Dumb Witness is the fourth episode of series six of Agatha Christie's Poirot. It was broadcast on 16 March 1996. The feature-length episode is an adaptation of the Christie novel of the same name. It was dramatised by Douglas Watkinson and directed by Edward Bennett.
Poirot and Hastings go to Lake Windermere to watch Hastings' friend Charles Arundel attempt the powerboat speed record. There they meet Emily Arundel, Charles' wealthy aunt. Emily is injured after falling down the stairs. Everyone believes it is an accident, and many blame Bob the dog. But Emily confides in Poirot that she believes someone is trying to kill her. Emily dies shortly thereafter despite Poirot's efforts to protect her. He begins to investigate, although no one else believes she has been murdered.
Comparison with Original Novel
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
- The setting to changed from Market Basing to the Lake Windermere area. Littlegreen House is there and most of the Arundell clan also live nearby. The plot is, however, largely similar to the original novel. Added plot elements are largely for dramatic interest and do not alter the main premise.
- The backstories of some of the Arundell clan are changed. Charles, for example, is a speed boat enthusiast making a world water speed record attempt on Lake Windermere.
- The plot device of a belated letter sent to Poirot after Emily's death is omitted. Poirot is there from the beginning because Hastings is a friend of Charles and they have come to Windermere to witness his water speed record attempt.
- Poirot himself advises Emily to change her will after she has taken the fall down the stairs.
- Like in the original story, Jacob Tanios does give Emily a bottle of vitamins but here, instead of pouring it away, she actually takes some on the night she died, thus increasing the suspicion on him. Poirot has the vitamins analysed and the mixture is found to be harmless.
- In the original, Emily has a seance with Miss Lawson and the Tripp sisters where she emits a green luminous haze. She then died a few days later. In this adaptation there is no seance. Emily goes out into the garden and emits the green haze and then falls dead.
- Jacob Tanios is made up to be slightly more sinister. He is sometimes hot tempered and even violent. Many people, including Hastings, seem to suspect it is him or else dislike him. There is a side plot about Bella telling Poirot she is afraid of him, and Dr Grainger telling him he saw injuries on the back of Jacob's son (the children are named Alexis and Katya here). Bella explains that these injuries are from Jacob's beatings. Poirot and Hastings help to evacuate Bella and the children and hide them at the Tripp sister's house. In this adaptation, Jacob wants to leave and go back to Greece (not Smyrna) partly because he cannot practice in England because of prejudice against foreigners. This upsets Bella and forms part of her motive as more money might have enabled them to live on in England.
- After Emily's death, there is also an added seance by the Tripp sisters which Poirot attends and to which all the suspects are invited. In this seance, Isabel (supposedly speaking as Emily) fingers "Robert Arundell" as her killer. This, Poirot understands to mean Bob.
- After Charles and Teresa learn that they have been disinherited, they organised a break in to Littlegreen House to steal some valuables. However this is thwarted by the painting of General Arundell falling down which wakes up Miss Lawson. Poirot surmises it was them. To keep them out of trouble he pretends that he might find a way to claw back their inheritances and advises them to do nothing in the meantime. In the original he makes the same offer, but this was to encourage them to talk to him.
- Dr Grainger has a much larger role in this adaptation:
- There is an added plot element of a romantic relationship between Grainger and Miss Lawson.
- He hasn't lost his sense of smell here. Why he did not detect the garlic smell pointing to phosphorus poisoning is not explained. In the book, after Grainger concludes Emily died from natural causes, he takes no further part in the plot.
- In this adaptation, he learns from Miss Lawson later about the "green haze". He deduces that this might be phosphorus. He then calls Bella asking for Jacob, thinking he might have some phosphorus, perhaps suspecting, as everyone else, that Jacob killed Emily.
- This leads Bella to kill him.
- Bob has a much larger role in the plot than in the original. See his article for details.
- In this adaptation, Bella is present at the denouement. She does not commit suicide but confesses and is arrested.
- David Suchet as Hercule Poirot
- Hugh Fraser as Captain Hastings
- Ann Morrish as Emily Arundell
- Patrick Ryecart as Charles Arundell
- Kate Buffery as Theresa Arundell
- Paul Herzberg as Jacob Tanios
- Julia St John as Bella Tanios
- Norma West as Wilhelmina Lawson
- Jonathan Newth as Dr Grainger
- Pauline Jameson as Isabel Tripp
- Muriel Pavlow as Julia Tripp
- Pat O'Toole as Sarah
- Geoffrey Freshwater as Sergeant Keeley
- Jestyn Phillips as Steward (Hastings calls him "Walter")
- Tobias Saunders as Alexis
- Layla Harrison as Katya
- Stephen Tomlin as Vicar
- Tim Williams as American
- Sarah Stephenson as Mrs Finch
- Geoffrey Banks as Starter
- Snubby as Bob (as 'Snubby')
- Darren McSweeney as Intellectual on Bus (uncredited)
- Albert (mentioned) - deceased pet of the Tripp sisters
Tropes and themes
- The Art Deco 1930s - Broad Leys. Not exactly Art Deco. An example of Arts and Crafts architecture. The house was designed by Charles FA Voysey and built in 1898 on the shores of Lake Windermere. It is still owned by the Windermere Motor Boat Racing Club and available to the public to rent as accommodation or for events.
- Xenophobia - almost everyone including Hastings dislikes Jacob Tanios and assumes he must be the murderer. The club where Poirot and Hastings stay does not allow foreigners on its premises. They make an exception for Poirot because he is "famous".
- Spectacular scenery - plenty of opportunity for this as the story is set in the Lake District. Having Charles attempt a water speed record provides yet more excuse for spectacular scenes. The original "Market Basing" might have afforded a "quaint English small town" setting but this had already been used e.g. in The Cornish Mystery and might have been in danger of being overused.
- Broad Leys - house owned by the Windermere Motor Boat Racing Club. Used as the clubhouse where Poirot and Hastings stay.
- Boathouse of the Langdale Chase Hotel - as Charles' boathouse. This is open for rental and available as hotel accommodation.
- Moot Hall, Keswick (today, the Visitor Centre) - meeting between Emily and Jacob. The location of the cafe should be nearby but not identified.
- Hawkshead Old Police Station - Poirot and Hastings meet Sergeant Keeley.
- St John's Church, Keswick - funeral
- Hammerhole, Graythwaite Estate - Tripp sisters' house
- Tarn Hows Cottage, Coniston - Teresa's house
- Littegreen House - location unknown
- Bishop's House, Ambleside Rd, Keswick - Jacob's house