I’ll admit, I’m not overly familiar with Hercule Poirot, the famed Belgian detective at the center of Agatha Christie’s sprawling series of mystery novels. Nor did I realize how deep the character’s legacy ran in pop culture. Honestly, when Kenneth Branagh popped up at the tail end of the teaser trailer for 2017’s star-studded Murder on the Orient Express sporting a massive dangle bar mustache and a very serious look on his face, my reaction was: “Who?”
I’ve read a few Agatha Christie novels in my day, notably And Then There Were None, but I don’t recall reading anything featuring her famous detective. I was actually quite surprised to find out that Branagh would be making a series of films based on the character, including the upcoming Death on the Nile, as I always figured Christie’s novels were one-shots.
As such, in order to prepare for the upcoming mystery thriller, I decided to do a little digging to learn more about this famous character.
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Poirot first appeared in Christie’s novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles way back in 1920. The character is often seen bumbling about with his best friend, Arthur Hastings, and the detective solved crimes well into the mid-’70s before Christie — after 33 novels — finally killed him off in Curtain; which, it turns out, was the author’s final novel before her death (not including Sleeping Murder, which published posthumously).
According to the website, The Home of Agatha Christie, Poirot is a retired Belgian police officer turned detective who hates disorder and is described as a 5’4-tall man with a “head the shape of an egg” who “carried himself with great dignity” and was practically neat to a fault. His mustache was of most importance to Christie, who “was asked to approve its appearance in the 1965 comedy-mystery film The Alphabet Murders.”
Interestingly, Christie wasn’t fond of the character. According to screenwriter Tom Dalton (via an interview with RadioTimes in 2020), who wrote and produced Agatha and the Truth of Murder (2018), Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar (2019), and Agatha and the Midnight Murders (2020):
“Yes, she [Christie] really didn’t like him [Poirot] – she didn’t like specifically aspects of his personality. You know, there were clearly things about this personality that she had created which really wound her up. He was petty and sort of egotistical — these things that make Poirot the great character he is. Because that’s the thing: what makes him such a good character are at the same time the things she really didn’t like about him.”
He continued, “It is a fascinating relationship in that she was writing someone that she actively didn’t like, and that she was still able to do that in a way that captivated an audience, and I think that’s because that process was absolutely part of making Poirot who he was.”
Poirot paid the bills and made fans happy, which is why Christie didn’t kill the character off earlier.
The New York Times actually published the character’s obituary on their front page in 1975, which marked “the first time a fictional character received this treatment.”
In other words, he was kind of a big deal.
THE TV SHOWS
So big, in fact, he inspired the very popular British mystery drama Agatha Christie’s Poirot — or, that weird show that always popped up on PBS when you were channel surfing throughout the ’90s — that ran from 1989 to 2013. Starring David Suchet in the title role, the series adapted Christie’s novels into each of its 50-minute episodes and often brought in talented players such as Michael Fassbender and Emily Blunt (who appeared in the episode “Death on the Nile”) for key supporting roles.
Like the novels, the series ended with “Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case,” the filming of which Suchet discussed in a letter to The Daily Mail in 2013.
Other actors have portrayed the character on the small screen throughout the years, including Ian Holm in 1986’s Murder by the Book, Hugh Laurie in the 1997 comedy Spice World, Alfred Molina in a 2001 retelling of Murder on the Orient Express, John Malkovich in the 2018 BBC adaptation of The ABC Murders.
However, the first actor to technically play the role was Charles Laughton in the 1928 stage play Alibi based on the novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
There’s even an anime based on the character titled Satomi Kōtarō, Agatha Christie’s Great Detectives Poirot and Marple that ran from 2004-2005. No, really. Check it out!
On film, Poirot has been played by the likes of Austin Trevor, in the 1931 film Alibi and its sequels Black Coffee and Lord Egware Dies, sans mustache; Andrew Sachs in 1978’s Revenge of the Punk Panther; Tony Randall, in the 1965 parody The Alphabet Murders; Albert Finney, in 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express, for which he received an Academy Award nomination; Peter Ustinov, who portrayed the character in three films — Death on the Nile (1978), Evil Under the Sun (1982) and Appointment with Death (1988) — and three TV films — Thirteen at Dinner (1985), Dead Man’s Folly (1986), and Murder in Three Acts (1986); and the Russian actor Anatoly Ravikovich, who was in a 1989 adaption of Peril at End House.
Many, including Vulture, obviously felt David Suchet did the best job at playing the famed detective, but list Albert Finney as a close runner up followed by Kenneth Branagh.
The character is certainly more than a man with a funny mustache. In fact, you might call him one of the more iconic characters in all of literature. And while Agatha Christie never got to see anything beyond Finney’s performance — she died in 1976 — it stands to reason she would have enjoyed the many variations on the character throughout the years.
So, where does one go from here? Where do you start with the world of Poirot? The books? The TV show? The movies? That’s a mystery for you to unlock, though I wager most will just wait for Branagh’s Death on the Nile. At the very least, if you want more, there are a number of ways to indulge in this fascinating character.