Poirot (Classic): S02E09 “The Kidnapped Prime Minister”

Chief Inspector Japp, Sir Bernard (Ronald Hines) and a detachment of police wait anxiously at a train station for the arrival of none other than the Prime Minister, who’s due to leave for a conference in Paris where he’ll convince the world to deny German rearmament.

As everyone starts to get worried about the lateness, a car arrives, and the PM’s attache Daniels (David Horovitch) and driver Egan explain there was an attempted assassination on the way to the station. Thugs had barricaded the road and fired shots at the PM; only quick thinking by Egan the driver allowed them to escape with only a grazed cheek. The PM himself, head and face partially bandaged, is quickly shuttled onto the waiting train. The end.

Ha! Ha! I am, of course, kidding. The next day, on Japp’s recommendation Poirot is summoned to Whitehall where Sir Bernard informs him that upon arriving in France, the PM and Daniels have gone missing. Apparently they were transferred to a faux-embassy car which spirited them both off to who knows where. Sir Bernard informs Poirot that the PM must be found in the next 32 hours to prevent the rearmament conference from falling apart. “Thirty-two hours and a quarter,” corrects Poirot. “The quarter may be most important.”

(Side Note: The original story takes place shortly before the end of WW1, and the conference is instead the one intended to establish the Treaty of Versailles. Here, the action has been updated to pre-WW2 in keeping with the rest of the series.)

Poirot inspects the scene of the attempted assassination and the car, and notes there is no blood, bullet holes, or even a bullet; Japp explains this away by pointing out the PM was hit while his head was leaning out of the window.

Our heroes then visit the home of the driver Egan, who hasn’t returned home since the hijacking attempt. Searching his room, they find an address book; Poirot notes a Mayfair number in the book with some interest. Egan is also clearly an Irishman, for what it’s worth.

An increasingly irritated Sir Bernard insists the group board a destroyer docked and waiting to take them to France to search for the PM, but upon arriving at the docks Poirot is clearly not down for sea travel; in fact he immediately just turns around and starts walking back to a hotel instead, where he… stands and thinks for a bit, which really torques Sir Bernard, who’d much rather Poirot be doing something with fingerprints, bloodstains and/or magnifying glasses. It’s like he hasn’t even seen the show!

Our band of heroes then spend the rest of the night traveling the route that the car took from Windsor to the train station on the night of the assassination attempt; they’re stopping at hospitals along the way, trying to find which one Daniels took the PM to after the assassination attempt. Along the way, we learn that Daniels went through a vicious and salacious divorce a few years ago, and his father’s political career was ruined after a disagreement over Irish home rule.

They strike out entirely at the hospitals, but it’s revealed that Daniels and the bogus car have been found in France, and Daniels has been flown back to England.

Wasting no time, the group goes to see Daniels, who doesn’t remember anything except getting in the car, then awakening when someone found him and the car. Poirot asks to make a phone call, which he abruptly ends before actually making.

(Additional Side Note: There’s a great tracking shot from the exterior as the group descends the four flights of stairs from Daniels’ apartment and talks about what they’ve learned. This episode has a few visually interesting sequences sprinkled throughout, which we’ll talk about in a minute.)

He then asks Japp to check on the records of both Egan and the former Mrs. Daniels, then tells everyone to return home and go to bed. Sir Bernard is outraged, but Poirot assures him that there’s no point in staying up.

The next  morning, after a visit to the ex-Mrs. Daniels (played with icy resolve by Lisa Harrow), we learn that A) she’s the daughter of the Earl of Connemara and B) would just as soon see her ex die in a fire. Nevertheless, he asks Hastings to follow her, because…

Grey Cells

…Poirot deduces that Daniels, Mrs. Daniels, and Egan have all conspired to kidnap the PM in order to hurt England in the name of Irish nationalism.

The attempted assassination was a ruse; the PM that arrived at the train station bandaged was a lookalike decoy, and it was this same decoy sent off to France with Daniels to “get kidnapped”.

The Daniels’ divorce was also a ruse, and the two are still very much in love (this was a loooooooong con, but you can’t kidnap a prime minister on a whim, you know). Poirot had noticed while making the call in Daniels’ apartment that there was still a framed photograph of Mrs. D on his desk, which, weird if you went through a bitter divorce and profess to hate someone?

(Maybe? I don’t know if it’s that weird, because emotions are complicated, and it’s a bit of a dunderheaded mistake on Daniels’ part if he just forgot to put her picture in a drawer at some point over the last two years.)

