“HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” (1995) Review
Every once in a while, Agatha Christie wrote a novel in which she used a nursery rhyme as its title. This turned out to be the case for her 1955 novel, “Hickory Dickory Dock”. Forty years after its publication, ITV aired an adaptation of the novel for its series, “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”.
“HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” began with a rash of thefts committed at a student hostel in 1936 London. Since her sister is the hostel’s warden, Miss Lemon recruits her boss, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, to investigate what appears to be a case of kleptomania. It does not take him long to discover the identity of the thief – a chemistry student named Celia Austin, who had stolen the items to attract the attention of psychiatry student Colin McNabb. However, it seems Celia only stole a few petty items. She was not responsible for a missing stethoscope, light bulbs and boracic powder. She also did not cut up and conceal a rucksack. When Celia is discovered the following morning, dead from an overdose of morphine, Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard eventually realize that someone tried to make her death look like suicide.
Although the novel was written and set in the 1950s, screenwriter Anthony Horowitz and director Andrew Grieve transformed the story’s setting to 1936. One, all of the “POIROT” movies and episodes are set in the 1930s, regardless of when they were made. Due to the change in setting, Horowitz and Grieve included a subplot that featured the Jarrow March and Member of Parliament (MP) Arthur Stanley. Also, all non-white and Continental European characters (aside from Greek-born hostel owner Mrs. Nicoletis) were deleted from this television adaptation. Also, the pair replaced an Inspector Sharpe with recurring character Chief Inspector Japp.
What can I say about “HICKORY DICKORY DOCK”? Honestly? I did not like it very much. I find this very interesting, considering that the movie featured two actors that I happened to like very much – Jonathan Firth and Damian Lewis. But their presence in the movie could not save it for me. Frankly, I believe that Horowitz did a piss poor job of adapting Christie’s novel. Mind you, I have never been a fan of the 1955 novel anyway. But Horowitz’s script only made it worse.
Of all the changes in this adaptation, the only one that did not bother me was the addition of Chief Inspector Japp. Mind you, I could not see someone that high up in the Scotland Yard hierarchy investigating a series of murders at a student hostel. But since the City of London is under Scotland Yard’s jurisdiction, for once Japp’s presence does not seem out of place. I wish I could say about some of the other changes . . . but I cannot.
For some reason, Horowitz had decided to include the Jarrow March into the story. Why? It really had nothing to do with the story. Also, the March actually occurred in October 1936. Yet, “HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” was set in April 1936. The screenwriter tried to justify this change by transforming MP Arthur Stanley into a Labour politician (he was a Conservative) and connecting him to the march. Worse, he changed the politician’s year of death from 1947 to 1936. To deepen the connection, Horowitz allowed one of the students to be a Political Science major and discover that another student – the murderer – was Stanley’s offspring. And you know what? It did not work. Because in the end, the Jarrow March still proved to be an unnecessary addition to the story.
By changing the story from the 1950s to the 1930s, Horowitz screwed up with another character’s portrayal. American student Sally Finch claimed to be studying in Britain on the Fullbright Program. The Fullbright Program did not exist until 1946. And although Sally proved to be a spy for British Customs that was investigating a smuggling ring within the hostel, she retained her American accent. Which led me to wonder how an American subject ended up working for a British government agency. And why did Horowitz eliminated all of the non-white characters from Christie’s novel. Mind you, her portrayal of some of them (especially one Mr. Akibombo) struck me as wince-inducing. But I do not see this as a good excuse to eliminate them all together. And one of them – a Jamaican student named Elizabeth Johnson – proved to be a very interesting character. Alas . . .
One last aspect of “HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” really annoyed me. Like other Christie adaptations with a nursery rhyme title (think “ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE”), it used heavy-handed literary symbols to connect the story with the title. The real connection between the story and the title proved to be the name of the road where the student hostel was located – Hickory Road. Yet, director Andrew Grieve decided to include the occasional shots of a mouse roaming around the hostel and an old fashioned clock (both make up part of the famous nursery rhyme), with a few voices whispering – “Hickory dickory, hickory dickory!”. I found it very annoying. Grieve finally made use of the mouse by allowing it to scare Miss Lemon, giving the revealed murderer a chance to attempt an escape. This led to a prolonged and ridiculous foot chase that, unfortunately, has been a hallmark of the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” series – especially in the 1990s.
Was there anything about “HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” that I liked? Well, most of the performances stuck me as top notch. I especially enjoyed the performances of Jonathan Firth, Damian Lewis, Polly Kemp, Gilbert Martin and Elinor Morriston as some of the students at the hostel. It was nice to see that Pauline Moran was given a bigger presence in the story as Poirot’s efficient secretary, Miss Lemon. Both David Suchet and Philip Jackson were superb as Hercule Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp. Horowitz included an entertaining subplot in which Japp found himself as a house guest at the detective’s flat, while his wife was out of town. I never felt more sympathy toward the man, as he was forced to endure Poirot’s brand of Haute cuisine. The movie could also boast a first-rate production, thanks to production designer Rob Harris. He did an excellent job of re-creating mid-1930s London. He was ably helped by Peter Wenham’s art direction and Andrea Galer’s convincing costume designs.
Despite a good deal of top-notch performances – especially by David Suchet, Philip Jackson and Pauline Moran, a convincing re-creation of 1936 London and an entertaining subplot featuring Poirot and Japp; I cannot say that “HICKORY DICKORY DOCK” is a favorite mine. To be honest, I found it a bit disappointing, thanks to some unnecessary changes to Christie’s novel by screenwriter Anthony Horowitz. Oh well. You cannot win ’em all.
Filed under: Book Review, Television | Tagged: agatha christie, damian lewis, david suchet, great depression, history, jonathan firth, pauline moran, philip jackson, politics, rachel bell, television |