Thursday, July 31, 2014

Agatha Christie's Poirot - Dead Man's Folly - Episode Review

My review of last week's episode: The Big Four

Like most TV shows throughout the last decades, Agatha Christie's Poirot has become progressively darker, but Dead Man's Folly is a welcome return to a simpler age (similar to The Big Four, which I had not seen when I first saw this episode). Yes, a simpler age with murder, adultery, and other deadly sins, but they're all mercifully off-screen, and I'll have no qualms in watching this with my younger siblings. (True enough, I love the Suchet adaptation of Orient Express, but it's nice to have something lighter once again.)
With summer in the air, wealthy squire Sir George Stubbs and his fragile, childlike wife Hattie plan a grand fĂȘte for their Devonshire neighbors to celebrate their recent acquisition of Nasse House. Fancy dress, fortune telling, and a coconut shy are all scheduled, as well as a murder hunt designed by mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver. But Mrs Oliver is convinced something is amiss, and asks Hercule Poirot to attend the festivities as a means to put her mind at rest.

In this classic Christie plot, we have an enormous cast of barely distinguishable British suspects, a garden fete, a murder. The first half the plot is heavy on exposition, and feels a little staged as character after character walk up to Poirot and begin to talk about themselves and their backgrounds. The cast would have been much more manageable if several characters had been cut, but the significant ones stick out just enough to remember who's who. The necessarily heavy amount of suspect interviews is relieved by inter-cutting punctuated with moments of Mrs. Oliver. Cadfael and Lewis fans will notice Hugh Beringar (Sean Pertwee) and Superintendent Innocent (Rebecca Front) among the crew.

Sinead Cusack a.k.a. Mrs. Jeremy Irons - this performance means

all three Cusack sisters (Niamh, Sorscha) have appeared in Poirot,

just in case you weren't wondering
The setting (which is actually Greenway, Agatha Christie's home), is simply spectacular. The camera lingers on the breathtaking surroundings of the stately house, characters wander among enormous flowering rhododendrons, stand beside stretches of still water, and murder one another in graceful woodlands. The visuals were one of the episode's greatest strengths.

As I mentioned, it also presents a wonderful return to the levity of the earlier Poirot. Zoe Wanamaker as Mrs. Oliver is a delight, delivering great one-liners with trademark dryness. Poirot himself is more lighthearted, finding himself in a number of humorous situations. It nearly reaches the level of the old series, but remains believable within the character of the more subdued, elderly Poirot.

Dame Agatha's ridiculously complex conclusion is present, together with a hint at the events of upcoming episodes. This hint is the episode's weakest point, breaking markedly from the overall tone and sacrificing character for an ill-judged moment of foreshadowing, but can, in the end, be excused as a small blight on the face of this excellent, old-fashioned adaptation.

My review of next week's episode: Elephants Can Remember.

4.5/5 stars


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