Despite Our Man Hastings’ best effort at following Mrs. D to the hideout (a nicely tense, fog-ridden driving sequence cross-cut with scenes of the rest of the gang anxiously waiting by the phone), she shakes the tail. Some timely help from Miss Lemon clues in our heroes to the abandoned manor where the PM is being kept, and the 1936 equivalent of an English SWAT team shows up. Egan makes good his escape, and just as Daniels arrives to try and talk his wife down, she blows her brains out atop the manor.

The PM is unbound, and goes to France just in time for the conference, where presumably World War Two is completely averted and we’ll have no more talk of it in subsequent episodes.

[collapse]

Poirot and Hastings then return to Poirot’s tailor, who proves that Poirot is putting on weight. Womp womp.

A really neat episode that I quite liked, for a few reasons.

First off, it maintains the stakes and energy throughout the whole hour. There’s almost a sense that what we’re watching is happening in real time, as the main characters are almost always together traveling, investigating, and conversing. In addition to the aforementioned chase scene and the scene down the stairs in Daniels’ apartment, there’s quite a few conversations that happen in cars while en route to the next destination. Even scenes like Poirot’s initial trip to Whitehall function as not only a funny sight gag (there’s two or three long halls that we just watch Poirot walk down) but to underscore that element of real-time. It’s a really well-directed episode, and sort of feels like a proto-24.

The extended sequence of visiting hospitals in the night is likewise effective in showing us the gang striking out again and again, and the pressure of a ticking clock in the form of Sir Bernard’s admonitions is always present.  What could have been a simple, “We checked the local hospitals, none of them admitted the Prime Minister” line of dialogue instead is replaced by scenes that amp up the atmosphere and provide an opportunity to drop hints in small talk that’s made in the car along the way. Those hints go a long way towards selling the final solution, and the script lays the groundwork for it in an ultimately satisfying way.

Second, the story doesn’t skimp on the detecting. Poirot is methodical, yes, but he asks the right questions and uses a few tricks to learn what he needs to, as opposed to seemingly knowing everything from the get-go and just confirming his suspicions. It’s much more impressive to see him outfoxing a suspect through observation and the right question or sentence in the perfect tone than to just have him wrap up the case by smugly declaring some out-of-nowhere fact that led him to the culprit days ago.

Finally, the fact that our three main characters are front and center for nearly the entire episode makes this one sing. There’s less of the jolly-good-wot-wot ancillary stuff here than in recent episodes, but that’s appropriate given the stakes – and the focus on the plot keeps the episode engaging and moving at a breakneck pace (well, as breakneck a pace as you’re going to get from a Poirot episode, anyway).

Anyhoo: great direction, a good story, and shot in the arm for the series after what has been a run of some relatively underwhelming episodes of late. Recommended!

Detective 101 Lifehack Alert!: Poirot notes that if you want to find the good stuff in someone’s address book, always look under “X”, because that’s where people write down their secret bits. This little nugget has the twin virtues of sounding like it could be true and making me wish people still wrote down things in address books.

Hey! It’s that Guy!: Commander Daniels is played by David Horovitch, who had a recurring role in the Miss Marple movies as Inspector Slack. (Really? Inspector Slack? I’ve not read hardly any Marple, but was there a Sergeant Plod as well?)

Oh, The Humanity!: Poirot’s face as he watches Daniels absolutely massacre the cracking and opening of a hard boiled egg is a study in looking into the abyss (and a nice character moment to boot).

Detective 201: Advanced Techniques Alert!: When Miss Lemon tries to remember the name of a manor that sounds like “Spratley”, Poirot then proceeds to suggest, “Batley? Catley? Datley? Fatley?…” THAT’S STUFF THEY DON’T TEACH YOU AT THE ACADEMY. (Hilariously, the manor in question is actually called Summerscot.)

Quotent Quotables:

Sir Bernard: “You don’t seem to realize, Poirot, this is a national emergency. I do not intend to sleep until the Prime Minister is found!”

Poirot: “I am sure it will make you feel very virtuous, Sir Bernard, but it will not help the Prime Minister.”

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Japp: “They’ve arrested a vagrant in some un-pronounceable village.”

Poirot: “A vagrant? Suspected of attacking the prime minister? ”

Japp: “When in doubt, arrest a vagrant.”

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Sir Bernard, upset at Poirot just looking out a window: “Thinking? What on Earth is he doing that for? Europe is in crisis!”

 

Next Week, on Poirot: A star-struck Poirot, a priceless diamond or two, the usual assortment of upper-class-no-goodniks and a title I would swear came straight out of Sherlock Holmes set the stage in the series 2 finale “The Adventure Of The Western Star”!