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Elinor Carlisle seems to have everything; she is engaged to the man that she loves and she is in line for a massive inheritance from her wealthy aunt, Mrs Welman. With her fiancee Roddy Winter, who is also related to her aunt, she goes to visit her aunt who is desperately ill following a warning about someone who is after her aunt's money. Elinor is suprised to find that Mary Gerrard, the daughter of the old gardener is in situ, having returned from studying abroad, which Mrs Welman funded. Then she realises that Roddy has fallen for Mary and, after the slightly unexpected death of her aunt, she is forced to break off her engagement. Deeply upset by this, she spends her time wishing that Mary was dead. And then, Mary does die, apparently poisoned, and Elinor finds herself accused of both Mary's murder, and the hastening of her aunt's death. Poirot initially believes she must be guilty; but soon begins to look at other possibilities.
The wonderful David Suchet returns to play Hercule Poirot, and, as ever, is the perfect reincarnation of the Poirot of the Agatha Christie books. He looks the part, sticking closely to the mannerisms and occasional smugness that Poirot is described as having, and his accent sounds flawless to me. The only minor issue I can find is that he has an ability to solve mysteries that seem superhuman at times - there's probably a very ordinary reason that he is able to do so, but it is glossed over here and does make it seem a little unlikely. However, I don't really think that it has anything to do with David Suchet's ability as an actor, but rather the translation of the story onto the screen and Agatha Christie's own writing. His role in this particular Poirot episode doesn't really add any layers to his character, but because the story is so intriguing, that doesn't really matter.
As usual, there is a host of famous actors in the starring roles. Elisabeth Dermot Walsh, who is currently starring in Doctors, plays Elinor Carlisle and is surprisingly excellent in the role - and she looks absolutely wonderful as well. She portrays Elinor's heartbreak and breakdown very well - Elinor's behaviour is so out of character and strange that it is no wonder she was suspected of a double murder. She makes a superb leading lady just for her acting, and her porcelain skin and gorgeous thirties hairstyle only serve to highlight that. I have never been particularly impressed by this actress before, but she has more than made up for it here. Rupert Penry-Jones plays Roddy and, although he doesn't have a huge part, does do it justice by being just austere enough to be a thorough 'cad'.
Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes, Eden Lake, Above Suspicion) plays Mary Gerrard and most definitely shows promise. Mary is a strange girl, apparently harmless, but something about the way that Reilly plays the role makes her seem slightly creepy - which is exactly how she is meant to be. It's slightly hard to see why Roddy would prefer her to Elinor, but that's just my opinion. Paul McGann appears as Mrs Welman's doctor and a potential love interest for Elinor. It's not a big role, but McGann handles it well and wins over the sympathy of the audience. Finally, it was great to see Diana Quick as Mrs Welman. She is not on screen for very long, but when she is, her ability to portray someone who is about to take their last gasp is stunning! In some Poirot films, it is distracting trying to work out who the actors are, but I think it is a sign of the quality of this particular episode that I was absorbed by the story instead.
This isn't one of my favourite Poirot stories, but it is nevertheless difficult to find anything very wrong with it. There is absolutely no way of guessing the ending - there are clues there, but without all the information that Poirot is apparently privy to, it is impossible to put them all together to find out the truth. Probably the best part about the story is the way that Elinor Carlisle immediately wins the viewer's sympathy - Elisabeth Dermot Walsh does deserve to be commended for this, but she is merely mirroring the book. This grabs the viewer's attention because it is unthinkable to believe that she committed the murders - and yet, there seems to be no way that she isn't guilty. This is the result of a master storyteller's work and I am just delighted that Dave Moore, the director, and David Pirie, who wrote the screenplay managed to translate it over so very accurately.
As always with the Poirot episodes, the attention to period detail is stunning. Filmed at Dorney Court, Dorney, Buckinghamshire, the location is perfect, complete with beautiful house and gardens. I'm not sure whether the scenes in the interior of the house was filmed within the house or at a studio, but certainly, if it was the latter, a huge amount of work went into making it look completely realistic. I think it is the attention to detail that is spent on hair, make-up and clothes, however, that really make this episode stunning. I'm not an expert on the period (the book was published in 1940, so I presume the story is set in the 1930s), but it looks good and for the majority of viewers, that is exactly what is required.
Despite the double murder, there isn't much in the episode that is likely to upset or offend - as is the case with the majority of Agatha Christie televisations. Children may be upset by the manner in which Mrs Welman struggles to breathe towards the end of her life, but Mary merely looks as though she is asleep when she is dead. There is a slightly disturbing Poirot dream sequence that is a little bit creepier than I have come to expect, but I doubt it will shock many. Having said that, the story is all about murder and human beings' evil nature, so it is almost certainly a good idea to vet children watching. The rating of 12 is about right.
There are no extras with the DVD - just the feature.
On the whole, this is one of the Poirot episodes that really must be seen. It isn't my favourite - that honour goes to Five Little Pigs and Hercule Poirot's Christmas - but it is right up there with the best. Of course, if crime fiction isn't your thing, then you aren't going to like it, but if you do and haven't yet seen it, you will probably enjoy it. I've watched it at least ten times and still enjoy it each time I see it. Highly recommended.
The DVD is available from Amazon from £4.
Running time: 94 minutes