Cool Down With AC – Agatha Christie’s Three Act Tragedy Discussion

Last night, Masterpiece Mystery aired Three Act Tragedy, the first of the Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot Series 6 movies.  The series will also include The Clocks, and Hallowe’en Party. As part of the Cool Down with AC read/watch-along, I will be viewing them as well as a Miss Marple mystery a little bit later in the summer, and I hope you will be joining in. If you missed the movie last night on PBS, make sure you catch it while it’s available to view online!

Three Act Tragedy begins with Hercule Poirot playing catch up with friends Sir Charles Cartwright and Bartholomew Strange just as Cartwright is putting the finishing touches on his plan for a cocktail party. When an elderly vicar turns up dead at the party, Poirot doesn’t have any suspicions of murder until a second party with an almost identical guest list ends in death as well. Poirot enlists the help of would be detectives Cartwright and his crush, Egg Lytton Gore.

This was my first Hercule Poirot movie. I haven’t even seen the famed Murder on the Orient Express (but I plan to remedy that since it is available for the next week or so on PBS’s website.)! I finished reading the book shortly before I watched the movie and I was really struck by some major differences with the characters and the structure which were intriguing. I can see why the changes worked for the movie and I had wondered why AC chose to tell this story in the way that she did. Poirot does not play a big part in the book, nor is the story told from his point of view. Definitely an interesting choice for a series detective. I am curious to see whether the other Poirot stories are told in this fashion. The book was definitely more subtle with its reveal of the murderer. I had no clue with the book, but knowing probably influenced the way I watched the movie.

For Discussion:

I’ll be updating the discussion throughout the day, so feel free to check back often and leave any questions that you have in the comments.

Is this your first Poirot movie? If so, did you have any expectations and did it live up to them? For those who have followed Poirot before, how does this adaptation/actor measure up?

Have you read the book and the movie? Which one did you like better? Did you get the feeling that one was more effective than the other at telling the story? What worked for you and what didn’t?

There were quite a few zingers and one-liners in the movie. Did you have a favorite? How did these lines shape the character and feel of the movie?

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Out of Twenty   Michael Robotham, Author of The Wreckage, Answers Thirteen Questions

Participants in the discussion today will be eligible to win a copy of the Hercule Poirot Series 6 set of DVDs, which will be released on July 12. If you have something to add to the discussion, don’t be shy!

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  1. I wanted to wait until I finished reading THREE ACT TRAGEDY to respond. I enjoyed the movie and the book, but I admit I was surprised by the differences…namely that Mr. Satterthwaite wasn’t in the movie at all. I agree with you and do understand why that character was omitted and I think it probably was a good idea.

    This was my first Poirot movie. I didn’t have any expectations and I’m glad. I enjoyed the movie for the most part and thought it was very fast-paced (a plus in my book), but I found some of the production aspects to be a little strange (i.e. the highlighted circle around the victim and the images of the falling cards.)

    I think I enjoyed the book more although there were some improvements made in the movie. I thought there were a lot of characters in the book and I did find myself having a hard time keeping them straight. I also love the character of Poirot and I didn’t think he had a very big part in the book until the very end so I liked that he was a more prominent figure in the movie.

    I was a bit surprised by the humor/zingers in both the book and the movie. I don’t remember AC being quite this funny when I read her as a teen!

    1. I thought Satterthwaite was an interesting character if a little clumsy in execution because he gave a lot of insight into the way the British might have viewed a foreigner like Poirot, and their prejudices. It was interesting to see him through eyes which were not necessarily flattering, but at the same time Satterthwaite had just as many airs and self-important thoughts as Poirot. The way the narrator was set up to report the goings in in his head were a little disconcerting and Poirot was almost an after thought here until the very end. It was nice to see him more in the movie but i also missed having that window into the way other viewed him. Satterthwaite was funny in his observations. They made Poirot more of an insider. In the movie he was friends with Cartwright and Strange.

      I did like the book more and I enjoyed the pace and the passage of time. The pace of the movie moved at breakneck speed and a lot was truncated. I see that others who are a little more experienced than we are with Poirot find this one to be a little lacking in comparison to others. I am curious as to how the others will turn out.

