For the sixth series of Hercule Poirot adventures, the producers of the hit ITV series dipped into the two most prolific and masterful decades of Agatha Christie’s writing career for three of the four installments: the 1920s and the 1930s. The remaining mystery came from her more settled 1950s period, and indeed, that story, while extremely entertaining, constitutes Mrs. Christie at her least creative though only the most devoted mystery lovers will likely solve it before her famous Belgian sleuth gathers everyone together to announce his discoveries.
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Series 6 (Blu-ray)
Directed by Edward Bennett, Andrew Grieve
Studio: Acorn Media
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 428 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo English
Region: no designation
MSRP: $ 49.99
Release Date: August 28, 2012
Review Date: August 25, 2012
The season begins with one of Mrs. Christie’s famous locked room puzzles and this time with a holiday twist in Hercule Poirot’s Christmas though there is very little celebrating to be done in this vengeful tale of a patriarch of a large family who comes to a very violent and bloody end. As often happens with Poirot, the Belgian sleuth (David Suchet) was contacted by the victim hours before meeting his end, and once Poirot arrives on the scene assisted as usual by Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) of Scotland Yard, he finds a house filled with suspects who hated the wealthy old man as noted for his cruelty as he was for his riches. Viewers who pay careful attention will be able to solve this one, the easiest of this set’s four mysteries to decipher.
Christie’s 1955 Hickory Dickory Dock is one of the author’s famed nursery rhyme mysteries, but unlike Ten Little Indians or A Pocket Full of Rye, the mystery does not closely tie itself to the rhyme of the title. Instead, the crimes (a series of petty thefts and a couple of murders at a student hostel) seem ambiguous and unrelated until the legendary sleuth arranges all of the assorted loose puzzle pieces into a satisfying solution. He gets drawn into the case by his faithful secretary Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) whose sister happens to run the student hostel where the crimes are occurring, and the different nationalities and career paths of the students make it a tricky puzzle for Poirot to traverse.
Murder on the Links was Agatha Christie’s second book about the Belgian sleuth (the first, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, has already appeared in the series), and once again Poirot is approached by a wealthy man who has concerns about his safety only for Poirot’s friend Arthur Hastings (Hugh Fraser) to find him dead on a golf course the following morning. The murder here, as would be in the case in many of Mrs. Christie’s short stories and novels in the decades to come, ties in to a crime which had been committed twenty years before, but the convolutions of the investigation make this the most complex of the stories to sort out, and before the final solution is reached, several arrests for the murder, some coming on false confessions, will further muddy the waters. Taking place in France, Poirot locks horns with the blustery, egotistical Inspector Giraud (Bill Moody) and bets his prized moustaches that he arrives first at the correct solution. This is also the case where Captain Hastings meets his future wife, one reason he’s missing from two of the four cases here and many of the subsequent books. Hastings and his wife move to Argentina to live and raise their family.
The set concludes with the most delightful (if murder can ever be considered delightful) of the mysteries in the set: Dumb Witness, the title character being an adorable wirehaired terrier named Bob who both Hastings and Poirot take a shine to. Once again, a head of family with a great deal of money is murdered having just changed her will to cut out the family members leaving it all to her female companion. There are lots of suspects among the bitter family members now bereft of funds, and Mrs. Christie’s fascination with spiritualism is also worked into the fabric of the mystery. But it’s the adorable Bob and Poirot’s handling of him that will most stay with the viewer of this very agreeable mystery.
David Suchet continues to be in complete command of the role and milks Poirot’s little wry jokes and also his pained expressions of muffled exasperation to delightful effect (watch him look with horror at the meat and potatoes meal Japp sets before him at the conclusion of Hickory Dickory Dock). Hugh Fraser may be as slow-witted as ever as the jovial Captain Hastings, but he’s irreplaceable in the role, and his sedate love affair in Murder on the Links is lovely to witness. Philip Jackson continues to amuse as Chief Inspector Japp, and Pauline Moran is the ever-efficient, no-nonsense secretary Miss Lemon, though neither she, Fraser, nor Jackson is in every episode in this set.
The episodes have been framed at their broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and are presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The first two episodes, both contained on disc one, are the most problematic in the set. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas looks overly processed with complexions just this side of waxy and skin tones so pink they appear to be sprayed on. Hickory Dickory Dock doesn’t err in that direction but rather seems less consistently sharp with skin tones that look sometimes a bit on the yellow side. The remaining two features, both on disc two, are much more solid encodes with excellent sharpness, only a hint of pink skin tones in Dumb Witness, and admirable amounts of detail with good black levels. Each 107-minute episode has been divided into 10 chapters.
The liner notes state that this set contains PCM 2.0 stereo encodes, but what’s really here is a Dolby Digital 2.0 (256 kbps) stereo sound mix on each episode. The wonderful theme music, the well modulated sound effects, and the delightful background score by Christopher Gunning sound just fine in these new transfers, and there is no hiss or any other audio artifacts to intrude on understanding the dialogue, important when verbal clues become just as important as visual ones. One wonders, however, what happened to the PCM encodes from previous releases.
Apart from promos for other Acorn mysteries series such as Midsomer Murders and Agatha Christie’s Marple, there are no bonus features on the disc.
4/5 (not an average)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Series 6 is a welcome high definition release of the sixth season of movie-length episodes featuring the definitive Hercule Poirot of actor David Suchet. With the great improvement in picture from the original DVD releases and only an occasional misstep in processing, most will be happy with the undeniable upgrade in quality as these Poirot television broadcasts continue to be delivered on Blu-ray. Recommended!