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A fond adieu to Suchet's Poirot

It's been a terrific few months for proper, grown-up thrillers. Broadchurch kept millions glued to their screens for eight successive Mondays, proving that when British television tries hard enough it can outplay Scandinavian TV at its own game.

The Fall, which reached a cracking climax on RTE1 on Sunday and BBC1 last night, was even better. Writer Alan Cubitt's decision to opt for a cliffhanger finale rather than tying them up into a neat little bow displays absolute confidence in the material.

For my money, The Fall has been the drama highlight of the year. It deserves to pick up awards like a hedgehog picks up fleas.

The weekend also saw the arrival of The Returned, Channel 4's classy French import about what happens when the dead start return to a small village in the Alps. On the evidence of the creepy and understated first episode, it looks like The Fall-shaped gap in Sunday nights will be comfortably filled for the next seven weeks.

APPETITE

Cheesy spy saga The Americans (RTE1, Thur; UTV/ITV, Sat) isn't in the same league, yet its daft-as-a-brush plots, silly disguises and clunky flashbacks give it enough so-bad-it's-good appeal to turn it into a cult favourite.

After barren weeks of nothing but talent contests, weekend television is watchable again. But if there's one crime drama that goes against the current appetite for all things dark, disturbing and noirish it's Agatha Christie's Poirot.

Seemingly impervious to changing television tastes, the Belgian detective shuffled back onto our screens on Sunday in eez leetle spats and eez leetle waxed moustache, eez leetle grey cells throbbing inside eez leetle egg-shaped 'ead, for an incredible 13th series.

I've never read an Agatha Christie novel in my life and most likely never will. I'm afraid all those spinster sleuths, country houses and toffs in tweeds put me off.

Christie might be the bestselling author of all time, as well as the most translated, but let's put it this way: anyone who can name two of her leading characters Tommy and Tuppence is never going to edge Dennis Lehane or Elmore Leonard off the bookshelves in our house.

And yet . . . I have a soft spot for the television Poirot. Not because of the plots, which seem to endlessly recycle the same formula of flashbacks, red herrings, obvious culprits (usually identifiable long before the end) and the inevitable gathering of all the suspects in the one room for the unmasking of the murderer, but because of David Suchet's wonderfully rich and fruity performance.

Poirot has so far snooped, sniffed, grumped, tut-tutted, finger-wagged and condescended his way through no less than 68 cases, including a version of Christie's most famous novel, Murder on the Orient Express, that blew the movie starring Albert Finney out of the water.

CURTAIN

Suchet has been playing the character for an astonishing 24 years during which he's made it very much his own. Only soap actors can expect to enjoy that kind of longevity in a role – and let's face it, most of them are limited talents cast on the basis of how closely their own personality matches that of the character they're playing. The end is in sight, though. Sunday's episode, the middling Elephants Can Remember – which could have done with more of Suchet, less of Zoe Wanamaker as his crime novelist friend Ariadne Oliver, and fewer scenes of crowing old biddies feasting on the scenery between endless cups of tea – was the first of five feature-length films that will finally bring the curtain down on Suchet's association with Poirot.

Curtain is the operative word, in fact. It's the title of the last Poirot novel to be published in Christie's lifetime. She wrote it in 1940, fearing she might not live through the war, and subsequently consigned it to a vault until 1975.

As Christie fans will know, it's also the book in which Poirot dies. I'll be sorry to see the back of Suchet, who's now filmed every Poirot novel and short story in the canon. Some may see it as typecasting; me, I prefer to think of it as a singular achievement.

Adieu, monsieur.


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