Movie Review: Poirot: Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Another disclaimer? Yes, yes there is. First, there are spoilers. Basically, I'll tell you who the murderer is and then how it's different from the book. Second, this is one of my favourite Hercule Poirot stories, only surpassed by "Cards on the Table" which… okay, doesn't really mean anything in terms of the movie itself. Third, David Suchet is my favourite Poirot. Ever. To me, his version of Poirot shows the compassion and sense of ridiculous that Agatha Christie used in her books. He's so precise and so wholly becomes Poirot that any other is just a cheap imitation. Albert Finney's version of Poirot in Muder on the Orient Express was so comical and blustering and oddly, gave off this sense of messiness and chaos. Suchet's Poirot is typically very self-contained but still has the Gaelic fervour that so embarrasses his companions.

So, basically, I'm going to be slavering praise on Suchet and revealing whodunnit. Should you keep reading? If knowing the murderer takes the fun out of the story for you, stop reading now. If, like me, you're in it for the journey, then it'll be a bit of a trip.

…Still with me? Sweet.

From what I've read about Agatha Christie, I believe she would have loved this version of her story. It's changed enough from her original but, at the same time, still brings about the same conclusion. It seemed that during her lifetime, she decried playwrites who kept too close to her original story, going so far as to write her own version of her stories as plays. If you read her play for And Then There were None, it is markedly different from her book. She didn't seem to feel a sense of possession that is typical among writers.

Sorry, digression.

The episode opens up with Poirot walking down the hallway of what looks like either a jail or the vault of a bank. It's difficult for me to say. I would lean towards the bank vault but it's the most elaborate bank vault I've ever seen with long corridors connecting to each, all needing their own light source. Very moody and fits the tone of the story.

The narrator for this story is Poirot himself, reading from a journal written by the murderer of Roger Ackroyd. The writer is a bitterly angry man, railing (in a very British way) against everyone in the town of King's Abbott, deriding them for their greed and hypocrisy.

This episode removes Hector Blunt (giving many of his lines and actions from the book to Raymond or Dr. Shepherd) and changes who Roger Ackroyd speaks to first after Mrs. Ferrars mystery from Dr. Shepherd to Poirot himself, who unlike in the novel, is rather well-known in the village instead of there incognito.

Removing Mr. Blunt also removes the romantic tension between him and Flora, who's characterized here as in love with Ralph Paton and more icing covered bitch than a woman looking for a way to escape her life.

The housekeeper and her illegitimate son are written out of this story as well, simplifying it a lot, even though their story is replaced with Poirot's ennui with his country lifestyle and longing for his old life. But since it's so well done by Suchet, I can't complain about the melodrama.

Jamie Bamber (from Battlestar Galactica) plays Ralph Paton. It's amazing how different someone looks with a haircut and 20 lbs of muscles added.

Now that that's all laid out, the actual story (yes, I'm still giving you time to turn back from the spoiler):

There's an interesting change in motivations between the episode and the book. Instead of merely grasping at the chance of easy money through secret knowledge, Dr. Shepherd blackmails Mrs. Ferrars because of hatred and envy that she's gained so much money from the husband she hated and consequently murdered; that at no time, did she have to do anything to earn that money except marry a drunken lout. He refers to her as an adulteress murderer in his journal, casting a different light on her than the wounded lady from Christie's book.

Roger Ackroyd is characterized as a man who's gained his money by destroying the environment and taking advantage of the work of others, rather than the benevolent millionaire, the heart of the social life of King's Abbott.

Flora Ackroyd, as I mentioned before, is like candy covered malice, seemingly sweet but grasping. For me, this was the strangest characterization. It removed any sense of sympathy you would feel for her, trying to live this life that was thrust on her, wanting more and being betrayed by the one person she believed would help her escape from her bondage. Here, she's more truculent with a misplaced sense of self-righteousness… I'm describing it badly but she lost my sympathy in her first real scene, after she's told her uncle was dead, the Inspector (who's name escapes me) asks her when she last saw her uncle, she grits, "Do you REALLY believe I murdered my uncle?"

