Wednesday, July 22, 2020

TV Movie Review - Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Based on the book by Agatha Christie
Starring: David Suchet, Roger Frost, Oliver Ford Davies, Malcolm Terris, Nigel Cooke, Jamie Bamber, Rosalind Bailey, Gregor Truter, Clive Brunt, Selina Cadell, Daisy Beaumont, Flora Montgomery, Vivien Heilbron, and Philip Jackson
Release Date: January 2nd, 2000
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Poirot arrives at a bank. He carefully removes a waterlogged journal from a safety deposit box. He sits himself down and reviews the journal of a depraved mind. A mind for murder. The events of which happened when Poirot retired to King's Abbot to grow mallows. On the day that Mrs. Ferrars was to kill herself Dr. Sheppard accompanied Roger Ackroyd's butler over to his neighbor Poirot's house. Poirot was attempting to successfully cultivate mallows with the loving care only an obsessive compulsive could lavish on the vegetables and yet he does not succeed. Thankfully Parker has come at the request of his employer to ask if Poirot's tour of the factory could be moved forward an hour, to which Poirot is glad to accede, the mallows will only frustrate him more. Years earlier Poirot lent his friend Roger Ackroyd startup capital and he has turned it into an empire. An empire with many pieces and many players, some of whom aren't happy. Before the tour concludes, Poirot will see Roger's unhappy secretary, Geoffrey Raymond, and Roger's distraught stepson, Ralph Paton, who is begging his father to not announce his engagement to Flora Ackroyd, Roger's niece, in this coming Sunday's paper, as well as a frantic phone call from Mrs. Ferrars. That night Mrs. Ferrars takes her own life and the next morning Roger asks Poirot to stop by his house. Poirot is disturbed to learn that Mrs. Ferrars was being blackmailed, though she refused to say who the culprit was. Poirot leaves as a dinner party arrives at Roger's house and he goes home to ruminate. Something isn't sitting right with him and he's worried for his friend. He has every reason to be worried because by the time Poirot returns to Roger's house later that evening Roger is dead, in a locked room. The sequence of events seems to be simple enough and Ralph Paton seems to be the culprit, but Poirot isn't so sure. He is reluctant to return to detection but to avenge his friend he must! And when another old friend arrives to help solve the crime it's like old times. Too bad it's old times that drove Poirot to the mallows.    

I went into this episode of Poirot expecting many changes from the source material. There are some things unique to literature that can not be replicated in a visual medium. A story narrated by the killer whilst simultaneously concealing their guilt from the reader, a trope that Christie used several times, would be virtually impossible to pull off for television, so in swoops the dramatist, Clive Exton, who restructures the story to a more traditional Poirot story. He takes Poirot, who was more a spectator, an outsider in the original story and puts him in the thick of it while bringing Chief Inspector Japp along for the ride, as we have seen in countless previous adventures. And that's what I missed most about The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, I missed how unique and original it was within Poirot's cannon. I missed this different kind of story that could have been told, instead we are given a framing device of the journal of the killer, which when you read the book is actually the book you are reading. What's more Exton upped the vitriol of our killer who is woefully miscast resulting in the denouement being totally unsatisfactory. Yet, despite all this it isn't a "bad" episode, it just could have been so much more, but it is thankfully saved because of the charm of Suchet and Jackson. The nuanced humor these two actors have developed over the years of working together brings joy to the screen because you can see how much fun they are having. What's more, Suchet is so effortlessly Poirot that he brings humor and pathos to the role in even the quietest of moments. My favorite scene is at the very beginning when Dr. Sheppard and Parker come over to Poirot's house. In the book I always thought it was odd that Poirot would retire to the country in order to raise mallows. Well, here we see a far more honest depiction of how that might have gone. His exasperation with his garden given with a sigh, a grunt, a flung vegetable, and a raised eyebrow are sheer perfection. In fact I couldn't help but think his babying of his garden combined with his frustration is something all of those who have taken to our gardens during quarantine are feeling. There's a little bit of Poirot in us all I think. 


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