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.ย  ๐Ÿ™‚

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.ย  ๐Ÿ™‚

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.ย  ๐Ÿ˜‰

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).ย  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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Ambigram: Dead Man’s Folly

Once again, a vertical-axis “mirror” ambigram of a Christie title. Acrylic on square canvas board. I’m attempting to carry on my habit of using the letters themselves (frequently the center letters) to convey some important pictorial plot reference. In this case, we have the folly itself.ย  ๐Ÿ™‚

Poirot’s flat, dollhouse miniature style!

Currently I have two room boxes in the works for the sitting room and study of Poirot’s flat. The rooms aren’t replicas of the sets, but I use elements from the sets (including both flats) plus some of my own observations from the books.

I was excited to get my cut MDF pieces from my friends, the Harders, this evening. The sitting room is the first room box. I painted up the walls right away, added paper parquet flooring and baseboards, and glued it all together. Here’s how it looked:

Herringbone parquet is the flooring seen in both of the flats of the television series.

Then came the fun of adding the details! Here’s the current flat-in-progress…

Still missing, as you can see, at least one more painting under the picture light on the right-hand wall, one of the end tables to match the other, and some more shelving, etc.

A little difficult to capture via photo, but the fireplace has a flickering LED bulb behind the vellum fireplace screen. The picture lights and wall sconces are attached to the wall via a glued-on magnet. They’re easy to remove for turning the lights on and off.

Picture lights abound in Poirot’s second flat, so I was delighted to find them in miniature. The round shades of the wall sconces are reminiscent of certain table lamps observable in both flats. The running deer is similar to certain ceramic pieces in the second flat, including mantel decorations.

The brass clothing valet was also a delight to have found; I’ll probably be moving it to the study. I intend to fill the decanters and possibly the glasses and add a bottle of liqueur. I made the chairs, side table, fireplace, and plant stand from scratch, but bought the brass/glass/acrylic furniture.

An aerial view. Obviously, symmetry is important! The area rug was made by heat-bonding a piece of bluish-gray cotton to a stiff felt backing so it would lay very flat. The distinctive wood grain of the chairs, side table, and plant stand were lifted directly from the show. In the opening scene of Third Girl, the camera pans down the lovely wood dining table. I took a screen capture of the wood grain and just printed it out on my computer to use for the furniture.

Fans should understand this reference… ๐Ÿ™‚

Refreshments on the coffee table. Included is a cup of hot chocolate with a dollop of whipped cream and a spoon, and two plates of macarons. (We actually see Poirot and Mrs. Oliver sharing some macarons in his apartment in Elephants Can Remember.) The wooden box opens and contains cigars; next to it is a cigarette case and a table lighter. White square ashtrays are on the side table.

Coming soon, I hope… the study!ย  ๐Ÿ˜€

Poirot’s sitting-room painting of… Prague?

Since I’ve been creating certain set pieces in miniature, it has led to an investigation of various artworks that appear in Poirot’s flat(s). For fans of the show, one of the best-known paintings has to be the muted architectural scene that appears behind the fruit bowl in Flat #1. I’ve previously blogged about how Poirot seems to have been abnormally attached to this piece: it was first situated in his Belgian apartment building; then he seems to have nabbed it and take it to his first English residence in Styles St. Mary; and even after he “retires” to grow vegetable marrows, he conveys it to The Larches!

I became curious about that image, and reverse-image-searching for it online had yielded no results. After creating a miniature of it, however, I decided to try again. The painting seemed a bit of an anomaly with Poirot’s other flat furnishings, I thought. In light of how the painting travels with him from Belgium, it would make sense if the picture itself was by a Belgian artist, just to connect it with the character. Indeed, I wondered if it might be a copy or print of a Franรงois Jean Louis Boulanger, a 19th-century Belgian artist (he’s called French in that link– don’t believe it!) whose style of “romantic realism” is strongly allied to the image. He painted a number of Ghent and Brussels cityscapes, so surely that would be a logical reason for the presence of that picture in the sitting room. But searching yielded nothing.