I'm not sure if I explained it well enough but, anyway, she pisses me off and I have no sympathy at all when she starts yelling at Inspector Japp (yes, they brought Japp back), "Yes, I'm a thief!" and then storms away.

Raymond's a non-entity in this story, as though his personality was leeched out of him. Parker is a sneaky drunk, mowed down by Dr. Shepherd's car (in a really well done scene. Dr. Shepherd runs Parker over, backs up over him and then runs him over again. You have to love how thoroughly he kills people.). Mrs. Ackroyd is also sugar dissolved in poison rather than the foolish woman from the book. And Carolyn… If I complained about only one thing with this characterization, it would be Carolyn.

From the novel, she is basically Miss Marple without the brains and the full capability to put a puzzle together. She's also more of a malicious gossip. In this episode, she's an annoying busybody, lacking in the compassion and … just the good manners that made her so likeable in the book.

She's also the catalyst that ends this story in a shoot out, rather than the gentlemanly suicide offered by Poirot to Dr. Shepherd in the novel. She finds Dr. Shepherd's journal in the glove compartment of his car (along with a gun, and let me just mention here how sloppy it is to leave something that incriminating around for your nosy sister to find), discovers he's the blackmailer and murderer (as well as the hatred he has for so many of the inhabitants of the village), puts the gun and journal in her purse and brings them both with her to the meeting.

Dr. Shepherd is invited, by Poirot, to give his accounting of what he "believes" happened and reveals how the murder was accomplished. Carolyn slips Shepherd the gun and the gun play begins.

For some odd reason, many of these episodes end with the murderer/thief running away, brandishing a gun. I can't remember one time where this happens in the book. The only reason I'll overlook it, is because they actually counted the bullets. Only 6 were discharged from his revolver (or whatever they're called.)

Would I recommend this show/episode/mini movie? Yes but I would also recommend that you make enough time to watch it twice if you've read the book. The first time, you'll struggle with the differences but with the second viewing, it's very well done. The story moves along with very little drag and the motivations for these characters are consistent throughout.

And once again, David Suchet is a genius in this role. Too bad that with Hollywood, he's forced to play terrorists.

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3 Responses to Movie Review: Poirot: Murder of Roger Ackroyd

  1. sylph says:

    May I first say that I appreciate both your writing style, and your vocabulary? There, having taken care of that, it sounds like the characterizations were changed and amped up in order to give Dr. Sheppard some justification for his behavior. Why do you suppose that is?

  2. lostdwarf says:

    Wow, thanks so much! I'm always worried about how I write, whether it's
    actually understandable or just a higgly piggly hodgepodge of my
    demented mind.

    I don't know whether I would say the characterizations are amped up in
    order for justification of his behaviour. I think they're trying to
    create a different story. From the book, I understood the justification
    of weakness as the catalyst of what happens. You see it in Dr.
    Sheppard, you see it in Ralph and you see it in Flora. You also see
    that it's the people around them that give them their strength or more
    specifically, keep them on the straight and narrow. For Dr. Sheppard,
    most of his life, he's shored up by his sister Caroline. For Ralph,
    it's Ursula. For Flora, it's Horace Blunt.

    It's possible that the screenwriter wanted something that was a it
    more… visually interesting. Most people wouldn't find restraint or
    that sense of weakness an interesting thing to watch. More fool them,
    of course but at the same time, completely understandable on the part
    of the writer.

    Plus, and I think this is why I really like this movie and the book at
    the same time, they were able to make the story their own. They've made
    so many changes that it's THEIR Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I think that's
    this is the same reason I really love both the First Wives Club book
    and the movie. They're SO different from each other, the book is a
    rather bitter revenge fantasy and the movie is a Hollywood comedy with
    the requisite Girl Power ending.

  3. sylph says:

    That's how I feel about Practical Magic. I like both the book and movie, but they are two different creatures, to be sure. I'll have to make sure to see this one.

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