  2. Phew, I’m glad I’m back in the blog world in time for this. I love Suchet’s Poirot. I’m watching this one this afternoon when my daughter gets home from work. I have to tell a funny story about the Murder on the Orient Express episode. My daughter and I sat down to watch it and she said (totally serious) “I can’t remember who did it in this one.” I just had to stare at her. When it was over all she could do was slap her forehead in mock shame.

    1. I can’ wait to hear what you have to say Martha, since you are more of a Poirot expert. This is my first Poirot so I have no comparisons that I can make between the actors. I think he is a little different than what I envisioned him from the book. Suchet doesn’t appear to be that tall, but I think I imagined Poirot would be smaller in stature. I was talking with someone else about Christie using dinner parties and large houses frequently for the scenes of her crimes. I imagine that after seeing/reading a few I wouldn’t remember anything either.

      1. Well, I’ve seen pretty much every Suchet Poirot and I really do enjoy them. They’re not all classics, some are just good but they’re all enjoyable. This was a little different from the rest. I kept asking my daughter this one seemed a little odd in it’s filming and story progression. Also, I haven’t read this one so I had no frame of reference, as far as the story goes. I have to say I did really enjoy this. It had me guessing until the very end.

        I agree with others who have said they miss Japp, Hastings, and the wonderful Miss Lemon. They all really added something to the story and were wonderful counterpoints to Poirot. There have been outings in the series where Poirot takes a backseat for a good portion of the story until it comes time to detect. I liked the “twist” of have Cartwright helping to solve the crimes. And I always love when Poirot finds a young lady to help in the investigation.

        I’m going to have to sneak this into my reading line-up so I can see how if differs from the book. (they almost always do but not in too bad a way)

        This definitely wasn’t my all time favorite but I did enjoy it. I can’t wait for the others.

  3. I have seen a lot of Poirot movies, and I think David Suchet is the best at portraying him. I usually love watching these movies, but found this one to be very thin and seemed short. I feel as if we usually get more of a backstory. I’m not sure why it seemed so short, these shows usually seem very long… which is a good thing, I love watching the period costumes and scenery. I haven’t read the book, but I did figure out pretty early on who the murder was.

    I like when Poirot interacts with Inspector Japp. They have a great relationship. I also miss Captain Hastings and his secretary. I have a hard time with these figuring out where they fit in his life time line.

    That being said it was great fun, “watching” this with new friends on Twitter. I hardly ever get a chance to see these shows with anyone other than my dogs, as my husband and kids don’t like these.

    I think my favorite line was when the minister asked his wife if he could have his yearly drink at this party, and then when he did, it killed him…

    1. I agree that of all the Poirots I have seen David Suchet is by far the best actor to take ownership of the characher. I thought it was funny that you said you liked Cptn Hastings and his interaction with inspector Japp as I loved when Cptn Hastings would say ” I say” I miss him too and I am sure we are not alone. Glad to see kindred spirits in my passion for the Poirot series.

    2. I was surprised too by how quickly they jumped to the last third of the book. I think that it would have been better if they had explored some of the relationships a bit more before the second murder happened. Cartwright’s relationship with Egg seemed to play a big part of the story and I think that was largely cut out.

      I am looking forward to seeing a few more of the movie. I don’t have a lot to judge by so far since this is my first Poirot book and movie. Twitter is making this such a fun experience. I am glad that you are watching online.

      Poor vicar. That was one drink that he would have much better of skipping.

  4. This is the first Agatha Christie adaptation I think I’ve ever seen. Poirot wasn’t exactly as I imagined him — the mustache was different than I pictured it, but I’m sure that’s just a failure of my memory — and I was nonplussed. However, I adapted. I’m looking forward to seeing the others now, and of course reading the book of Three Act Tragedy.

