Syria, 1937: Hercule Poirot is one of several people present at an archaeological dig to find the skull of St John the Baptist, led by the exuberant Lord Boynton and his loyal son Leonard. The enterprise has been financed by Boynton's rich, rude and overbearing American wife. She bullies her three adopted children, Carol, Jinny and Raymond, as well as the family's nanny. Sarah King, a young English doctor, falls for Raymond and would love to tear him from his mother's apron-strings, and another doctor, Dr Gerard, takes an interest in Jinny, as does a Polish nun, who, with Jinny, is subject to an attack - by white slavers, according to the independent travel-writer Dame Celia Westholme. A mysterious young American, Jefferson Cope, whose link to the Boyntons seems tenuous, completes the group. Only his Lordship has any love for his wife so that, when she is found stabbed to death one blisteringly hot afternoon, Poirot has more than his fair share of suspects to interrogate. Written by
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A 1945 West End theatrical adaptation of the original 1938 novel eliminated Poirot's character and changed the identity of the killer. It is notable that Joan Hickson, later to play Christie's Miss Marple, was in the cast. See more »
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I have been reading Agatha Christie for over 50 years, but I am not one of those who think she is a sacred text, incapable of improvement and which it is sacrilegious to change. All the same, change should be an improvement or at least do no harm. The book "Appointment with Death" (a) has a clear plot and in Mrs Boynton one of Christie's most memorable characters (b) is a masterpiece of misdirection (c) shows Poirot's ability to see beneath the apparent to the real. This version tries to cram a much more complicated plot and more characters (notably Lord Boynton, someone superfluous to requirements if ever there was one) into a little over an hour of screen time. The result is that it is difficult to grasp who the characters are, let alone what their motives might be. Needless complications abound. Why are the Boynton children adopted? What purpose does Nanny Taylor serve? Why can Col Carbury, a British Foreign Office official, call on the French police in a French mandated territory? Why does Dr Gerard become a wholly superfluous villain? Above all, what does Lord B and his absurd search for the head of John the Baptist add? All this is such a muddle that it takes Poirot almost 15 minutes to explain the answer, which is not enough.The impression left is that the re-write team decided to throw in a little something for everybody - the Baptist for the religious, a peer for N American snobs, beatings for the sado-masochists, love interest for the damp handkerchief brigade,and plenty of drugs for all and sundry.
It is sad to see David Suchet's talents wasted. The Hotel Constantine's interiors are notable and some of the desert scenes handsome. Otherwise best forgotten.
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