Saturday, 31 August 2013

Episode-by-episode: After the Funeral

©ITV
This episode was based on the novel After the Funeral, first published in 1953. It was adapted for television by Philomena McDonagh and directed by Maurice Phillips.

Script versus novel
Philomena McDonagh's script for this film is truly exceptional. She remains faithful to Christie's story while also managing to include several embellishments that actually improve on the source material - and staying true to the spirit of Christie. Obviously, the distinctive post-war feel has had to go (i.e. because the series is set in 1930s), but only minor changes have had to be made to make that work. The rest of the changes are more important. First, McDonagh adds an opening sequence with Entwisthle and Poirot on the train. He describes the dramatis personae to Poirot, and this inter-cuts with flashbacks to the day of the funeral. This is an effective way of letting the viewers get an overview of this admittedly large ensemble of characters, rather like the family tree in Christie's novel. Second, George becomes Helen's son, and Susan Banks becomes Susannah Henderson. She is no longer married to borderline lunatic Gregory Banks but has instead become a missionary (rather like Lynn in Taken at the Flood). Third, Cora Lansquenet has become Cora Galaccio here, and her French (now Italian) ex-husband takes the role that was given to Alexander Guthrie in the novel, evaluating the paintings. Fourth, McDonagh adds a subplot / red herring in the shape of a missing will (bringing to mind the short story 'The Case of the Missing Will'). George was expected to inherit everything, but he forged a new will to disinherit himself. Fifth, Mr. Goby, Poirot's private investigator, is disposed of, and so is Poirot's rather unbelievable disguise as M. Pontalier. Instead, Poirot is introduced (as himself) much earlier, and he interviews all the family members. Sicth, Miss Gilchrist doesn't start working for Richard and Maude, but is persuaded by Poirot to stay at the house. Seventh, Entwisthle's sister is removed, and he falls in love with Helen Abernethie. Seventh, George and Susannah are revealed to be having an affair in the denouement scene. A somewhat strange addition, but it's done quite nicely in the film. Eight, Rosamund considered abortion but ends up visiting nuns because she feels ashamed. Ninth, the Vermeer painting becomes a Rembrandt (probably because Rembrandt is more well-known to modern audiences). Also, Timothy's ability to walk isn't revealed until the end of the film - he broke into Mr Entwisthle's office to get hold of the deeds to the house. All in all, however, the script is cleverly written, and it's a shame McDonagh never wrote any other Poirot scripts.

Directing, production design, locations, soundtrack
Maurice Phillips's direction is a joy to watch. I particularly like the sweeping camera shots (see the funeral scenes), almost like a bird listening in to the conversations (c.f. the descriptions of Cora). The location used for Enderby is magnificent - Rotherfield Park in Hampshire. Other locations include the Bluebell Railway (Horsted Keynes Station and the Sharpthorne Tunnel), Putney Vale Cemetery and Crematorium, Normansfield Hospital Theatre, The New Wimbledon Theatre, Lincoln's Inn, London (Timothy's house and the convent). Stephen McKeon's soundtrack is suitably dark for the plot, and several tracks can be found on his website.

Characters and actors
Suchet continues to explore Poirot's loneliness ('the journey of life, it can be hard for those of us who travel alone, mademoiselle'). The guest actors do an excellent job portraying their characters, with well-known faces like Michael Fassbender and Geraldine James. But Monica Dolan is the star. What a performance! Breath-taking, completely chilling and emotional at the same time. Quite possibly the best guest act of the entire series.

12 comments:

  1. This was one of my favourite adaptations and I think one of the best. Monica Dolan stole the show completely

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    1. I agree. And yes, Monica Dolan is utter perfection here.

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  2. The denouement also stuck to the spirit of the books by almost convincing us that Miss Gilchrist was the victim and that her life and freedom were worth more than Cora's! (Too bad she didn't consider a career in acting! The character, I mean - she was obviously good at that.)

    Poirot seemed to have compassion for Gilchrist all the way through (and, perhaps more surprisingly, he had compassion for Rosamund.) Less of the stern moralizing than in some of the other later adaptations.

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  3. Not only do I consider this one of my favorite POIROT movies, but I think it's an improvement on Christie's 1953 novel. I just didn't care how the screenplay hinted that the killer was nuts.

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  4. I would say most of the characters are more likeable in this version than their book counterparts - they have their "issues" but they have occupations and aren't just sitting around waiting for Richard to die. George especially seems nicer and more honest - and his reaction to the news Richard had for him is understandable.

    In the book, Poirot says that the fake poisoning "served to awaken Inspector Morton's suspicions," about the true culprit. Virtually giving Morton credit for solving the case. Here Poirot says "it aroused MY suspicions, but immediately."

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  5. Stuart Farquhar10 April 2015 at 00:46

    Sometimes changes in an adaptation are improvements or even necessary, but sometimes they're mystifying. Why make Cora's husband Italian instead of French, and why have him still alive instead of using the more plausible art dealer (who's better placed to value art than an artist)? And why on earth make Susan a missionary? (Or change her name?) But worst of all, why include the nuns from the book and then not bother to explain their presence? Aargh!

    The on-camera reveal of the painting is nice but how exactly did the Royal Academy authenticate it without removing the painting of Polflexan first? (We see Poirot actually cut off the canvas.)

    Despite all this, it's in some ways an improvement on the book, mainly because it's tighter. But the moment when Miss Gilchrist suddenly becomes insane during her arrest is just the worst cliché ever.

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  6. except for few minor faults (which others have already commented on) this is a rather good solid episode, well made and acted, with no cheats. improves on the book.

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  7. I don't think Gilchrist did go insane at the end. For what it's worth, I've always interpreted that scene as nothing more than Gilchrist mocking Cora Gallacio's family for being so stupid as to be taken in by her performance.

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  8. An excellent adaptation but I still don't understand how George gains by forging a will to cut himself OUT of the inheritance, especially since he seems to need the money to pay for his drink habit and horse racing bills ...

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    1. He blamed himself for Richard's death, because of the row they had, and thought he didn't deserve the money.

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  9. Also, I was wracking my brain watching this as I knew I recognised the story but hadn't seen this version before. Then I finally realised it had been made as "Murder at the Gallop" with Margaret Rutherford with Miss Marple replacing Poirot. Devilish ...

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  10. Loved the episode! I do have one lingering question—who are Susannah and Rosamund's parents? They are nieces to Richard, but there is no mention of who their parents are, nor do any of Richard's surviving siblings seemed to be their parents either. I've googled but haven't found any answers.

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About Me

I'm a passionate fan of Poirot, Agatha Christie and the ITV series. If you have any questions, comments, suggestions or requests, please e-mail me at poirotchronology@gmail.com, post a comment on one of my blogs, or get in touch on Twitter @pchronology. (I used to call myself HickoryDickory)