  5. I haven’t read this book yet, I am just going to start, but I did heard the radio drama, which is a very good adaptation, also I have seen almost all past seasons of Poirot and some of the last ones before this were a little discomforting, they changed a lot of the plot, not very usual with past Poirot’s, that was more of Miss Marple, at least the new ones. So seeing this one was quite reassuring in the sense that they tried to stick to the story once more, except for the omission of Satlewaithe (don’t remember how’s it spelled) which was the true connection to Poirot, he was clueless to why he was invited in the first place to Sir Charles’ dinner, and if you come to think of it, I would think it would speak a bit badly of Poirot’s ‘little grey cells’ if he were to be Sir Charles’ old friend for all that long without him suspected something fishy, it would not seem right! Having Poirot at the end very offender and exalted saying to Sir Charles, “You sir, you broke my heart” was a huge ‘huh??’ for me, and then trying to create some sympathy with his crying and plead fir love was not in line with a rudless character that he was supposed to be. Is this your first Poirot movie? If so, did you have any expectations and did it live up to them? I don’t see why they feel they need to change things, do the writers take it that they need to sort of ‘step it up’ to reach for AC? For me it’s ridiculous, they should know better, AC fans are not clueless as to the original stories, they should oblige us, instead of annoy us. But well I think that’s a hopeless prayer. The best line for me was Poirot’s: “No madam, I just realized that something worse could’ve happened, it might have been me!”
    P.S. I’m loving the AC summer! Thanks for everything!

    1. I am glad that you’re enjoying the summer readings of Christie. It’s a good opportunity for me to discover some new works of hers. I read a lot of the stand alones, so Ms. Marple and Poirot are mew to me.

      I understand that the tried to bring Poirot more into the fold and make him a bigger part of the action, but I can see your point that such a famed an observant detective might have caught on a little bit earlier that something was amiss with Cartwright. it does undercut his acumen a bit.

  6. I’ve watched a couple of the Poirot movies, this one was good but not my favorite. The scenery was beautiful though. I haven’t read the book yet so I’m curious about the changes. “Deranged!” as Poirot points out about the killer is right! What a nut bar! Killing 2 innocent people to get to one guy. Heartless.

    1. There are some drastic changes that made sense for the film, but I can also see that it does effect the way that Poirot come across. Cartwright was pretty heartless. How that ever made any sense for him is beyond me.

  7. I watched this film adaptation last night and was OK with it. I read the book many years ago and remembered who the murderer was early on. I agree with those who are Poirot veterans in saying that, in my opinion, this was not the best adaptation. I’ve been increasingly disappointed as this series has continued. Well, maybe not exactly disappointed but a little frustrated. The writers seem to tweaking the storylines more and more. I suspect this because they have run out of Poirot and Marple stories to film and since the public is familiar with those two, seem to insert them into books where they either never appeared or where they took little part. I haven’t stopped watching, but I have had to disconnect my mind from the original AC book and look upon these as new efforts. This is especially true for some of the latest Marple films. For example, an upcoming Miss Marple movie is The Pale Horse. She never appeared in the book, The Pale Horse. So, I’ll watch, but don’t exactly understand why they couldn’t film it without her.

    David Suchet portrays Poirot the best of any I’ve seen. I agree that the mustache is a bit slim, but it works for him. Albert Finney played Poirot in a big screen film of Murder on the Orient Express. He looked odd, but had the mustache right I think. Mr. Suchet has the fussiness and mincing steps perfectly. I, too, love Captain Hastings, Inspector Japp, and Miss Lemon. I also like Colonel Race, who is a kind of secret agent type and appears in a couple of books.

    The stern Poirot at the end of the film was not out of character, although the tears were a bit over the top. Poirot definitely disapproves of murder and makes that very clear. AC herself had strong views on the subject and puts them into her two top detectives. Miss Marple becomes very chilly voicing her thoughts on murder. Poirot cares about his friends, but I don’t think he is quite so public in stating it. He does have an eye for a pretty girl though and several appear in various books, assisting him in detecting. Not to become involved with in any way, but just as a kind friend.

    I’m looking forward to Hallowe’en Party, another of my favorite Poirot books. It should include Mrs. Ariadne Oliver and she’s always fun. Enjoying this summer cool down with Agatha feature. I’ve been such a big fan for so many years and it’s always nice to revisit AC’s world.

