I am the detective unique; unsurpassed; the greatest that ever lived!
In (what is becoming an unintentionally long) line of tributes to ”the finest contributions of Belgium to the world”, the world’s greatest detective holds a position very dear to the hearts of all crime fiction aficionados, detective novel fans and whodunnit mysteries enthusiasts.
Hercule Poirot is the world’s most endearing sleuth; the little Belgian detective with a keen eye for detail, a huge ego matched only by his obsession with order and symmetry, a true eccentric with a peculiar sense of humour and a dark side, an aura of loneliness befitting a mind that thrives in puzzling plots and vile murders, mysteries of the human psychology.
Amusingly, it took a prominent English mind to create the famous Belgian sleuth. Agatha Christie, the biggest selling novelist of all times (by some accounts, only the Bible and Shakespeare are more widely read) wrote 33 novels and 56 short stories about Poirot. Agatha died on 12 January 1976 at the age of 85. When, a decade later BAFTA winning producer Brian Eastman approached her family about making at TV series featuring Poirot, her daughter not only suggested which of these shorter stories would be more suitably adapted for television but also one particular actor who, she thought, would be perfect for the role.
On 8 January 1989, 13 years after Agatha Christie’s death, David Suchet became Hercules Poirot. To get under the detective’s skin, he studied all the books and everything he could find about the character, down to the slightest detail like the precise symmetry and size his breakfast eggs should have or the little dubbing with the serviette on his waxed moustache.
To master the accent, Suchet listened to ”country” French, ”Parisian” French, Belgian French, Belgian Flemish, mixed everything in and moved the position of the verb in the sentence: ”Yes, ‘astings, we pull ever so gently, ze leg”; then he changed his own deep voice to the higher, lighter tone of Poirot. He achieved his distinctive walk by squeezing his bottom so tight he couldn’t take long strides. He had learned earlier – when he was an out of work actor – how to do bow ties; he did his own bow tie every time and it was so perfect, people thought it was a ready-made one. He endured stiff collars, waistcoats and a full body pudding underneath, which would become his second skin for most of his working life!
About 25 years and 70 episodes later David Suchet became the definitive Poirot; his portrayal of the character would have made Agatha Christie proud; he certainly won over Agatha’s family and charmed hoards of loyal fans. Assisted in his work by sidekick Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser), his secretary Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) and Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson), Poirot’s little grey cells worked hard to solve the most cunning plots, malicious murders and unravel countless dark mysteries.
One of my favourite episodes viewed so far (just reached series 5, aired in 1993) is ”The Chocolate Box”.
It must have been one of the most challenging for Suchet who was featured both as a young officer, in the beginning of his career as a policeman in Belgium 30 years earlier and as the middle aged Poirot returning to Brussels to accompany Chief Inspector Japp to a ceremony in his honour. Took a fair amount of make up to portray a much younger man but it was chiefly Suchet’s mastery and subtle adaptations in manière and discrete humour that made this 30-year span so believable.
Filmed in some of Brussels’ most iconic locations, a wonderful time travel to a bygone era; a view on Brussels surrounded by stunningly beautiful costumes, styles and ornaments of the 30s…
… and a bit of Antwerp too: for ”The Chocolate Box” Antwerp’s Central Station became ”Gare de Bruxelles”:
Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp lodged in the historical Hotel Metropole; a 19th century hotel still in operation today. Its lobby retains much of the original lavish decoration:
The Hotel’s dinning area (as the filmakers envisioned it):
Poirot attends a hearing on the death of an influential politician, Paul Deroulard in the immense ”Palais de Justice” – Law Courts of Brussels:
Deroulard lived here:
Tea & sympathy with Ms Virginie Mesnard, supremely played by Anna Chancellor, a cousin of the family convinced that the politician’s death was not of natural causes; and the first glimpse of something deeper:
Poirot’s return to Brussels was a tour in the most gorgeous locations; the Cinquantenaire Park:
The Grand Place; a game of chess and the omnipresent chocolate box:
At Mokafe, Galeries Royales St. Hubert – right behind the Grand Place:
Pharmacie Botanique – now Pharmarais. They only had to work on the costumes; the bottles, porcelains and wood shelves, are all still there:
At the Musée du Transport Urbain Bruxellois / Brussels Urbain Transport Museum: those trams and buses are still running on Sundays or hired for special occasions (like filming an episode of Poirot):
This is the episode where Poirot falls in love and receives his little silver vase that he always wears as a brooch. A touching, heartbreaking story in true Poirot gallant style, his little grey cells glowing with affection.
This monumental undertaking came to an end with the adaptation of Christie’s last story around Poirot. ”The Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case” was released on 13 November 2013. But the greatest detective’s little grey cells will shine on.
For everything about this series, chronology, plots and locations episode-by-episode, have a look at this extremely well informed, amazing website: Investigating Poirot.