But a closer scrutiny revealed the building in Poirot’s picture as actually being the Bridge Tower of the famous Charles Bridge of Prague, Czech Republic! So much for the Belgian angle. After that revelation, further searching finally revealed the origin of the image. No paintings came up, incidentally, but a lithograph by one Vinzenz Morstadt (Czech) did:

Considering the composition, I think there can be no doubt that the painting in the sitting room was modeled after this particular lithograph. Whether the lithograph was also a painting by Morstadt that was copied, or was painted by another of his contemporaries (of whom Boulanger was one), or was just created by Joe Set Designer for the room because it looked Fittingly Continental, I cannot say. But at least most of that mystery is now elucidated, though why Poirot would be keen on a painting of Prague landmarks I also can’t say. (Incidentally, Suchet traveled to Prague for the very first time a couple of years ago. I wonder if fans in Prague have long been delighted at the sight of one of their best-known landmarks behind Poirot’s fruit bowl…?)ย  ๐Ÿ™‚

Framed miniature: acrylic paint, illustration board, and balsa wood.

Building a miniature fireplace…

I’ve been well and truly bitten by the miniature bug. I’ve painted miniatures before, but haven’t done much concentrated building in three dimensions (with the exception of my Poirot library). But now I’ve got designs on building vignettes of a miniature flat…

Here are some photos from my construction project of a miniature fireplace. It’s made out of balsa wood, foam board, heavy kraft paper, and illustration board (which is versatile stuff). It’s painted with acrylics, and the “marble” mantle top is illustration board, painted and then glazed. The figurine of the running deer was a different plastic miniature which I painted white and attached to a balsa base– I didn’t sculpt it.ย  ๐Ÿ˜‰

Poirot and Japp, acrylic on canvas board

This is a small canvas board, 5×7″. I really like the mysterious lighting and the comparative lack of color in the image, as well as the “blurry” Japp in the background. But as I try to explain to people, when painting a film screenshot like this (image from The Big Four), half the battle is just finding a shot where the lighting IS good. They’ve already done all the work of making a good screen image; I just adapt it to paint.ย  ๐Ÿ™‚

The ghost that took over his life: Poirot’s handwriting in Curtain

“I am writing a letter to Hastings to explain all that has happened, and what makes it extraordinary is that the art department have discovered a way to create my handwriting so that I do not have to write every word myself time after time. It is as though a ghost has taken over my life.”

-David Suchet, Poirot and Me

This little detail about the final scenes of Curtain, mentioned in passing in Suchet’s book, intrigued me when I first read it. Art departments and handwriting are always of special interest! But it was only when I took a close look at what is shown on screen in this episode that his meaning became clear. (In advance: please understand that in this post, I’m not attempting any sort of “gotcha!” to said fine art department– I may have never noticed, had it not been obliquely pointed out by Suchet himself. I merely note this as something that interests me.)

It began simply by noticing that the letter that Poirot was writing to Hastings looked an awful lot, but not quite, like Suchet’s own handwriting. Curious, because the letters all looked like he wrote them, but something seemed a bit off about it. Then I remembered the quote from his book. Do you notice?

Font-lovers may notice what is so curious about the FIRST sentence of Poirot’s writing here: what we’re looking at is essentially a “David Suchet’s Poirot” font. Zoom in (click on the picture) and look at any single letter– try the lower-case “h,” “y,” “m,” for easy examples. Every one of those letters looks exactly the same as every other in that sentence! That’s what looks unusual– the first part of the page is uncommonly smooth and regularized. Now starting at “But really, my friend,” look at the rest of the words. Those are hand-written by Suchet himself, and contain variations on the letters rather than uniformity, appearing much looser that the words that came before. The camera had to show him actually writing with his own hand for these shots, but a font was made of his handwriting for the first part of a paragraph so he wouldn’t have to write it all out each time. Presumably print-outs were made to which he added. This is what his quote at the top of the post meant. If you look carefully, you may even notice that the color of the ink appears slightly different between the “font” and the true handwriting.

Once you see this pattern, you can’t un-see it in the other paragraphs of writing shown. I’ve highlighted the real handwriting in blue brackets; the rest is a printed font.

There are at least two possible reasons I can think of as to why the art department would go to the bother of creating this font in the first place. Either it really was merely to convenience their actor; or it might be that doing too much handwriting in those arthritis-heavy prosthetics does not-nice things to them. There may have been other reasons.

The font works perfectly well for the few moments it appears on screen. If, however, you really wish to forge someone’s writing successfully (or even to create a slightly more believable handwriting font for closer scrutiny, though it is far more expensive to do so), always remember to use multiple variants of letters.ย  Poirot himself knows enough about forgery to let you in on that.ย  ๐Ÿ˜‰

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?ย  ๐Ÿ™‚

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.ย  ๐Ÿ˜‰

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.ย  ๐Ÿ™‚

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!