  8. I love Poirot’s one-liners. One of my favorites in Three Act Tragedy was when Egg said to Poirot “People can be so disgusting about money.” And Poirot responds, “People can be disgusting about so many things …” I just love him! One of my favorites was “Lord Edgeware Dies” when he tells the murderer that she has made a “cat’s paw” out of Poirot. Love him!

  9. I have GOT to read Three Act Tragedy. I watched the film Sunday, and reviewed it on my blog yesterday – looking up the novel’s plot online to see if any glaring differences jumped out. They didn’t, but then again I was just looking at a summary. I am more anxious than ever to read the book myself now, so I can properly dissect the film. 🙂

  10. I think that I have read every Agatha Christie novel & play and I own several of the PBS DVD collections. Believe me when I say DO NOT watch the Murder on the Orient Express with David Suchet! It was really inferior to not only the book but the 1970’s version with Lauren Bacall & Albert Finney.

  11. I agree with Kim in that I miss Poirot’s sidekick Hastings and his secretary, Miss Lemons. I think I have seen all of David Suchet’s Poirots but he has remade several in the last few years. I like watching the new ones to see the different actors playing the parts. I’ve been watching Poirot for about 15 years and I love his character (but my favorite is Miss Marple). I once read that Agatha hated the detective and wanted to quit writing but her public loved him so she continued. I agree with the public. 🙂

  12. I’ve read most of the AC books and while the ‘3 Act Tragedy’ movie was not identical, I think it was true enough to the book. Having seen many actors as the great Mon. Poirot, I truly do like David Suchet the best!

    I am so glad more Poirot movies were made. It makes my Sunday night!

  13. What I’m enjoying MOST about these series of movies is that as David Suchet (the actor who plays Poirot) is growing older, he is being allowed to portray Poirot as an older man. Some of the earlier shows and films seem to exist out of time and timeline. Now, with Three Act Tragedy, and Murder on the Orient Express, we see an older Poirot losing his patience in the face of betrayal and selfishness and vengeful murder. Another FANTASTIC turn by Suchet!

  14. I finished the book shortly before this show aired and I was a little off-balance at the beginning. As others have stated, it was probably necessary to get rid of Satterthwaite, but I was disappointed nontheless. In some ways, Satterthwaite’s inexperience as an investigator made Cartwright’s plan more plausible. Substituting Poirot for Satterthwaite was a bit clumsy and not totally believable for me. I didn’t feel that the relationship between Poirot and Cartwright was as close in the book as it was portrayed in the show. I was also a put off by the pacing and the lack of character development in comparison to the book. Maybe reading the book so close to watching the adaptation is a problem for me. No issues with David Suchet, however – he is the perfect Hercule Poirot.

    I’m reading The Clocks now, the next episode, and the set-up is much the same – Poirot is still a peripheral character, with two other characters currently pursuing the murder investiagation. It will be interesting to see if one of them is eliminated for the TV show.

    Thanks for hosting this discussion!

    1. I am going to be starting The Clocks too and I was curious as to whether Poirot was always so peripheral a character, especially since he has become so popular in the books and movies. One thing that I did get from Satterthwaite was an idea of how he perceived Poirot and how others who shared his background may view him in the same way. It will be interesting to see what the observations will be on him in this book.

  15. It’s so good to discover this group of Agatha Christie fans! I read a few of her books back in the 80s, but haven’t read many of the Poirots. I recorded many of the Poirots that used to be shown on the Biography channel. I watched them in my spare moments as a way to relax. For some of us, there’s nothing like a good murder to calm the nerves.

    Happily, my love of all things Christie has caught fire with my daughters. When there’s nothing on television, we can always watch Poirot or Miss Marple. The only difficulty is agreeing which episode to watch. I think they’ve read more of the Poirot and Marples than I have at this point.

    We watched Three Act Tragedy last night online and it was good. The newer movies are definitely darker and the writing is tighter. Like some of the other commenters, I miss Hastings and Miss Lemon. Since I haven’t read the story, I can’t weigh in there, but now I want to read it after reading the comments and blog post here.

    Thanks to PBS on Facebook who shared your link so I could find more Christie fans!

