The Clocks is the fourth episode of series twelve of Agatha Christie's Poirot. It was broadcast on 26 December 2011. The feature-length episode was directed by Charles Palmer, with a screenplay by Stewart Harcourt. It is an adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel of the same name.
The role of Miss Pebmarsh was Anna Massey's last before her death, and the ITV broadcast of the episode is dedicated to her memory.
Comparison with Original Novel
(may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)
- A few changes were made to this version, but, unlike other adaptations for the late part of the series, the main plot structure is largely left in place. Like in the original, the plot includes two major threads. One has to do with the discovery of an unidentified dead body in a house and the other with the espionage of naval secrets. The two unrelated threads come together at 19 Wilbraham Cresent, the home of a blind woman Millicent Pebmarsh.
- The location is changed from Crowdean to Dover. The espionage takes place at Dover Castle and not Portlebury and concerns the theft of plans of the minefields of Dover. The characters of the spy Larkin and agent Harbury are retained, with slightly different backstories. The chief counter- espionage agent is renamed Colin Race, son of Colonel Race. The era in which the story is set is no longer the Cold War but the late 1930, and this case, the spies are working for Nazi Germany.
- Race brings Poirot into the case far earlier than in the original and thus Poirot plays a much more active role, calling on people to interview them (several times), checking on drain gratings, rummaging for photos in a photo studio.
- Most of the neighbours at Wilbraham Crescent are retained, some with slightly changed backstories. James and Edith Waterhouse become Matthew and Rachel Waterhouse. They are revealed to be German academics and so Race suspects them but are later cleared when he leans they are Jewish refugees from Germany. The Ramsays are replaced by a widower Christopher Mabbutt. Like the Ramsays he has two children whe in this adaptation are girls.
- The clue of the clocks set to 4.13 actually means something here: it is the hotel room number of Profesor Purdy. Miss Martindale knows Sheila has an affair with him and sets the time to rattle her.
- Mabbutt's children (like the Ramsay children) do help in the case. Here it is Poirot and not Hardcastle who recruits them. They do not find a foreign coin but a walking stick belonging to Larkin.
- The clue of the laundry van delivering on the wrong day is also used. Here it is also an important clue but it Comes from Mrs Hemming, not from Geraldine Brown, a girl in an apartment opposite, who is not featured.
- Edna Brent is renamed Nora Brent. She is not as muddle-headed as in the original. She doesn't go to Wilbraham Crescent. After she fails to meet Hardcastle at the inquest, she tries to call the police from a call box just outside the Cavendish Brean and is murdered there.
- Colin Race does not need to go overseas for any part of the investigation. He has a superior Admiral Hamling at Dover Castle itself. He knows Poirot and welcomes his involvement. Colin is not a personal friend of Hardcastle in this adaptation.
- The methods and the motives of the spy ring are slightly different. Larkin goes straight to Pebmarsh to deliver the documents. There is no dead drop. Mabbutt in the courier but in this case he does not escape but is caught in the act. Pebmarsh does not resist arrest. Both Mabbutt and Pebmarsh confess their roles but assert that they are patriots trying to prevent another world war by ensuing that Britain is too weak to resist Hitler.
- In this adaptation Pebmarsh is not Sheila's real mother. Sheila's adoptive mother Mrs Lawton is not featured either. The "Rosemary clock" still does belong to Sheila, a gift from a mother that she never knew. She doesn't throw it away but keeps it in her bag. Colin is the one who finds it and he himself arrests her at gunpoint and brings her to the police station.
- Additional steps are taken to incriminate Sheila. Bland claims to have seen Sheila with the dead man at the, Castle Hotel, while Mrs Bland plants the murder weapon in her handbag.
- The name of the dead man is never discovered in this adaptation. Poirot simply speculates on his role and why he had to be killed. As he tells Hardcastle: "I do not think it is important who he is, but who he is."
- Like in the original, an important plot element is Poirot's interest in crime fiction authors like Garry Gregson. Like in the original, he finds parallels to the crime in an unpublished manuscript of his. But here he did not buy it at an auction--it was in an archive kept at the Cavendish Bureau. Poirot had tasked Sheila to search for one and she found it.
- The Merlina rival subplot is depicted faithfully. Here she is an ex-coolleague of Mrs Bland from her actress days. The scratch on the left ear of the dead man is mentioned as well as how this exposes her as a liar. In this adaptation she is murdered in Dover.
- Like in the original, Somerset House provides some of the information leading to the solution of murder but here Hardcastle sends his men to get it--there is no Miss Lemon. Poirot also uses a family photo from a high street studio to show that Martindale and the 2nd Mrs Bland are sisters.
- David Suchet as Hercule Poirot
- Olivia Grant as Annabel Larkin
- Anna Skellern as Fiona Hanbury
- Tom Burke as Lt. Colin Race
- Andrew Havill as actor playing Sven Hjerson
- Victoria Wicks as Mrs Swinburne
- Jaime Winstone as Sheila Webb
- Sinead Keenan as Nora Brent
- Lesley Sharp as Miss Martindale
- Anna Massey as Miss Pebmarsh
- Phil Daniels as Inspector Hardcastle
- Ben Righton as Constable Jenkins
- Beatie Edney as Mrs Hemmings
- Abigail Thaw as Rachel Waterhouse
- Guy Henry as Matthew Waterhouse
- Geoffrey Palmer as Vice Admiral Hamling
- Phoebe Strickland as May
- Isabella Parriss as Jenny
- Tessa Peake-Jones as Val Bland
- Jason Watkins as Joe Bland
- Stephen Boxer as Christopher Mabbutt
- Andrew Forbes as Professor Purdy
- Frances Barber as Merlina Rival
- Greg Bennett as Plain Clothed Detective (uncredited)
Tropes and themes
- Inattention: The theme of failing to pay attention and to listen, and its tragic consequences, is played up far more than in the original.
- Colin Race fails to listen to Fiona Hanbury and she is killed before she can tell him what she knows.
- Inspector Hardcastle proudly tells Poirot that his maxim is "Someone will have seen something", yet he fails to listen at critical junctures.
- Like in the original, Nora Brent tries to talk to Hardcastle after the inquest but a constable prevents her.
- In this adaptation Nora tries harder and here she calls the police station but Hardcastle says he is too busy to take the call. Nora says she will come over but is killed before she can.
- Hardcastle and a constable are mounting surveillance on Merlina Rival knowing that she will make contact with whoever employed her to lie. There is a momentary lapse of attention and they lose sight of her. Moments later they hear a scream and she is dead.
- As if to drive home this point, when Hardcastle marvels at Poirot's seemingly irrelevant questions and asks how any crimes got solved in Belgium, Poirot replies, "Through the listening, through observation."
- Dover Castle
- Tunnels under Dover Castle
- Waterloo Crescent - facade of Castle Hotel
- Thornhill Crescent Islington - Wilbraham Crescent