David Suchet is as wonderful as ever as Hercule Poirot in this latest DVD collection from Acorn Media, Agatha Christie's Poirot: Series 11. The costumes, settings and locations are as gorgeous as ever in these first-class adaptations of Christie's mystery novels. The films stay mostly true to Christie's original novels. Two of the episodes pair Poirot with Christie's thinly-veiled spoof of herself, crime novelist Ariadne Oliver (Zoë Wanamaker).
The first film in the set, "Mrs. McGinty's Dead," seems a bit more artistically framed than previous Poirot episodes. It features one of Christie's most clever plots, with Poirot taking on a cold case and having to rough it in the country while he investigates the murder of an elderly charwoman in the small village of Broadhinny:
Poirot, "Well, I too suffer. The cooking of Madame Summerhayes; it is beyond description. Well, it is not cooking at all. The currents of the cold air. The long hairs of the dogs. The chairs. The terrible, terrible beds in which I try to sleep! And the coffee: words cannot describe to you the fluid they serve to you as coffee."
Poor persnickety Poirot. He may not be enjoying the usual creature comforts of his well-appointed London flat, but his deductive skills are as sharp as ever. Mrs. McGinty's lodger, James Bentley (Joe Absolom), had been found guilty of "coshing" her (hitting her hard on the head and killing her). Even though he assembled the evidence that will hang Bentley, Inspector Spence (Richard Hope) feels in his gut that he is innocent, and asks Poirot to investigate. Zoë Wanamaker is as delightful as ever as Poirot's friend and self-appointed sidekick, authoress Ariadne Oliver, whose famous detective, the Finn Sven Hjerson, bears a passing resemblance to Poirot. Also rounding out the stellar cast are Siân Phillips, Paul Rhys, Richard Dillane, and Sarah Smart as Maude Williams, one of the only locals who believes that Bentley is innocent.
Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) and Ariadne Oliver (Zoë Wanamaker) consider the pool of suspects
"Cat Among the Pigeons" mixes international intrigue with the upper-crust British school system. Meadowbank is an elite private girls' school, which caters to the daughters of the rich and famous, and even princesses, with its latest new pupil Princess Shaista of Ramat (Amara Karan). Soon after Princess Shaista arrives both the princess and some priceless rubies have disappeared - and one of the teachers is found murdered. The school's headmistress, Miss Bulstrode (Harriet Walter), calls in Hercule Poirot to not only solve the mystery but help prevent Meadowbank from having to close its doors permanently.
Miss Bulstrode, "I hope you're enjoying your little sojourn with us, Monsieur. I'd hate to think you were bored."
Hercule Poirot, "Bored? Pas du tout, Mademoiselle. There does not need to be present a crime for the investigator to thrive, non. Pas. This school: it is like the world in miniature. It is like the ... what is the word?"
Miss Bulstrode "Microcosm."
Hercule Poirot, "Just so. Just as in the outside world. Hopes, dreams, fears, secrets. This place: so full of the promise of youth, the future of the nation. And yet, how lonely and silent are it's corridors at night. Lonely and silent as the chambers of the heart. The daily struggle of human life. As fascinating as the bloodstain or the fingerprint."
Poirot always has such a way with words.
Poirot and Mrs. Oliver are reunited in "Third Girl," which stays mostly faithful to the original book. The biggest change is the series' decision to stay in its preferred era, the Art Deco 1930s. The novel was set in Swinging '70s London, and the author was showing her age with her criticism of the fashions and drug use of the younger set. A twenty-something girl, Norma Restarick (Jemima Rooper), comes to Poirot for help, but within a few minutes bolts, apologizing that he is simply "too old" to be able to help with her problem. This is a red flag to the aging detective, who soon discovers that she was sent to him by his old friend, Mrs. Oliver. Norma is the "third girl" in a London flat, sharing it with two others, Claudia Reece-Holland (Clemency Burton-Hill), who works as a secretary for Norma's father, and artist's model Frances Cary (Matilda Sturridge). The befuddled Norma believes that she has committed a murder, and Poirot and Mrs. Oliver must find out who exactly she may or may not have killed. And keep her from being killed herself.
The final movie in the set, "Appointment with Death," really departs from the original Christie novel and never looks back. But that doesn't mean that it isn't entertaining to watch. Christie fans can always check out the 1988 Peter Ustinov/Poirot version if they want a more faithful adaptation. While traveling to an archaeological dig in Syria, Poirot encounters the uber-dysfuncional Boynton family, whose twisted relationships eventually lead to murder. The filming locations in Morocco are simply stunning, and the cast in this version is first-rate, with Cheryl Campbell as an unpleasant matriarch, Tim Curry, John Hannah, Mark Gatiss, and Elizabeth McGovern.
The two-disc set has a total running time of approximately 398 minutes. English subtitles are available. The episodes are all in widescreen format with an aspect ratio of 1.77:1. All four episodes have been previously released by Acorn in DVD sets, so Christie and Suchet enthusiasts should check to see if they are missing these full-length mysteries from their personal collections. Agatha Christie's Poirot: Series 11 should be a welcome addition to fans of David Suchet's definitive portrayal of the little Belgian sleuth.