A Surfeit of Poirots, Part One

Hercule Poirot on TV from Liam Ashe

Most readers of Agatha Christie already have a clear mental image of Hercule Poirot. In canon, the Belgian detective measures only 5’4”. Green eyes highlight a bald, egg-shaped head. His wardrobe reflects his clean, clinical mind and his precise, tidy nature. His famous mustache warrants another paragraph or two all on its own.

In broadcast and on film, nearly a dozen actors have portrayed the famous sleuth — to varying degrees of success. Some match the picture Christie painted with her words; others captured the eccentricities and quirks that made Poirot who he is. Other, well. . . others didn’t fare as well. Following are nine (or more) actors who have taken up the role and the titles Christie completists should consider when making up their own minds as to who perfected Poirot.

Poirot on TV

Much like the 1967 James Bond spoof Casino Royal, The Alphabet Murders (1965) features Tony Randall playing Poirot for the laughs. Little of the original detective’s character remains as the made-for-TV movie layers the satire on with a heavy hand. One only for the die-hard Christie fans.

Three years earlier, Martin Gabel starred in a 1962 pilot for the proposed British TV series The Adventures of Hercule Poirot. The half-hour episode adapted one of Christie’s lesser-known short stories, and audiences didn’t take to the tale. After a single episode, producers abandoned the series. If you can uncover the episode online, you’ll likely find Gabel a suitable, if generic and unexceptional, Poirot.

Following up on the sublime 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express is no easy feat. The 2001 TV adaptation by Carl Schenkel tries but ultimately misses the lofty mark. Well-known actor Alfred Molina does his best with what he’s been given, but the entire affair comes across as a lesser effort in the Christie canon.

John Malkovich knows how to play quirky. The veteran actor has built a career portraying odd individuals with subtle (or not) hints of eccentricity. On paper, he should be a perfect vessel for the character of Poirot. On screen in the 2018 adaptation of The ABC Murders, Malkovich nails the basics but adds a distinct layer of menace. Often portrayed as non-threatening or even a bit foppish, Poirot’s fierce light within only shines when he closes in on the final solution. Here, Malkovich gives the role a barely veiled intensity with a veneer that threatens to crack at any moment. An unusual take, it works to give the detective a new depth.

When most Christie loyalists think of Poirot on TV, they think only of the incomparable David Suchet. For nearly 25 years, he portrayed the title detective in 70 feature-length episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. From the physicality and mannerisms to the accent and the look, Suchet perfected the role as an art form. If you have a few weeks you want to melt away and a subscription to BritBox, The Roku Channel, Acorn TV, or Prime Video, do yourself a favor and lose yourself in this pinnacle Poirot portrayal.

Check back next month for a review of the best Poirots on the big screen, as well as a few surprise appearances.

Love a good murder? Be sure to take a stab at Thou Shalt Not Kilt, a traditional Southern whodunnit with Scottish flavor. For my latest news and updates, follow me on Instagram and TikTok. Sign up for Fatal Fiction, my monthly mystery newsletter, and you’ll get a free download of Masters of Murder, my concise guide to the authors of mystery’s Golden Age.

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Love classic mysteries? Sign up for my monthly newsletter, Fatal Fiction, and I’ll send you a free copy of Masters of Murder, my brief guide to mystery’s Golden Age. You’ll also get news on my new releases and chances to win other amazing stuff.

Masters of Murder by Liam Ashe