Earlier this week, ITV aired the final episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. It has been a remarkable achievement. Over the past 24 years, nearly a quarter of a century, every Poirot book has been adapted for television with David Suchet as the Belgian sleuth.
Five Little Pigs
In 2003, Patrick Malahide appeared in Five Little Pigs (Poirot, S09E01) as Sir Montague Depleach, Defense Council. It is a brief role, but extremely crucial because Depleach gives Poirot the necessary background information to begin his investigation. And, as always, Mr. Malahide looks downright dashing in his courtroom robes. 🙂
Here is a brief summary of the basic plot, copied from its Wikipedia page:
Sixteen years after Caroline Crale has been convicted of (and executed for) the murder of her husband, Amyas Crale, her daughter, Carla Lemarchant, approaches Poirot to investigate the case. Poirot embarks optimistically upon an unprecedented challenge, but soon fears that the case may be as cut and dried as it had first appeared.
Sir Montague Depleach, Defense Council
Poroit goes to Caroline’s defense council, Sir Montague, to hear his recollection of the events. “Not one of my greatest successes, I have to say,” he says with genuine remorse. They had used a suicide defense, but the debauched Amyas was not the sort to take his own life. “The idea of his killing himself out of conscience – frankly, I don’t think he had one.” When asked if he believes Caroline was guilty, Sir Montague responds, slightly incredulously, “I rather thought we were taking that for granted.”
Depleach knew her fate was sealed as soon as she stepped into the witness box. “She certainly had motive, Amyus Crale was always getting mixed up with some woman or other, but this was rather different. A girl, Elsa Greer, just turned 18, quite a looker, I must say. She knew what she wanted and that was Amyus Crale. She got him to paint her and he ended up falling for her. Caroline Crale was overheard to say if he didn’t give her up, she would kill him.”
Caroline was alleged to have used poison. She claimed she had meant to use it to kill herself. However, they could not explain why only her fingerprints were on the bottle. Poirot asks how the poison was used. “She used a pipette to spike his beer.” “Pardon, monsieur…spike?” The ever helpful Depleach makes a little beer spiking gesture, “Tamper.”
I’m a bit surprised that this is the first time Poirot has heard the term “spike”, I guess he doesn’t read many American pulp novels. 🙂 “The police found the pipette crushed near the scene of the crime. Oh! The prosecution had a field day.”
Depleach then gathers his big bundle of court documents and heads down the stairs with Poirot catching him up.
Poirot: “So, she put the coniine into the bottle before taking it to him?” Sir Montague: “No, there was no coniine in the bottle at all. Only in the glass.”
Poirot: “I see.”
Sir Montague: ”Was that you being inscrutable, Monsieur Poirot?”
Poirot: “No, no, no, no. Pardon.”
I like that bit, Depleach seems slightly amused by the sleuth, and I’m sure his curiosity is piqued.
Depleach gives Poirot the names and backgrounds of all the witnesses who were with the Greers at the time, one of the most crucial being Elsa, “Currently Lady Dittisham, although nowadays she spends most of her time in the gossip columns and the divorce court.”
Somehow She Was Above It All
Depleach still takes a very interesting view of his doomed client, “Fascinating creature. I’ll never forget her, you know. She had a quality one couldn’t help but admire. Somehow she was…above it all.”
It is a striking moment. Mr. Malahide’s Depleach seems so thoughtful, and the way the sunlight hits his eyes makes him seem even more so. He gazes slightly upward which, I think, gives his memories of Caroline an ethereal quality and suggests her courtroom defeat may have been of her own choosing. It makes us want Hercule to prove her innocence all the more.
Looking at his watch, Depleach wraps up the discussion, “What people will do in the name of love.” Poirot: “It makes fools of us all, n’est-ce pas?”
Before leaving, Poirot asks, “…if, as her daughter hopes, Caroline Crale did not kill her husband…”
“But she DID, old boy. Take my word for it.” Poirot, who plans to speak with the witnesses, is told, “Get five different versions of the same event?”
I like that bit also. We see Depleach is a very decisive man, and I especially like his use of the term “old boy” as it is like something Captain Hastings would say. Plus, getting five different versions of the same event is a good thing for Poirot. He analyzes everything each witness says, the way they say it, and notices the things they don’t say. That is part of the mystery solving process for Poirot, but Depleach sees it as just more of the same thing.
That concludes Depleach’s contribution to the episode. Mr. Malahide gives the barrister a lot of life, he has the same infectious vibrancy displayed by some of Poirot’s regular chums, specifically Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) and Ariadne Oliver (Zoe Wanamaker). They are a charming contrast to Poirot’s precise, delicate nature.
The way Depleach seems genuinely sad about what happened to Caroline, even though he believed her to be guilty, is very touching. He doesn’t think much of Amyus, but obviously holds Caroline in high regard.
Patrick Malahide and the Poirot Cast
This isn’t the first time Mr. Malahide has worked with David Suchet. They were in The Secret Agent; what a far cry Verloc is from Poirot! They also appeared in Victoria & Albert with Mr. Malahide as the boisterous Sir John Conroy and Mr. Suchet as the cuddly Baron Stockmar.
But, before those performances, they were in a play called The Wedding Feast. It ran at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre from 5 – 28 June, 1980. You can read about it here. I really like the photo, from the same site, of them together. It looks like they are having a really good time working together.
I don’t think Hugh Fraser (Captain Hastings) has starred with Patrick Malahide in anything. But Mr. Fraser’s wife is Belinda Lang who, of course, played Agatha Troy in the Inspector Alleyn Mysteries. 🙂 I think it would be brilliant to see Hugh Fraser and Patrick Malahide in a project together, so hopefully one will pop up one day.
Mr. Malahide has worked with Zoe Wanamaker (Ariadne Oliver) in the Blackheath Poisonings, and they were excellent together. I would love to see them work together again.
So, there it is, the end of an era, so to speak. Of course, Poirot lives on in print, video and lots and lots of international reruns. I am glad that Patrick Malahide was able to be part of this splendid series, especially as he played neither a murder victim nor a murderer! I think a handsome, beautifully attired, well mannered, and (as far as I could tell) principled defense council is much better! 🙂