Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective is back in episodes of the famed mystery series, first broadcast back in 2008 and 2009. Series star David Suchet returns to his signature role as Hercule Poirot, having carried the role on British television and PBS since 1989. Agatha Christie’s Poirot is a gentle drama with outstanding production quality, firmly grounded in the sophisticated mystery genre so popular in England. These four movies continue that tradition in fine fashion featuring a wide array of guest stars, including Tim Curry, Elizabeth McGovern, John Hannah, Harriet Walter, Peter Bowles, and James Wilby. The included episodes are:
Mrs. McGinty’s Dead – With the help of mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver (Zoë Wanamaker), Poirot tries to save a potentially innocent man from execution.
Cat Among the Pigeons – A new student causes quite a stir at the Meadowbank School For Girls. When the bodies start piling up, Poirot is there to lend a hand in solving the case.
Third Girl – Ariadne Oliver makes another appearance as Poirot helps a young heiress who thinks she may have committed a murder.
Appointment With Death – The reviled wife of an archaeologist is killed at a dig in the Syrian Desert, leaving no shortage of suspects in the crime.
David Suchet’s handling of the famous literary detective has always been superb, his run having finally ended in 2013 to much praise when they literally ran out of stories by Agatha Christie to adapt for British television. This Blu-ray set presents the four feature-length mysteries in their original broadcast order, completely uncut. The airings on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery! are cut for time.
The character of Ariadne Oliver adds an interesting wrinkle to the standard formula for Poirot in two of the movies. She’s a mystery novelist that acts as a friendly rival to the great detective. It is clear she’s a thinly-veiled stand-in for the great Agatha Christie herself.
If one has any interest in British mysteries, they already know this particular adaption of Poirot is considered in a class by itself. These four movies are all entertaining in their own ways. Cat Among the Pigeons is particularly fun, featuring razor-sharp dialogue and sparkling wit between a group of catty women. Appointment With Death is the most complex mystery of the set with its deep group of characters and a surprising outcome that will keep you guessing until the very end.
Series 11 of Poirot is the odd duck on video out of its entire 25-year history. Series 1 through 10 were filmed on super 16mm stock, very suitable for Blu-ray quality. In a curious move, Series 11 was possibly finished in standard-definition PAL video at 576i resolution and then upscaled for this Hi-Def video. If that is correct, these four movies may never look better than upconverted PAL video. Acorn Media has given us a somewhat weak-looking Blu-ray set due to that production choice, in barely adequate 1080P resolution that lacks much detail and is awash in noisy grain. The first movie, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, looks absolutely terrible.
Acorn Media certainly gave the limited picture quality the best specs it could, spreading the four movies over two BD-50s. The AVC video encodes have to cope with overwhelming grain and noisy black levels, occasionally slipping into blooming colors and chroma noise. The cinematography is extremely soft and diffuse, leading to halos of bleeding colors. This is the opposite of modern trends, harkening back to a style not regularly seen since the 1970s. It’s not especially pretty, leading to poor clarity and waves of pervasive grain.
Not everything turned out poorly in the picture quality. Exterior shots produce better definition and actual detail, with results much sharper than the mushy interiors. There are no indicators of added digital processing, a dose of filtering would have turned this poor transfer into an absolute disaster. The picture quality is a bit worse in the first movie, both contrast and overall black levels improve with the latter movies.
Each movie has a very nice-sounding 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. Composer Christian Henson handles the musical scores, delicate pieces well suited to the deep mysteries solved by Poirot. Fidelity is quite pleasing, producing crystal-clear dialogue and a surprisingly robust stereo mix. The balanced mix has some of the finest Foley work I’ve heard from a television production, as effects are isolated and panned across the stereo soundstage. It’s a rich sonic experience and much better than the poor video quality.
Optional English SDH subs appear in a white font.
This set features a nice slipcover and a series of three standard-definition trailers that play upon insertion of the first BD. A commentary by David Suchet would have been nice.
Production Notes by David Suchet and Tim Curry – Several pages of text related to Appointment With Death.
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Note: All screens are from Mrs. McGinty’s Dead.