The final episode of Series 5 finds Poirot on doctor’s orders to take a vacation, which Hastings immediately arranges in the seaside town of Brighton. Upon arrival, Poirot is immediately mistaken for “Lucky Len”, object of a local newspaper contest in which readers are supposed to find Len, walk up to him, and demand their 10 guinea prize. Needless to say, Our Belgian is less than amused.
The pair check into the Grand Metropolitan Hotel, and while doing so Poirot notices something strange about another guest checking in, Mr. Worthing, whose signature move is Having A Sinister Elephant Cane. Poirot doesn’t elaborate on what he finds so strange, although for my money Having A Sinister Elephant Cane checks that box nicely.
In Brighton, we learn that stage-producer-in-dire-need-of-a-hit Ed Opelson (Trevor Cooper) and his wife Marge (Sorcha Cusack) are premiering a new play, written by one Andy Hall (Simon Shepherd). Ed invites Poirot to the premiere, in which Marge will be acting and wearing some ridiculously valuable pearls recently bought by Ed that were gifted to an actress by the Tsar of Russia.
Andy also happens to be wooing the Opelsons’ maid Celestine (Hermione Norris) and in deep trouble with some thugs over gambling debts, a problem exacerbated by the fact that Opelson apparently carved up his script for the play – another riff on Christie titled, none too subtly, Pearls Before Swine– and paid him only a pittance for it.
The Opelsons’ chauffeur, Saunders (Karl Johnson) drives Poirot and Our Man to the premiere, where Poirot is angered when he realizes a cadre of reporters is waiting for him; Opelson has taken advantage of Our Belgian’s presence to grab some extra publicity for the premiere (which Poirot audibly rolls his eyes at while watching).
After the play, Marge returns to the Grand Met and locks the pearls away in a strongbox to which she has the only key, and puts said box in a drawer and closes it (why the drawer isn’t locked as well is beyond me). Celestine is told to sit in the room while the Opelsons attend the afterparty; she’s joined by a hotel maid, Grace (Elizabeth Rider) who sits and talks with her throughout the night as Celestine eats dinner and catches up on her sewing.
(Side Note: Nice bit of direction here, as the action repeatedly cuts between the party scene and the hotel room where Celestine and Grace are talking, shot from a POV inside the drawer in which the box is kept.)
When Ed and Marge return to the hotel and unlock the box, the pearls are gone! Ed tries to hire Poirot to investigate, but Hastings reminds him he’s supposed to not be working, and Poirot refuses the case after confirming that Ed had insured the pearls. About this time, The World’s Policeman James Japp arrives.
(Additional Side Note: It’s entirely possible that Japp is literally the only Chief Inspector on Scotland Yard staff, given that his “beat”, as it were, appears to be the entirety of the United Kingdom and select portions of Western Europe.)
As Poirot grumpily stares out at the sea (and is accosted again by someone who thinks he’s Lucky Len), he finally throws up his hands and tells Hastings he’s taking the case, since not working is worse for him than working.
Our Belgian investigates, and learns a few things, namely:
A) The inner door connecting the Opelson’s room to the next one was bolted on both sides.
B) The occupant of the connecting room – none other than The Sinister Elephant Cane – checked out this morning.
C) There’s chalk on the drawer the box was kept in.
D) Celestine claims she and Grace were in the room all night, and she only left to get some scissors and thread from the side room twice.
Before long, a duplicate key (what?) is discovered in the hem of Celestine’s dress, and she’s arrested; under the assumption that Andy was her accomplice, Our Heroes track him down at the racetrack, where he’s found with a pile of money on him and – more damningly – the pouch that the pearls were kept in. He’s arrested as well.
And that, as they say, is that – until we see someone drop a large string of valuable pearls into a vase…
Under questioning, Celestine mentions that she met the Opelsons at one of their earlier productions, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
(Son of Additional Side Note: Hilariously, when Oscar Wilde is mentioned, Hastings immediately asks if the production was Lady Windermere’s Fan, and the side eye Japp gives him is one for the ages.)
Poirot, no dummy he, immediately sets Miss Lemon to work back in London hanging out in bars and investigating something or other.
Meanwhile, all this time, we keep getting shots of a very familiar Sinister Elephant Cane keeping an eye on all the proceedings. That night at a seaside carnival, two things of note happen.
First, Grace approaches Japp and tells him she saw Andy skulking about in the Opelson’s room the night before the robbery.
Second, and far more importantly, Japp wins a teddy bear at a shooting gallery, and carries it around with him. It’s adorable. (Japp, not the bear.)
Miss Lemon arrives in Brighton with news of her investigations and immediately rips Our Man a new one for letting Poirot take a case while he’s supposed to be on holiday, and it is GLORIOUS. Poirot, meanwhile, has Japp arrest Ed Opelson on charges of fraud, claiming that the pearls were a fake and he “stole” them to collect on the insurance money.
And that, as they say twice, apparently, is that… until we get a third solution to the case, as Our Quartet Of Heroes take in another night of Pearls Before Swine, and stay behind in the darkened theater afterwards to catch the culprit, who turns out to be none other than
Sinister Elephant Cane Mr. Worthing the Opelson’s chauffeur Saunders, abetted by his wife Grace.
