Twenty-five years ago, ITV’s “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” aired an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1940 novel. Not only was “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” considered one of Christie’s darkest novels, due to its political overtones, the 1992 television adaptation acquired the same reputation.
Directed by Ross Devenish and adapted by Clive Exton, “ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE” centered on Hercule Poirot’s investigation into the death of his dentist, one Dr. Henry Morely, which occurred less than two hours after the former’s last appointment. Poirot’s police colleague, Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard, believes that Dr. Morely had committed suicide, because another one of his clients had died from an overdose of anaesthetic. However, Poirot and Japp eventually discovered that both Dr. Morely and Mr. Amberiotis’ deaths may be tied to possible attempts on the life of a banker named Alistair Blunt, who also happened to be a client of the dentist. Other suspects in the case include a former actress-turned-missionary named Mabelle Sainsbury Seale, who knew Mr. Blunt and his first wife back in India, during the 1920s; a member of the British Blackshirts named Frank Carter, who also happened to be the boyfriend of Dr. Morely’s assistant; Mr. Blunt’s American sister-in-law, Mrs. Julia Olivera; and the latter’s daughter, Jane Olivera.
As I had stated earlier, many fans of Christie’s novel and the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” seemed to harbor a very high regard of this particular story. I must admit there is a good deal about this production that I found impressive. Rob Harris’s re-creation of 1936-37 London was superb. In fact, I would go as far to say that out of the many episodes and television movies that aired on “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”, I would count Harris’ production designs as among the best. Harris’ work was ably supported by Barbara Kronig’s costume designs and Chris O'Dell’s photography. And I also had to compliment Andrew Nelson’s editing, especially in the sequence that featured the details that led to Dr. Morely’s murder. I thought the entire scene was well paced.
The performances also struck me as first-rate. David Suchet was in fine form as Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. He was ably supported by Philip Jackson’s wry performance as Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Japp. I realize that many may have been a little upset by the lack of Arthur Hastings and Miss Lemon’s presence. But to be honest, I did not really miss them. Suchet and Jackson made a pretty strong screen team, as they have done in a few other productions.
Most of the supporting cast gave solid performances, including Joanna Phillips-Lane, Laurence Harrington, and Carolyn Colquhoun. However, there were times that I found the latter’s performance as Mabelle Sainsbury Seale to be a little ponderous. Peter Blythe did a good job in conveying both the charm and dignity of his character, Alistair Blunt, even if he came off as a bit smug toward Poirot, a man trying to prevent his murder. Helen Horton gave an amusing performance as Blunt’s American sister-in-law, Julia Olivera. And I am relieved that her portrayal as a middle-aged American woman did not collapsed into a cliche, even if Clive Exton’s screenplay gave her nearly every opportunity to do so. But I believe the best performance came from Christopher Eccleston, who portrayed one of the suspects - the boyfriend of Dr. Morely’s assistant and a follower of the British Union of Fascists. Not only was Eccleston’s performance brimmed with energy, he managed to inject sympathy into a character most would regard with disgust.
I wish I could say that “ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE” was one of the best Christie adaptations I have seen. Many seemed to think so. I believe it had the potential to be one of the best. But I also believe that Clive Exton’s script was riddled with a few flaws. One, Clive Exton wrote a convoluted script, which is not surprising since it was based upon a convoluted novel. Two, Exton and director Ross Devenish should have never included that prologue in 1925 India. It literally made it easier to solve the murders. And three, the script never made it clear why Alistair Blunt was needed to maintain some balance within Britain and Europe’s political and economic climates. Why was it so important for Scotland Yard to discover who was trying to kill him? And three, the nursery rhyme chant that permeated the movie really got on my nerves. Why was it that every time ITV aired an Agatha Christie adaptation that featured a title from a nursery rhyme, it had to include an annoying and heavy-handed literary symbol into the production?
Despite a convoluted story and a prologue that made it easier to identify the murderer, I must admit that I still rather like “ONE, TWO, BUCKLE MY SHOE”. It has a lot of style. I thought it did a great job in re-creating mid-1930s London. And it featured some top-notch performances led by David Suchet, Philip Jackson and a young Christopher Eccleston.
2/2: apart from revealing that our hero liked gardening (aah...), it seems to me that there's so much in that little story, psychoanalytically speaking: the shadow of perfectionism (which as you know B. Murray also flags up), having to be philosophical about where you put your roots down etc. Would love to understand more about how he transitioned from New England preppy to Old England hobo.
*nods* Thanks for sharing. And I don’t know, about the latter, I haven’t been back to read through all the yearbook stuff properly, but there were a few photos where they’re all sitting there wearing ties and he’s wearing a bow tie and his hair’s too long. And he’s the one not in all the Phi Kappa whatever societies, but the one that’s claiming to be different and more democratic - so maybe he was, as B. Murray says, not really liking it and itching to get away in the first place.
But, yeah, it’s interesting. From a social history POV, it must have been a culture shock! The comparative standard of living between the US in boom and the UK in post-war shakiness, especially for someone coming from a particularly privileged background, must have been quite something to get used to. Bomb damage, housing shortages, the rubble still in evidence, smogs, rationing still going on, plus the fact that there was a lot of anti-American feeling in Britain at the time, because the last thing people had wanted was the US dragging the UK into the Korean War. But, hey, one day we’ll find an interview! The internet has coughed up interviews for far more unlikely people all over the place.
Anyway, thanks again for reminding me of Underworld. I watched the In Studio feature today and it was fun all round, far more so than other in studio things I’ve seen, funnily enough. And I also found these today, from the British Library’s oral Theatre History collection:
If you haven’t already listened to them, the Rosalind Knight one is particularly cool as everything’s she’s talking about is basically all the things the group did together and what it was like at the Old Vic Theatre School and so on.