This week is finals week for summer quarter, and then I’m off for a few weeks! (In real life — I am scheduling posts for the blog during my summer break, no worries.)
And on the theme of vacation… I recently rewatched the adaptation of Evil Under the Sun from the long-running series (1989-2013) of Agatha Christie’s Poirot starring David Suchet. (And in my humble opinion, Suchet is THE Hercule Poirot for all time. Absolute perfection as the little Belgian detective.) The TV movie aired in July 2003, and it’s based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie.
Evil Under the Sun is set at a luxury island hotel off the coast of Devon, where Poirot is on holiday. During his stay, a beautiful young woman, Arlena Stuart Marshall — who has been flirting with another guest, a married man, and generally upsetting everyone in her vicinity, including her own husband and stepchild — winds up strangled on a secluded beach. Poirot is ALWAYS going on a busman’s holiday!
Here’s a video review of the book:
Fun fact: The setting for this story was inspired by the Burgh Island Hotel, where Christie actually stayed in real life! And this adaptation was actually filmed at the Burgh Island Hotel!
So what does this movie adaptation have to do with libraries or librarians? Just a little over one hour into the movie, Poirot visits the mainland and has lunch with Captain Hastings and Inspector Japp. During lunch, Poirot reels off a list of questions about the murder, including:
“Also I wonder what was in the book that he [Arlena’s stepson, Lionel] was reading.”
Lionel had stated that he went to the mainland the morning of the murder to get a book.
Next stop? The public library!
We hear the librarian stamping in the moment we are introduced to her. Harriet Eastcott plays the Librarian; her character has no name, just the name of her profession.
Poirot has asked about the book Lionel has checked out, and the librarian immediately recognizes the name.
Librarian: Lionel Marshall, a young man staying on the island. Let me have a look.
She then goes to the card catalog and flips through cards.
Librarian: He borrowed a book yesterday morning.
She then looks at the card more closely and has a puzzled, thoughtful look on her face.
Librarian: Oh, yes, of course I remember now. I thought it was a rather strange choice, but he said it was for a homework project.
Poirot: And the name of the book, if you please, madame?
Librarian: Dangerous Chemicals and Poisons.
Duh duh dummmmmmm! SUSPICIOUS. This scene lasts only 30 seconds total, but it does move the plot along and serves to establish a potential suspect. The reel librarian serves as an Information Provider.
NOTE: I have written about this before, but this scene exhibits completely unethical behavior on the part of the librarian. At least here in the United States (although it may be different in the United Kingdom), you need a court order to view patrons’ library records. It may be convenient as a private detective or a police officer to go into a library and ask for a patron’s library records, but it is unlawful without a court order or warrant. And it is certainly unethical for a librarian to give out that information without requesting proof of a court order or warrant! I just had to do my duty in helping protect patrons’ privacy and reiterate that.
A couple of more notes from this short scene:
- I appreciated how the costume designer matched the color of the librarian’s cardigan to the color of the curtains. This immediately and succinctly ties her visually to the setting of the library.
- The set designer didn’t need much to establish the library setting, just a row of bookcases behind the librarian, a second row of bookcases (with organizational signs along the top in an Art Deco font, nice touch) behind Poirot, a table with card catalog drawers, and a few props like a stamp, pencils, and a notice board. I don’t know if this scene was filmed in an actual library — I couldn’t see any credits to that effect or anything mentioned online — but it could just as easily have been filmed on a set.
How does this scene compare with the book?
*POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERTS*
There is a public library mentioned in the book source material, and Arlena’s stepchild does check out a book that elicits suspicion.
However, there are some key differences, including:
- Arlena has a stepdaughter in the book, Linda Marshall, which got changed to stepson Lionel in this film adaptation
- Linda is obsessed with witchcraft and checks out a book on witchcraft, not poisons — still suspicious, but in a totally different way
- Linda also later attempts suicide, but that is scrubbed entirely from the film adaptation
All in all, this short library scene is very efficient, and the reel librarian is a classic kind of Information Provider. She also looks fairly stereotypical for a reel librarian, being a white, middle-aged woman dressed in conservative clothing. Her demeanor is one of trying to be helpful (although winds up being inadvertently unethical). No glasses, but her hair is pulled back in a low chignon bun.
Are you a fan of the David Suchet Poirot series of episodes and TV movies? Have you seen this particular adaptation of Evil Under the Sun? Please leave a comment and share!
- “Burgh Island Hotel” via Wikipedia is licensed under CC BY SA 3.0
- Dir. Brian Farnham. “Evil Under the Sun.” Poirot. Perf. David Suchet, Hugh Fraser, Philip Jackson, Louise Delamere. Aired 20 April 2001. Based on the novel by Agatha Christie.
- “Evil Under the Sun” via Wikipedia is licensed under CC BY SA 3.0