Christie’s physical descriptions of Poirot: Branagh and Suchet

The trailer for the new Murder on the Orient Express film has been released. Various reactions ensued. There’s a lot of excitement, of course, at the prospect of Christie on the big screen again. There’s a heavily star-studded cast (not unlike the 1974 Finney production, in that way). But what stands out to me is the visceral reaction to the simple sight of Kenneth Branagh’s Hercule Poirot. A lot of longtime and hardcore Poirot fans are stunned– not necessarily in a good way. And yeah, okay, I’m one of them. I may have used the phrase “greying, tousled 21st-century hipster” once or twice.

And yet, I do want to be as fair as possible. Fans were bound to react with a great deal of indignation at the sight of another Poirot after Suchet’s 25-year span on the small screen. So utterly dedicated was he to the character, so very convincingly did he pull off the role, that it has become difficult to associate Poirot with anyone else. (Ustinov who?) I don’t think I personally ever really will. He really did seem to just waltz off the written page and onto the screen.

So let’s consider the written page– Christie’s own physical description of Poirot. Many fans are comparing the look of Branagh’s character unfavorably to Christie’s original. Others are comparing only against the Suchet interpretation, and although he’s famously faithful to Christie, there are still distinctives against which, from a more purist point of view, certain criticisms of Branagh would be somewhat unfair. You might say that this post is me trying to put a best construction on, against my own knee-jerk reactions.  🙂

Poirot is described for us, via Christie, as about five feet four inches tall, or “no more than” five foot five. Branagh seems to be somewhere between 5’9″ and 5’10”; Suchet is apparently around 5’7″. Neither actor is quite there, although Suchet is closer.

Christie often describes Poirot’s distinctive green eyes. Branagh’s are blue; Suchet’s are brown. Arguably Branagh is “closer” there.  🙂

But oh! the moustache! What great consternation was caused by Branagh’s eye-popping facial hair– definitely grey, whereas Suchet keeps a proper blackness. But I think what shocked people more was the flamboyance of Branagh’s. Having a big and flamboyant moustache is actually quite in keeping with Christie, as well as with the early 20th-century continental ‘stache in general. She has many ways of describing Poirot’s, so some variation is acceptable for the purist. But she does occasionally use words like “enormous” (e.g. Dead Man’s Folly). I even seem to remember something about the Christie estate expressing surprise at the time that the Suchet ‘stache wasn’t as flamboyant as it could have been, although they understood the reasoning of the creators of the show. And I think the decision about the ‘stache for Suchet, Brian Eastman, etc. really came down to a desire to not make Poirot appear more ridiculous than necessary. It’s true that in the books, the extreme moustache did contribute to many Englishmen’s contempt for Poirot and their view of him as ridiculous. But by the late ’80s, the character of Poirot himself seemed to have become somewhat of a joke– people didn’t take him seriously, which is why John Suchet initially discouraged his brother from taking the role. It became very, very important for the show’s creators, as it was for Christie’s family, that the character be taken seriously, and I do think that the moustaches they had for Suchet’s Poirot were the right choice as a result. Now that Poirot is firmly established on screen as the serious and well-rounded character that he is, thanks to Suchet, another actor can perhaps come along and demonstrate the flamboyancy aspect of it (although identifiable wax and pomade is still most in keeping with the books). And I think that Branagh really had little choice but to differentiate his Poirot from Suchet’s in various ways, for better or worse. So there you go…

A few other words about hair. My own biggest issue with the Branagh image is that in some of these early photos, Poirot’s hair looks too unkempt, and his centre parting goes haywire. It is also too grey, although one might make one small observation that way. Although Christie mentions more than once how “suspiciously” black Poirot’s hair is, and either hints or states outright that he dyes it, consider Hastings quote from The A.B.C. Murders on the subject…

‘You’re looking in fine fettle, Poirot,’ I said. ‘You’ve hardly aged at all. In fact, if it were possible, I should say that you had fewer grey hairs than when I saw you last.’

Hastings goes on to say that Poirot’s hair is “so much blacker” than when he saw him last. The inescapable conclusion, then, is that Hastings has seen Poirot with greying hair! But it’s true, we don’t actually see it on the written page (not until almost the very last page, anyway), so ultimately I come down on the side of grey hair being a no-no.  😉

Since we’re talking about hair, here’s one of my favorite descriptions of Poirot’s appearance from “The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest”:

To see Poirot at a party was a great sight. His faultless evening clothes, the exquisite set of his white tie, the exact symmetry of his hair parting, the sheen of pomade on his hair, and the tortured splendour of his famous moustaches– all combined to paint the perfect picture of an inveterate dandy. It was hard, at these moments, to take the little man seriously.

