Hercule Poirot: Third Girl on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Poirot: Third Girl: David Suchet and Zoë Wanamaker © 2008 MASTERPIECEIf Masterpiece Mystery fans were unsettled by last week’s uncharacteristically dark and moralistic production of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, then absolution is in order with Third Girl, a total turn-around back to the sophisticated Art Deco 1930’s London and country manor house crime dramas that we have come to cherish and expect. In this new 2008 ITV/PBS co-production, David Suchet continues as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot joined by Zoë Wanamaker in her re-occurring role as crime novelist Ariadne Oliver. Faced with one of their most challenging cases they must discover if a tormented heiress is a murderer or another criminal is amongst a group of suspects who may have set her up.

Norma Restarick (Jemima Rooper – Lost in Austen) arrives at Poirot’s London flat distressed and distraught, hoping that he can save her. She believes she has committed murder, but before he can assist her she abruptly leaves oddly claiming the distinguished detective is too old. Baffled, Poirot later visits his friend celebrated crime novelist Ariadne Oliver and learns she had sent Norma to him for assistance. Mrs. Oliver shares with him that Norma is the “third girl” in a flat of single women who live upstairs. The night before Mrs. Oliver had attended their birthday party for “first girl” Clemency Burton-Hill (Claudia Reece-Holland) a secretary of Norma’s recently reunited father Andrew Restarick (James Wilby). While there she witnessed the “second girl” Frances Cary (Matilda Sturridge) a Bohemian actress/model flirting with Norma’s love interest artist David Baker (Tom Mison – Lost in Austen) upsetting Norma who leaves the party.

Poirot and Mrs. Oliver are both unaware of yet a further connection in her apartment building until they learn that Norma’s childhood nanny Lavinia Seagram (Caroline O’Neill) is also a resident until her death only the night before. Is this the woman Norma believes she murdered? The police arrive to investigate and Inspector Nelson (John Warnaby) is quick to conclude a suicide, but Poirot and Mrs. Oliver are not convinced. Is Norma guilty, innocent or insane?

While Norma’s roommates and family fret over her unstable state of mind, Poirot delves into her family history also becoming fearful of her life, but for different reasons. Who would benefit from her demise? Is it her grand-uncle Sir Roderick Horsfield (Peter Bowles) or her father Andrew Restarick, the two people who will co-inherit her large estate? To flush out the killer, Poirot must depend on fragile Norma’s help to trick a confession out of the criminal only Poirot has suspected.

Based on Agatha Christie’s 1966 novel, Poirot purist might be miffed again with more artistic license being taken by screenwriter Peter Flannery when they discover changes to her original plot and rearrangement and elimination of characters. Having not read Third Girl I was not offended taking everything presented at face value, quickly accepting the time shift from the 1960’s to the 1930’s atmosphere that I so enjoy in many of Ms. Christie’s novels.

There was also much to distract me in the decadent and delightful high quality production values: gorgeous costumes, striking locations, superlative acting by an all-star cast, ambient direction by Dan Reed (Inspector Lewis) and the stunning cinematography by Paul Bond. Did I say stunning cinematography? Wowza! Zoë Wanamaker’s performance was the highlight for me. Her scene after she awakens after being struck on the head is brilliant and LOL funny! Unfortunately, the last fifteen minutes were a disappointment. The traditional round-up of suspects into one room and final denouement was accelerated into a muddling quandary. Can one assume that this condensed 90-minute format did not allow enough plot development and clues to make everything click?  It took another viewing of the scene before this dull elf could absorb and decipher. (Oh, and since there are no sportscars in this episode, I will accept Poirot’s persimmon sofa’s as my guilty indulgence!)

Image courtesy © 2008 MASTERPIECE

14 thoughts on “Hercule Poirot: Third Girl on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

  1. Pingback: Masterpiece Mystery PBS 2010 Season Preview « Austenprose

  2. I’m not enjoying this summer’s special Poirot presentations. I disliked “Murder On The Orient Express” and I didn’t finish watching “Third Girl.” What a pity. I had high hopes for great entertainment this summer, especially in light of the Agatha Christie Poirot series down through the years. If things continue as they are, I fear to think what they will do to “Appointment with Death.”

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    • I agree with William. The production values are so lush it’s sort of overwhelming. And meanwhile, Poirot is drawn in such a tone deaf way. We see a man who might have been a high functioning Asperger’s individual suddenly maudlin….begging for divine guidance in “murder on the orient express” and blubbering about the nature of love in “The Third Child.”
      Who is messing with this series? Why has the needed discipline in maintaining the look and feel of the production and the central characterization been lost. So sad.

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  3. INdeed, the end of this film was muddled…Suchet and Wannamaker are a good pair but then things were more or less hurried…………

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  4. I don’t think this episode was all that much of a “turnaround.” There was still a feeling of more depth to the story and more “message” than usually seen in the Christie productions. In this episode, the message was about love and the hope at the end that an adult love could make up for a childhood deprived of love and hopes of reconciliation lost. Unfortunately, my experience and observation tell me that no subsequent love makes up for abandonment by a parent or parents. Still the costuming, sets etc. were wonderful eye candy. And I love Ariadne Oliver (Christie’s stand-in for herself) whenever she appears.

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    • I did not see this theme until you mentioned it. I understand from a plot summary that I read of the book that Christie killed off Norma’s love interest David Baker. So this ‘love can cure’ theme was not present in the book. I also understand that the book was not one of Christie’s best efforts and the changes made were necessary (in the producers minds) to bring it to the screen. I think we will continue to see classics adapted and changed to suit modern audiences or the caprice’s of the screenwriter. Whether they are an improvement will always be hotly debated. I see a trend. Those who have read the novel get miffed by the changes and those who have not don’t know the difference. Sadly I am afraid that the later category is who the producers are aiming for. Reading is on the decline. It is so much easier just to watch the movie. I am guilty of having nor read this book before I viewed the movie and liked it very much. “Now despise me if you dare.” Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

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  5. Laurel Ann, Just wanted to say that thanks to you I have started reading Agatha Christie. I can’t believe that I have never discovered the joys of reading her books before. Thank you so much for posting this review and others like it.

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  6. While I can give this particular movie no encomium better than a resounding “meh,” between this and a recent read of The Mysterious Affair at Styles I have been going around talking like Hercule Poirot all week. “This, she is to be tweeted.”

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  7. Pingback: Hercule Poirot: Appointment with Death on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review « Austenprose

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