  16. As much as I read – and I have 3500+ books in my own library, organized and on a database – I’ve never read any Agatha Christie Poirot books. I’ve seen a few of the movies where AP is portrayed by someone other than David Suchet, and can only say that I absolutely prefer and love DS in the role. Saw “Three Act” the other night, and did enjoy it. I do miss Captain Hastings and his “I say, Poirot!” and Miss Lemon with her glued on curlicues and Inspector Japp with his clumsy flat feet – but any Poirot with Suchet is fine with me! I adore PBS and all the past mysteries – favorite was Morse. Really enjoy the new Lewis ones. Another favorite is the Midsomer series. Oh, I love almost all of them. The new Sherlock is fun, but I long – long, I tell you! – for Jeremy Brett and his violin.

    Thank goodness for PBS!!

  17. David Suchet’s Poirot is required viewing for me. I LOVE his portrayal of my favorite Belgian! I enjoy all of the movies on Masterpiece Theatre and, of course MYSTERY. No one else in my family enjoys these programs (they must lack the mystery gene) so I’m glad to find compatriots here.

  18. Somehow, summer and AC just seem to go together for me! Guess it is my memories of early teen years reading all my mother’s AC collection, and then everything I could get my hands on at the library!
    As to the film, I have been an avid watcher of David Suchet in the series, as well as having seen nearly every AC story that has been put on film. Suchet by far is the best Poirot for me. My favorite scene in the movie was watching Poirot walk (or rather waddle, something like a penguin) from behind. Although there were a couple of times I was jarred by the dialog and plotline (as mentioned by Lila earlier), the film contained all the essential elements of Christie’s book. I don’t object to the film’s changes from the novel, because the series does such a great job of eliciting the emotional/sensual/temporal feeling of Christie’s characters and settings. AC put the bones and the meat on Poirot, but Suchet has dressed him to a tee! Seeing the series always transports me back to places and times I only vaguely–and fondly–remember as a young girl.
    One comment I heard from several people who watched the film, with which I agree, is that the cinematography in this episode seems quite different from that of previous seasons. I wonder if that portends more changes in the other episodes ahead?

  19. I watched Tragedy in Three Acts mainly because Martin Shaw was on it. Suchet does fit the books’ description of Poirot very well (short, heavy set, egg shaped balding head) and he does a fairly good job of characterization. I did notice that they are tweaking the scripts to add more emotionality from Poirot. For example at the end of Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot’s decision as to which story to go with seemed much more difficult for him and included some mention of the fact that Poirot is Catholic–I don’t remember that from the books, but it’s been a while since I’ve read most of them.

    I saw another made-for-television version of Three Act Tragedy with Peter Ustinov as Poirot and Tony Curtis as Cartwright. Shaw is a better actor. Even in that movie, they changed the finale and motive. I need to go read the book. While Ustinov is not physically right, he did well with the humor and the arrogance in his portrayal and I enjoyed the movies he made.

  20. I love to watch him walk, that prissy little walk. I heard him say one time he had to hold his butt cheeks in to accomplish this. One of his more endearing traits.

  21. I finished the book on Sunday right before the movie. I thought Poirot would have been featured more in the book and the movie was more how I imagined it to be. The movie made it much easier to keep track of the characters, something I had difficulty doing when reading the book. I kept getting the feeling during the movie that Charles was trying to draw attention to the fact that a murder had taken place in order to list Poirot’s help in solving the case. Why would he do that? Maybe the second death would have been written off as an accident too if he kept his mouth shut. In this way the movie made less sense to me than the book. I guess it was the movie”s attempt to confuse you as to who the real murderer was. This was my second Poirot movie. I previously caught Murder on the Orient Express which was excellent. I think watching the movie enhanced my understanding of the book.

  22. I read the book last week in preparation for watching the new Poirot this past Sunday. Unfortunately, I was not able to finish watching it since a certain 8-month old baby decided she didn’t want to go to sleep yet. 🙂 But I plan on finishing it up online and I’m really glad that it is available for viewing on the Masterpiece site.