Poirot is always described by Christie as at least appearing to have a full head of hair, with a centre parting. In the pictures I’ve seen, Branagh’s Poirot just looks too 21st-century for my liking– not enough pomade, and at times downright tousled! So, what are we to make of Suchet’s Poirot on this point? As a matter of fact, a significant number of stage, screen, or artistically-rendered Poirots in days gone by are deliberately depicted with vanishing hairlines, contra Christie. Why? I think the most obvious answer is that, far more prevalent than the author’s description of Poirot’s hair is her famous description of his head— “egg-shaped.” Christie herself, humorously, wasn’t quite sure what an egg-shaped head even was. But since it calls attention to head shape, it automatically (at least to me) creates a visual assumption of some level of baldness.

For the overall effect in appearance, Christie describes Poirot as looking “positively exotic” (e.g. Dumb Witness, etc). Suchet most definitely wins that contest. He has mentioned in interviews that his Eastern European heritage has aided him in playing the roles of “outsiders,” as he “certainly doesn’t look like a typical Englishman.” I don’t really know what a typical Englishman is supposed to look like, but if I had to guess, Branagh (who’s from Northern Ireland) might be high up on my list.

For general body type, Poirot is written as a “small, compact figure” (The Labours of Hercules), “delicately plump” (The Big Four), with “a certain protuberance around his middle” (Evil Under the Sun).  Although vain about his brainwork and meticulous about appearing neat, he has no illusions about being attractive to the opposite sex, and in physical appearance is only proud of his moustaches. Other physical descriptions of Poirot from Christie include “expressive eyebrows,” “tiny, fastidiously-groomed hands,” and “short, stubby fingers.” He is in the habit of tilting his head to one side like “an inquisitive robin.” He is attired in correct, well-pressed and symmetrically neat urban wear, has an English tailor (Dumb Witness), prefers his large turnip of a pocket watch, and indulges in bling like pearl studs (“The Under Dog”). Christie’s written character uses no spectacles, monocle, or pince-nez (Lord Edgware Dies). He wears tight patent leather shoes which are a regular source of discomfort for his feet and affect the way he walks. And he always wears a hat when outside and muffles up to the nines against any possible chill.

It will be interesting to see how much, or little, of Christie’s descriptions factor into the appearance of Branagh’s Poirot. I was not favorably impressed by the grey and the generally rumpled appearance he seemed to present. And I’m still thoroughly convinced that Suchet was the perfect Poirot, so much so that in whichever little ways his presentation of the man departs slightly from the books, it seems that Christie herself must have gotten it wrong! That bias of mine has to serve me as a reminder that Branagh, great actor that he is, does deserve at least some leeway.

We’ll see what we shall see…

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The 10 most “Poirot” fabrics you’ve EVER seen

I’m a multi-crafter. As quilting is one of my many hobbies, I enjoy hunting for fabrics in unusual themes and motifs that are of interest to me. Poirot has been no exception.

If making Poirot-themed throw quilts is too strange for you (and why should it be? I’m on my fourth or fifth one), perhaps you’ve been thinking of sewing up a tote bag or laptop cover. Why not make one that reminds you of your Agatha Christie interests?  🙂

My criteria for selecting the following fabrics for this post was that each one must represent at least two things that point to Poirot. All fabrics are 100% cotton. I can’t promise that you can necessarily track them all down, but I’ll provide information to help you with your own searching. One or two of these fabrics are somewhat dubious copyright-wise, and one or two aren’t for sale at all. But I hope all will inspire you as fabric-loving Poirot fans.  😉

1.) “Ladies and Gentlemen” fabric by David Textiles

For generic fabric, it hardly gets more Poirot-esque than this black-and-cream fabric. The texts say: “A gentleman is always well-groomed” (moustache), “A gentlman is always well-dressed” (hat and wing collar), “A gentleman is always well-prepared” (umbrella), and “A gentleman is always well-mannered” (hand writing courteous notes). I think you’ll agree that this is Poirot all over! I used this fabric, cut into strips, for my A.B.C. Murders quilt top.

