BWW Recap: CURTAIN: POIROT'S LAST CASE Packs a Punch
The final, 70th episode in the dramatization of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot stories, CURTAIN, starring David Suchet in his definitive portrayal of the Belgian detective, is now being streamed by AcornTV. This long-awaited episode, a career-capping achievement for Suchet, does not disappoint; it is among the best of the more recent Poirot episodes, and is relatively faithful to Christie's novel, written in the 1940's and published in 1975.
While multiple suspicious characters and blind alleyways abound in this 90 minute adaptation, the plot does not rely as heavily on familiar Christie parlor tricks such as unbelievable double identities. Instead, it explores a much more psychological landscape, particularly in terms of Poirot himself, his longtime friend Hastings (Hugh Fraser), and a diabolical psychopath who revels in provocation rather than personal bloodletting. The posed moral conundrums speak to Christie's power as an author, beyond any entertainment value of the whodunit quick read. The dramatization here also owes its success to good direction, superb production values, and solid acting from leads that fully understand their characters (and in turn character flaws). SPOILER ALERT: It stands to reason that only the master detective himself would have the intelligence and skills to commit the true "perfect murder".
Our first wordless images are of a past trial and execution, the subtext for this episode. We then meet Hastings, Poirot's longstanding (and long-suffering) friend, arriving for a stay at Styles, a manor house and scene of a murder thirty years earlier that brought the two of them together. Now in gloomy post-World War II England, the manor house is no longer elegant; Styles is now a guest house, owned by a bickering, aging couple, the Luttrell's. Hastings, now a widower, has been invited to stay by his daughter, Judith, also a guest, but the real draw is the opportunity to spend time with his aged friend, Poirot. Poirot, keenly intelligent as ever, but betrayed by an enfeebled body and now in a wheelchair, believes that Styles will be the site of another murder, but will not confide his suspicions to the befuddled-as-ever Hastings. While he peevishly mocks Hastings, Poirot also relies on Hastings to be his eyes and ears for collecting information about the various guests, who are not a particularly likeable bunch. They include Judith's boss, Dr. Franklin, who researches alkaloids and yearns to conduct experiments in Africa, if he was not tied down by his manipulative wife, Barbara, an invalid of uncertain and doubtful diagnosis. She in turn uses the aristocratic William Boyd Carrington, a childhood friend who still carries a torch for her. Judith, frequently at loggerheads with her father, seems to be involved in a romantic intrigue with Major Allerton, a womanizer and pill-popper of scandalous renown. There are also two sad sack characters: Elizabeth Cole, the sister of the woman executed in the opening scene for killing their father, and Stephen Norton, a stammering mama's boy who is friend to all and lover to none. All of these people have been parties to some murder scenario or location at some point, with reactions varying from trauma to blithe disregard. Hastings, himself a party to so many of Poirot's investigations, remains something of a naïf, easily shocked by the wickedness of the world.
The perpetually nagged Capt. Lutrell shoots his wife on the flimsy pretense of mistaking her for a rabbit, but she is only winged and quickly recovers. Hastings dutifully reports these events and related conversations to Poirot, whose agitation and ill-temper beget a rather cruel appraisal of his friend. The great detective, bedridden and fuming, relies on both his cardiac medicine and his nearby rosary. Hastings is troubled by his daughter's behavior and attitudes, and this only increases when Norton winds him up with more information about Allerton's Lothario reputation and his devastating effect on women whom he inevitably abandons. We also see Hastings' pain as a widower, which in true stiff upper-lip fashion, he hides from his daughter. Barbara Franklin leaves her bed long enough to enjoy a stint of retail therapy, with Carrington literally carrying the bags while her saintly husband slaves over his scientific work. Barbara's glee, however, is cut short when she espies Carrington making a play for her nurse.