And now, a Very Dumb Solution:
Saunders checked into the Grand Met disguised as
Colonel Sanders Mr. Worthing, affecting a limp and carrying the cane, occupying the room next to the Opelsons. During the party, while Celestine was in the side room Grace took the locked box out of the drawer and slipped it through the adjoining door to Saunders, who unlocked it with the duplicate key then slipped it back to Grace the second time Celestine left the room. Later the key was hidden in the hem of Celestine’s dress (!) by… uh… Grace, I guess? And the pearl pouch was planted on Andy at the racetrack (!!) by Saunders. They’d planned to smuggle the pearls out via a prop vase (!!!) and sell them in America, where the production was headed to next.
Here’s the big problem I had with all this: in a sequence earlier, it’s established that Celestine’s little trips to the side room were probably no more than 20 seconds, with her out of sight of Grace for no more than 4 or 5. And yet when Solution Time rolls around, we’re supposed to believe that Grace stood up, opened the drawer, took the box out, unbolted the adjoining door, opened it, handed the box to Saunders, closed the door, closed the drawer, and resumed her position with Celestine none the wiser. Then she did it again, in reverse, a second time! This is a plan that required an extraordinary amount of luck, even by Christie standards.
The biggest clue is also a bit of a cheat – when Poirot and Hastings are dropped off at the play by Saunders, we see Poirot make a little gesture towards him – “Permit me,” he says, as he makes a motion towards Saunders, who replies “Thank you, sir”. But we don’t actually see what it is he did (at least, not on my copy of the episode). As Our Belgian explains matters, though, we learn via flashback that the gesture was to wipe off a spot of white powder from Saunders’ sleeve – the same white chalk on the inside of the drawer in which the box was kept.
Ed’s arrest was a ruse by Poirot to draw out the real thieves, although I’m not sure it was worth the ironclad slander and wrongful arrest lawsuit I’d be filing if I were Ed. It is a nice bit of trickery though, as Poirot gets his turnabout revenge for being used by Ed earlier for publicity.
I will also add some points back for Poirot’s intuition about Elephant Cane at the beginning – he explains what set his alarm bells ringing was the fact that Mr. Worthing walked with a limp, yet took the stairs when the elevator was right there waiting and open.
But then I deduct some more points for the hoary old “duplicate key” cliche, mainly because we know Anthony Horowitz (and, frankly Christie) is better than that. Don’t take pains to point out how there’s only one key and set up a delicious howdunnit if you’re just going to go “Nah, we lied, there’s totally another key”, you know? Anyway.
Leaving Brighton, Poirot finds none other than Lucky Len himself – and demands his 10 guineas, only to hear from Len that he was fired this morning for having “too common a face”. We see he has a moustache almost exactly like Poirot’s, and Our Belgian tells him to buck up – “you have the face of a great man”.
This was a perfectly cromulent episode, undercut almost entirely by the actual solution to the crime – and even now I can’t decide if it was the solution itself or the way it was scripted that made the whole thing feel just… I dunno, unfair? I’m not one of those “mysteries should give the audience a chance to solve it” guys, but this one really felt like it went out of its way to either ignore established truths or hide clues by simply not filming key (HAR!) scenes and inventing things at the last minute.
That said, there are some lovely touches here; it’s nice to see The Big Four working together again, for one, and both Japp and Lemon get some good moments. I also appreciated the Poirot musical theme as done by a seaside brass band throughout the episode, which added to the atmosphere throughout. And there are some nice directorial flourishes as noted earlier.
As usual, Poirot is at his most lovable when he’s out of his comfort zone, and between being constantly pestered by folks who thinks he’s Lucky Len and enduring a cold, rainy seaside “vacation” (a joke I didn’t get until the end of the episode) alongside the ever-enthusiastic Hastings makes for an extremely lovable Belgian. Watch this one for a pleasant hour spent in the company of our heroes, if nothing else.
I’m Just Wilde About Harry: Lots of Oscar Wilde references here, from the aforementioned Lady Windemere’s Fan bit to the name “Mr. Worthing” being a reference to The Importance of Being Earnest. And, of course, the pearls themselves were so valuable in the first place because they were given to a fictional Russian actress by the Tsar himself and featured in the film Salome – presumably the 1922 film based on Wilde’s play (which, interestingly, was considered a failure at the time).
Hey! It’s That Gal!: Squees of delight went up when I saw that Hermione Norris played a big role here, as I absolutely loved her years as a spy on one of my all-time favorite television series ever, Spooks (retitled in the States as MI-5, for obvious reasons). Although it’s hard to see her as anything other than an icy, super-competent badass, she does a good job here with the role of put-upon servant.
Three’s A Crowd…OF CRIME!: Sorcha Cusack, who plays Marge Opelson here, has two sisters, both of whom also make appearances in Poirot – Niamh Cusack played the ingenue at the heart of Series 1 episode “The King of Clubs”, and Sinead Cusack will pop up later in “Dead Man’s Folly”.
Marge: “I bet you’d guessed who’d stolen the pearls by the second interval, Monsieur Poirot.”
Poirot: “Not at all, Madame, it was a question that ceased to occupy my mind long before the first.”
In Two Weeks, on Poirot: Fair warning for those playing along at home, from here on out all the episodes are two-hour affairs, so allot some extra time during the week if you’re watching along. Nevertheless, we kick off Series 6 – and trust me, it’s a cracker of a run despite being only four episodes long – with a kindly old patriarch (he is not kindly) summoning his happy family (they are not happy) home for the holidays, where someone decides to give the time-honored gift of a slashed throat! It’s… “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas”!