2.) “Longfellow” by Windham Fabrics

I stumbled upon this particular print from the “Longfellow” line while searching for fabric with magnifying glasses (not easy). This one, representing some gentleman-scholar’s desk, features several things suggestive of Poirot: the glass, the pocket watch, old books, maps, and correspondence. The “Longfellow” line also has two other coordinating fabric prints with only pocket watches all over.

3) “Poirot Words” by Kelly Klages (Spoonflower)

I created this fabric– also in black on white– via Spoonflower for personal use (a.k.a., not for sale, sorry). At first glance they are just random French words and expressions, but careful Christie readers know that they are all very Poirot-esque utterances. I used a font reminiscent of that used in the television series. This fabric gets used in just about all of my Poirot projects.  🙂

4.) Moustache batik

I have no information on this multi-color batik fabric, but I was genuinely astonished at how POIROT it was. Many such moustache prints will throw in a motif or two that is not suggestive of our favourite Belgian, such as a pipe or hipster glasses. But this fabric stays so Poirot that you wonder if they didn’t actually have him in mind when designing it.

5.) “Murder on the Orient Express” fabric, by scrummy (Spoonflower)

This Spoonflower custom fabric obviously takes a lot of its imagery from the Albert Finney Orient Express film. The references to Christie and the novel are overwhelming, and include the title, Poirot, the train, the suspects, a view of Istanbul, the murder weapon, a newspaper clipping about the Armstrongs, the last words of the book, the clues, etc etc.

6.) “Poppy Lane” by Timeless Treasures

I love this particular retro advertising fabric in the “Poppy Lane” line, as it gives a nice, 1920s kind of setting to a Poirot project. I used it for this throw pillow. Some of the line drawings are rather art nouveau, and the fancy restaurant and car make you feel like you’re stepping right into Christie’s London. Some of the ads are in French, too. And I find that the black, white, and red go very well with many other fabrics I’ve found for these kinds of projects. These sorts of fabrics are really not easy to find.

7.) “Toile de Christie” fabric by artgarage (Spoonflower)

This Spoonflower fabric is fun because you can spy ALL of Christie’s famous sleuths– Poirot, Marple, Tommy and Tuppence. Yet it’s very subtle and doesn’t scream the fact to high heaven.

8.) “Gentleman’s Club” by Fabscraps

The “Gentleman’s Club” line (available in three colorways, if you can track it down) has a variety of vintage prints, but I like this one the best. It portrays an assortment of fancy waistcoats, with French script in the background.

9.) “Poirot” by erinejanosik (Spoonflower)

This Spoonflower fabric shows imagery that was most obviously taken from the television series. Shown are (Suchet’s) Poirot, the silver-topped swan cane, the vase brooch, a cigarette case, pince-nez, a tisane glass, and a quote from The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

10.) Assorted moustache fabrics by Riley Blake

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For #10, I’m breaking my rule about only showing fabrics with two or more Poirot characteristics to bring you my personal favorite of all-moustache fabrics. Riley Blake’s come in a vast array of variation, including black-on-white, multi-color, tiny white on red, and tiny pink on grey. Very fun, colorful, and versatile!

Prize giveaway: pocket watch pendants!

Hi all! Inspired by the Etsy seller whose merchandise I previously blogged about here, I decided to make a few “Christie text” pieces of my own. I offer two samples here for a prize giveaway– a 24″ ball chain necklace with a magnetic-opening, glass-faced pocket watch pendant, and a small pocket watch key fob. Both feature text from pages of a real vintage Poirot novel (sorry, book purists). The larger pendant measures about 1 3/4″, by the diameter of the silver circle, and I’m including a few charms that you can keep in or take out as you like– a key, a tiny enameled moustache, and five faceted emerald beads. The text of the key chain pendant is covered with a protective acrylic dome. The winner gets BOTH. Fun!

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To enter this prize giveaway, all you have to do is share one of your favorite Poirot photos, here or on Twitter (in reply to contest tweet). Do this any way you like, even if you can only link to one you find online. It can be from the television series or something else– artwork, an original Christie cover, Albert Finney, whatever you’d like. Next Saturday, I will draw a name at random from the entries. You’ve got one week!

Good luck!  🙂

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Twelve of Christie’s best references to the STACHE.

Several of my personal favorites, anyway.  🙂  In no particular order…

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___________________

“If only, Hastings, you would part your hair in the middle instead of at the side! What a difference it would make to the symmetry of your appearance. And your moustache. If you must have a moustache, let it be a real moustache– a thing of beauty such as mine.”

Repressing a shudder at the thought, I took the note firmly from Poirot’s hand and left the room.

