Appointment with Death is the fourth episode of series eleven of Agatha Christie's Poirot. It was broadcast 25 December 2009. The screenplay was written by Guy Andrews and it was directed by Ashley Pearce. It is an adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel of the same name.
Poirot visits an archaeological dig in Syria and meets Lady Boynton, a sadistic woman who dominates the lives of her adopted children. There is no shortage of suspects for her murder.
Comparison with Original Novel
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
- Moving the central setting of the story from Petra in southern Jordan to an archaeological dig Ain Musa in Syria, where Lord Boynton is searching for the head of John the Baptist.
- Adding new characters that never appeared in the original novel, such as Lord Boynton, Nanny Taylor, and Sister Agnieszka.
- Omitting characters such as Nadine Boynton and Amabel Pierce.
- Altering the backstory of the victim. In the novel, Mrs Boynton is a tyrannical sadist whose occupation had been a prison warden, which is central to her murder. In the adaptation, she is also a sadist, albeit one who has compiled a financial empire. She couldn't have any children of her own, so she selected her children from orphanages, all of whom were badly abused and tormented.
- Altering the backstories of several supporting characters. In the adaptation, Jefferson Cope was one of the orphans severely abused by Lady Boynton in his youth, and he decides to take his revenge by wiping out her financial empire and ensuring that she is kept in the dark, though she dies before she realizes her financial ruin. Jinny (Ginevra, in the novel) is adopted like Raymond and Carol, and she also becomes the prime motivation for the murderer, whereas in the novel she was Mrs Boynton's sole biological child. Lady Westholme, a U.S.-born Member of Parliament, becomes the unconventional British travel writer Dame Celia Westholme in the adaptation. Dr Gerard, a Frenchman in the novel, becomes Scottish, develops a witty personality and becomes an accomplice to the murderer (whereas in the novel, he is completely innocent).
- Adding a subplot involving slave traders. It transpires that Sister Agnieszka is an agent whose intent was to kidnap and sell Jinny. Her attempt fails when Jinny attacks her, not knowing that the undercover nun was in fact trying to kidnap her and not trying to save her.
- Altering the murderer's motives and method. In the novel, Lady Westholme murdered Mrs Boynton in order to keep her past secret. Before climbing the social ladder, she was incarcerated in the same prison where Mrs Boynton had been a warden. Knowing Mrs Boynton's sadistic personality, she silenced her to keep her reputation and her social status. In the adaptation, Dame Celia Westholme served as a maid in the home of Lady Boynton (who was then Mrs Pierce) before becoming a writer. She had an affair with Dr Gerard, delivered a child, and was sent away to a nunnery in Ireland while Lady Boynton kept the baby. That child turned out to be Jinny. When Dame Celia and Dr Gerard found out that Lady Boynton had abused all of the children that were in her care (including Jinny) even for a short while (Mr Cope), they decided to kill her for revenge. In the novel, Lady Westholme used a lethal dose of digitalis under the guise of an inconspicuous Arab servant in order to commit the murder. In the adaptation, the plan is much more elaborate. First, Dame Celia injects Lady Boynton with a drug that would slowly paralyze her, doing so under the pretense of swatting away a hornet. Dr Gerard drops a dead one and pretends to kill it in order to verify the fact that Lady Boynton had, indeed, been stung. While Lady Boynton sits atop her platform enjoying the sun, she slowly becomes immobile. Dr Gerard, who had injected himself with a drug that would simulate the symptoms of malaria beforehand, returns to the dig with Jinny in order to rest. Instead, he drugs Jinny and disguises himself as an Arab in order to plant a wax ball filled with the blood of a goat that he had killed under the clothes of Lady Boynton. That way, as the sun melted the wax, the blood would make it seem as if she were already dead. When Lord Boynton discovered his wife, Dame Celia went to "check" the body - in reality, she quickly stabbed the woman dead in front of everyone before Dr King could examine her. In this way, neither Dr Gerard nor Dame Celia could have been implicated in the crime as neither apparently would have been seen to have had the opportunity to commit it. Later, when Nanny Taylor has a mental breakdown, Dr Gerard gives her mind-altering drugs and drives her to suicide after forcing her to relive her past, making her feel guilty for delivering the beatings and punishments that Lady Boynton had ordered for her children.
- Omitting the fateful line “I've never forgotten anything – not an action, not a name, not a face.” Since the motive for the murder has been changed, as well as the character of Mrs/Lady Boynton, the line is now irrelevant to the adaptation.
- Downsizing the importance of another line: “You do see, don't you, that she's got to be killed?” The line, the first sentence in the novel uttered by Raymond to his sister Carol, is not said in its entirety in the adaptation, and is not given much thought after the fact.
- David Suchet as Hercule Poirot
- Tim Curry as Lord Boynton
- Jawad Elalami as Labourer
- Christina Cole as Sarah
- Tom Riley as Raymond Boynton
- Cheryl Campbell as Lady Boynton
- Zoe Boyle as Jinny Boynton
- Emma Cunniffe as Carol Boynton
- Angela Pleasence as Nanny Taylor
- Abdelkader Aizzoune as Concierge (as Abdelkader Aizoun)
- Paul Freeman as Col. Carbury
- Beth Goddard as Sister Agnieszka
- Christian McKay as Jefferson Cope
- Mark Gatiss as Leonard Boynton
- Mansour Badri as Taxi Driver (as Badri Mansour)
- John Hannah as Dr Gerard
- Zakaria Atifi as Mahmoud
- Elizabeth McGovern as Dame Celia Westholme
Tropes and themes
- Mahkama al-Pasha, Casablanca - Hotel Constantine (somewhere in Syria)
- Kasbah Boulaouane, Boulaouane, Morocco - the fort which served as Lord Boynton's HQ for his dig at Ain Musa
- Boulaouane, Morocco - many outdoor scenes including the vista they saw during the excursion
- When Poirot asks about the inscription on the wall, Lord Boynton tells him it is about a story concerning Death. Poirot it seems also knows this story. The story is in fact quite similar to "Appointment in Samarra", a Mesopotamian tale retold by Somerset Maugham in 1933. According to the footnote at wikipedia there is also a much older version found in the Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 53a.