    I thought the book was brilliant and really appreciated the use of Satterthwaite as the reader’s perspective. I think his character did a good job of capturing the reader’s perspective since he is 1) An careful and sympathetic observer of human nature, and 2) Not as brilliant as Poirot. Much like Hastings, I think the reader can easily sympathize with Satterthwaite since Christie readers with any experience will consider themselves careful and sympathetic observers of her characters. Likewise, while readers are not totally ignorant, they are still typically a step (or two or three) behind Poirot.

    I felt very satisfied because I detected the literary clues and was able to figure out the identity of the murderer and many of the details surrounding the crimes (or as Poirot says, the single “crime”) early on. I usually find myself fooled by Christie but I got it this time.

    I think it was a natural choice to leave out Satterthwaite from the movie since the lack of David Suchet would be very unsatisfying for the viewer. Not to mention, it is always difficult to explore as many characters in a television show/movie as you can in a book.

    I look forward to finishing the movie online and was very impressed with what I saw. Now, I must get back to reading The Clocks!

    1. I just finished up with The Clocks and I am excited to see other opinions on the book and the comparison to the movie. I think I prefer Three Act Tragedy to this one, though it was still good. I wonder which movie version I will prefer.

      Another thing that I liked about Satterthwaite is that he gives a view to the changing times that Christie was writing about. A lot of observation were made about the way the “young people” were doing things in terms if dating and working, and what they wore. I loved the commentary on the changing times.

  23. Like a cat is drawn to a sunny window so I am drawn to the color and lighting of the cinematography for Hercule Poirot. I bask in it and am able to transport myself to the time of Art Deco architecture where mysteries begin.

    I am a captive of my environment. When I feel out of sorts I seek out the atmosphere of a good Poirot mystery. While watching this past Sunday evening I must say even though the home that was used as the setting for the first murder was familiar as it had been used in a previous Poirot plot, I did not feel the light, colors or warmth.

    Also, Poirot had a new apartment!!! Where was Miss Lemon? Was Captain Hastings in South America already? I felt like a snob who needed to be surrounded by tried and true.

    But David Suchet was still his wonderful self. And like a cat who snubs his owner when he is miffed but can’t help himself when dinner is served to run and eat, I could not turn away from the mystery itself. So come next Sunday I will be sitting front and center, eyes on the “mouse hole” mesmerized knowing that I will be satisfied with what ever I am served.

    1. You can’t resist! The difference in the books and the movies and even the differences among the movies are fascinating. In the two novels that I have read, Poirot is an important character, but by no means the main one. So far he has never been in more than a quarter of the book, and he’s not even very beloved in the books. He takes on a life of his own in the books.

    2. I really missed Miss Lemon from the series. The stodgy butler guy was too similar to M. Poirot’s character!

  24. Thank you, Nicole, for the inspiration. I just picked up The Clocks a couple of weeks back and thought I’d get around to reading it sooner or later. I’m now on chapter four.

  25. Love spending the summer with AC, great idea! I’ve seen many of the PBS Poirot adaptations & thought this one was very well done. I enjoyed the book & the movie in different ways. However, I did appreciate Poirot’s expanded role in the movie. The “big reveal” scenes are always excellent. Loved Poirot revealing that he speaks perfect English, but employs his broken speech as a ruse when dealing with other characters in the book. AC was actually funny, in a dry British sorta way! See u next week. Just started reading The Clocks.

  26. I had seen Suchet movies a long long long time ago, so this time it was like the first time for me. I saw Murder on the Orient Express but with Albert Finney as Poirot and I have to admit I prefer the PBS movies haha though the cast is still great in the Hollywood version.

    I was very impressed with he quality of the movie, the score and the costume were delightful (I don’t think it’s something I would have appreciated when I saw them younger) Suchet is unintentionally funny as Poirot!

    I read the book and saw the movie, I have to say that what I liked the most from the movie was the emphasis on the friendship of Charles and Poirot, it made the discovery more dramatic.

    My review

  27. There is no better Poirot than David Suchet! He makes the books come alive!

    I read the book before the seeing the movie, and I must say that I enjoyed the book much more. I dislike the way they took Mr. Sattherwaite out of the movie and made Charles and Poirot very good friends. I’m a stickler for the movie sticking to the book.