The Incredible Theft is the eight episode of series 1 of the ITV British television drama series Agatha Christie's Poirot featuring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, first broadcast on 26 February 1989 in the UK. The episode is an adaptation of the Agatha Christie short story of the same name and was directed by Edward Bennett with dramatisation by David Reid and Clive Exton.
The adaptation is largely faithful to the storyline of the original story. The episode is set in the late 1930s, on the eve of the Second World War and is thus quite similar to the setting of the original story. Captain Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp and Miss Lemon have been added to the plot and some embellishments to the story have been made for dramatic reasons, in order to add some humour and liven up what would otherwise be a fairly static story comprising nothing but interviews.
Comparison with Original Novel
- The plans in the episode are those for a revolutionary fighter, and not for a bomber. Here the plane is a "Mayfield Kestrel", portrayed by a white Supermarine Spitfire IX. The opening scene features a dramatic firepower demonstration by the new plane at an airfield.
- Poirot is actually a guest at the dinner party, from the very beginning. Mrs Mayfield invited him because her husband had invited Mrs Vanderlyn for the weekend. Mrs Mayfield was concerned that her husband might be indiscreet about state secrets in front of a suspected foreign spy.
- Poirot has planted Hastings at the local village inn to act incognito. There he is surprised to encounter Japp, and ven has to share a room with him. It turns out Sir George Carrington has asked Japp to be nearby as a precaution. This is unlike the original story where the aim is to avoid calling the police. Presumably, Mayfield being an industrialist here and not a politician, the sensitvities are not the same.
- In the original, Mrs Vanderlyn is merely questioned and then "exonerated". Here, she is formally accused and even subjected to a strip search.
- The character of Leonie is eliminated. The incident of the ghost/kiss on the staircase doesn't feature.
- The character of Mrs Macatta is eliminated.
- A chase of some kind features strongly in the early Poirot episodes. Here it is no different--in comic relief Poirot and Hastings realise the truth and chase Mrs Vanderlyn in a "borrowed" Police car until they reach the German ambassador's country residence and see her hand the "altered" papers over.
- The denouement in the original story was private between Poirot and Mayfield. In the TV episode, the denouement was done in a large group, with Mayfields and the Carringtons. Carlile provided part of the explanation-Mayfield had been blackmailed by Mrs Vanerlyn because of a Japanese contract in which he had supplied howitizers to the Japanese.
- David Suchet as Hercule Poirot
- Hugh Fraser as Captain Hastings
- Philip Jackson as Chief Inspector Japp
- Pauline Moran as Miss Lemon
- John Stride as Tommy Mayfield
- Carmen Du Sautoy as Mrs Vanderlyn
- Ciaran Madden as Lady Mayfield
- John Carson as Sir George Carrington
- Phyllida Law as Lady Carrington
- Guy Scantlebury as Reggie Carrington
- Albert Welling as Carlile
- Dan Hildebrand as Chauffeur
- Phillip Manikum as Sergeant
- Uncredited actor as Dawson
Tropes and themes
- The Art Deco 1930s
- Penguin enclosure - designed by Bethold Lubetkin and build in 1934, it was an icon of British Modernist architecture and very effectively evokes the 1930s.
- Control tower at West Malling - also an art deco structure.
- Lavish scenery
- Demonstration by a Spitfire fighter including one where it fires its weapons and blows up a vehicle.
- Poirot's quirks
- fussiness about dress - he instructs Hastings about the proper care of patent leather shoes
- Hasting's hobbies
- He is learning about architecture because he has a girlfriend who is an architectural student.
- His obsession with cars. He is busy dismantling and fixing his car with the interested participation of a policeman. Thus his car is not available for the much needed car chase.
- The chase scene - very common in the various episodes. In this case, Poirot and Hastings "steal" a police car and chase Mrs Vanderlyn to the German ambassador's country residence.
- Miss Lemon's obsession with filing - she doesn't take anonymous calls because she wouldn't know where to file them.
- Bridge - Poirot plays bridge with Julia Carrington which he describes as a painful experience.
- Secret meeting - at Penguin enclosure of London Zoo
- Mrs Vanderlyn-previously she had seduced a British officer for plans to a secret tank; when he realized what he had done he committed suicide.
- West Malling Airfield, Kent - airfield scenes at the beginning
- Chenies Manor House, Bucks - Mayfield's residence