-Peril at End House

___________________

“Dear me,” I said, recovering from the shock. “I suppose next time I come home I shall find you wearing false moustaches– or are you doing so now?”

Poirot winced. His moustaches had always been his sensitive point. He was inordinately proud of them. My words touched him on the raw.

“No, no, indeed, mon ami. That day, I pray the good God, is still far off. The false moustache! Quel horreur!”

He tugged at them vigorously to assure me of their genuine character.

“Well, they are very luxuriant still,” I said.

“N’est ce pas? Never, in the whole of London, have I seen a pair of moustaches to equal mine.”

A good job too, I thought privately. But I would not for the world have hurt Poirot’s feelings by saying so.

-The A.B.C. Murders

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“I assure you, I am really a very humble person.”

I laughed.

“You– humble!”

“It is so. Except– I confess it– that I am a little proud of my moustaches. Nowhere in London have I observed anything to compare with them.”

“You are quite safe,” I said dryly, “you won’t.”

-Lord Edgware Dies

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[Mrs Oliver]: “Mrs Ap Jones Smythe, or whatever her name is, did make a codicil to her Will leaving all her money to the au pair girl and two witnesses saw her sign it, and signed it also in the presence of each other. Put that in your moustache and smoke it.”

-Hallowe’en Party

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“Japp!” exclaimed Poirot, disengaging himself from the Countess’s arms.

“It would be better, perhaps, if I went into the other room,” said the Countess.

She slipped through the connecting door. Poirot started towards the door to the hall.

“Guv’nor,” wheezed Mr Higgs anxiously, “better look at yourself in the glass, ’adn’t you?”

Poirot did so and recoiled. Lipstick and mascara ornamented his face in a fantastic medley.

“If that’s Mr Japp from Scotland Yard, ’e’d think the worst– sure to,” said Mr Higgs.

He added, as the bell pealed again, and Poirot strove feverishly to remove crimson grease from the points of his moustache: “Wha do yer want me to do– ’ook it too?”

-The Labours of Hercules, “The Capture of Cerberus”

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“Doubtless she has been informed of my identity,” said Poirot, trying to look modest and failing.

“I think it is the famous moustaches,” I said. “She is carried away by their beauty.”

Poirot caressed them surreptitiously.

“It is true that they are unique,” he admitted. “Oh, my friend, the ‘tooth-brush’ as you call it, that you wear– it is a horror– an atrocity– a wilful stunting of the bounties of nature. Abandon it, my friend, I pray you.”

-Lord Edgware Dies

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“And then, figure to yourself, Hastings, an idea of the most unreasonable seized this Mr. Pearson! Nothing would suit him but that we should go ourselves to this eating house and make investigations. I argued and prayed but he would not listen. He talked of disguising himself– he even suggested that I– I should– I hesitate to say it– should shave off my moustache! Yes, rien que ça! I pointed out to him that that was an idea ridiculous and absurd. One destroys not a thing of beauty wantonly. Besides, shall not a Belgian gentleman with a moustache desire to see life and smoke opium just as readily as one without a moustache?”

-“The Lost Mine”
___________________

While the Lovely Young Thing made a suitable reply, Poirot allowed himself a good study of the hirsute adornment on Mr. Shaitana’s upper lip.

A fine moustache– a very fine moustache– the only moustache in London, perhaps, that could compete with that of M. Hercule Poirot.

“But it is not so luxuriant,” he murmured to himself. “No, decidedly it is inferior in every respect. Tout de meme, it catches the eye.”

-Cards on the Table

___________________

He looked at himself in the glass. Here, then, was a modern Hercules– very distinct from that unpleasant sketch of a naked figure with bulging muscles, brandishing a club. Instead, a small compact figure attired in correct urban wear with a moustache– such a moustache as Hercules never dreamed of cultivating– a moustache magnificent yet sophisticated.

-The Labours of Hercules

___________________

What was even more humiliating was that he had no real ideas, even now, as to what had actually happened. It was ignominious. And tomorrow he must return to London defeated. His ego was seriously deflated– even his moustaches drooped.

-Dead Man’s Folly

___________________

Poirot stroked his own magnificent mustache tenderly. “It is an art,” he murmured, “the growing of the moustache! I have sympathy for all who attempt it.”

It is always difficult with Poirot to know when he is serious and when he is merely amusing himself at one’s expense. I judged it safest to say no more.

-“Double Sin”

___________________

“Poirot,” I said, as he remained rapt in thought. “Hadn’t we better go on? Everyone is staring at us.”

