as well.

Sarah said...

Glad you enjoyed this Martin. I stopped watching it because it is one of my favourite AC books and they were messing around with the plot too much. But Suchet was excellent as usual.

Fiona said...

Ooh - I hope we'll be able to catch up with this! We haven't even opened the Christmas Radio Times so missed it was on.....the last time the TV was switched on was Saturday for my husband to watch Merlin (and yeas, we have been home.)

aguja said...

I love Poirot, but, alas, I do not have access to it. I am so glad that you enjoyed it ... and ,yes, she was a great actress.

Deb said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who has not been able to climb aboard the "Downton Abbey" bandwagon. It just seems like a rehash of "Upstairs, Downstairs" to me, and I figure if I've already seen it, I don't need to see it again.

As for "The Clocks," I thought it was far better than some of the recent Poirot adaptations we've seen here (such as "Murder on the Orient Express") which stress Poirot's Catholicism, something Christie never did.

Martin Edwards said...

Margot, I know you are a very knowledgeable fan of Christie and I'm glad to hear you like the book too.

Martin Edwards said...

Patrick, yes, sometimes it is possible to improve even on the work of one of the greats!

Martin Edwards said...

Curt, you're right. I am hoping to start reading my first Daly soon. I think she is Louisa O'Malley in the book, but I'm not sure from memory who Florence Elks is. Crofts is Cyril Quain (I'm not quite sure why she fictionalised him, but gave Carr a name-check. Perhaps because of a slightly negativity about the mention of the alibi devlice?)

Martin Edwards said...

Sarah, Fiona, Aguja, Deb, thank you.
Fiona, sounds like you've had a fun Christmas, and there will be plenty of chances to catch up on this one.
Deb, that was my thinking about Downton too, and I've not watched any of it. Though Julian Glover is a good writer, judging by Gosford Park.

The Passing Tramp said...

Christie's comments about Crofts show she probably was not hugely familiar with his work (also her pastiche of him in Partners in Crime). I suspect she must have read The Cask when it came out in 1920 and some of the other earlier ones, but not much else.

People have this impression that Crofts had these involved railroad timetables in every book, but he really didn't. Like Christie, he introduced some important plotting innovations in the 1920s (besides alibi mechanisms).

J said...

I'm not sure I buy "Gregson" as John Creasey (and neither, I see, does John Curran). I've read quite a bit of his stuff, and I don't recall him using such flamboyant and bizarre solutions. (Michael Innes might be a better candidate...) The explanation for the clocks is dependent on information held only by Poirot, and is not really fair, is it?

Martin Edwards said...

Curt, I would guess (but it's only a guess) that Christie read quite a bit of Crofts, as I get the impression the Detection Club members of the 30s read each other quite avidly. But I may be guessing wrong.

Martin Edwards said...

J, many thanks. I agree it's certainly not a great example of Christie playing fair! But the explanation is appealing and unusual.
As to Creasey, John Curran's latest book quotes her journal as referring to "a Creasey writer" in this context I think it was the prolfic, sometimes careless nature of the writing that she may have had in mind. Though actually I think Creasey was a better crime writer than his current reputation might suggest.