“Eh? Well, perhaps you are right. Though it does not incommode me that people should stare. It does not interfere in the least with my train of thought.”

“People were beginning to laugh,” I murmured.

“That has no importance.”

I did not quite agree. I have a horror of doing anything conspicuous. The only thing that affects Poirot is the possibility of the damp or the heat affecting the set of his famous moustache.

-Lord Edgware Dies

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New quilt top, inspired by The A.B.C. Murders

Because you can never have enough Poirot-themed quilts…  🙂

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This black-and-white fabric below was so Poirot, I just had to get it. The phrases above the symbols read: “A gentleman is always well-groomed,” “A gentleman is always well-dressed,” “A gentleman is always well-prepared,” and “A gentleman is always well-mannered.” That’s Poirot to a tee, is it not??  🙂

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The fabrics of red and charcoal squares repeat “A B C” and feature lots of typewriters, one of which features importantly in the book. And the black “French phrases” fabric was my own custom design.

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Another Poirot quilt!

Or, at least a pieced-together quilt top. I’ve yet to actually get it quilted up. Anyway, here it is, in all its moustachioed glory. As always it is (of course) very square.  🙂

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You can see that I once again used my specially-designed Spoonflower fabric, featuring many of Poirot’s trademark French phrases, as corner blocks.

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It probably sounds crazy, but I have at least two other distinctly Poirot-themed quilts still in the back of my mind to create…

Poirot in America: Flatlands presents a Christie radio drama

On this Fourth of July, what a treat to be able to watch a live presentation of the Agatha Christie radio drama, “The Case of the Careless Victim,” right here in southern Manitoba. Flatlands Theatre Co. has been doing a series of events at Bethel Heritage Park in Winkler this summer– and woe betide me if I miss Poirot when he’s within a ten-minute drive!!

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Bethel Heritage Park, Winkler.

The set-up was delightful, with the Flatlands cast in period costume for the benefit of the audience– Poirot was even given a cane. Since it is radio, I’ll forgive his extra facial hair, especially since the accent was so nicely done.  😉  The performances were all really excellent. Angela Klassen gave an especially memorable turn as the plucky Miss Abigail Fletcher, in whose apartment a body is discovered. “Watching” radio drama sound effects live is rather fun, and these were interspersed throughout the performance with generous doses of Christopher Gunning’s Poirot theme music. There was even an adorable vintage-tinged commercial break.  🙂

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Now, the world of “Poirot audio” is familiar to me– I’m a frequent listener of Christie’s audiobooks a la Hugh Fraser and David Suchet, and John Moffat is known to me as well– but Christie’s own radio dramas via the American market was a huge, mysterious unknown. I wasn’t sure what to expect, or even if the story was really a Christie original, as I’d never heard of it before. The plot had some typically Poirot-esque elements, but with some glaring departures from Christie’s usual style for her Belgian sleuth. First and most obviously, Poirot himself is in America, which never happens in the books. He even takes an apartment and hires a secretary there! Second, in the radio drama script, there are a few phrases and thoughts expressed that one does not normally associate with Poirot. He says “sacrebleu” twice, a phrase I don’t ever recall Christie putting in Poirot’s mouth (despite a Poirot reference in the Wikipedia article on the term– incomprehensible). He also once mentions finding the circling of airplanes at the location where he is dining as “charming” in that it gives the sensation of flying, although Poirot himself detests air and sea travel, which makes him feel sick. (This also explains why he hadn’t gone tripping across the pond in Christie’s stories– the Channel alone is hard enough for him!)

My ever-helpful husband found some information for me to answer some of these burning questions and puzzlements. It comes down to the fact that the rights to use the character were contracted from Christie to produce these radio dramas in the mid 1940s, which explains the discrepancies from canon and why they are not included with other Christie Poirots. You can go to this link and read all about Hal Huber’s efforts in procuring Poirot for American radio– it’s interesting stuff.

Good job, Flatlands– and thanks for introducing me to Poirot in America!

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Grow a moustache… win a painting…?

Another Monday, another chance to win this miniature framed painting:

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This time it’s easy… all you have to do is reply to my contest Tweet on Twitter with a photo of yourself… having grown a moustache.    🙂   The manner of moustache is up to you: real, fake, digital, artistic, bizarre, WHATEVER. One entry per person, and on Friday I’ll pull a name out of a hat. I want to see plenty of facial symmetry, people!!  🙂

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