Poirot XI: Three Act Tragedy – review

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It is always a pleasure to watch David Suchet embody Hercule Poirot, mustache and ego fully in evidence, little grey cells afire, and Three Act Tragedy, the latest installment in PBS’ long running series, does not disappoint. As any Agatha Christie fan knows, inherently with this type of mystery some set-up is required, and this episode requires more than most – even I, long standing PBS enthusiast that I am, found myself a tad put off by how hectic this story felt in the beginning. Usually Agatha Christie settles on one general locale for her murders, but this story was more geographically diverse than usual, hopping speedily from place to place – and while it’s not as if Christie was ever shy about introducing a bevy of suspects, in this case the parade of players seems more rushed than usual. But while it may be hard to get a grasp on this episode at first, I promise you, stick with it and you will not be disappointed – the payoff is more than worth the wait.

And what a finale this episode has – classic Christie, delivering a genuine surprise in superbly acted fashion. Poirot’s conceit is cracked, ever so slightly, in this episode and it is marvelous to watch unfold. From an uncertain beginning, Three Act Tragedy transformed into what might be one of my favorite Poirot episodes yet.

In terms of style, I did find the directing to be a tad heavy handed this time around – it was overtly staged, to give the episode a theatrical mise-en-scène, and honestly I found it distracting. This isn’t the type of story that requires embellishment – the plot alone is more than enough to keep our attention – and I wish the camera work had gotten out of the way. I do understand the intent behind the creative choice, to tie the story visually in with the title, but I just don’t think it was entirely successful.

Still, Three Act Tragedy is very much an episode to enjoy – a cracking good mystery, solved as only Hercule Poirot can. You really can never go wrong with Agatha Christie.

(And one final side note: if you, like me, find yourself trying to remember where on earth you’ve seen the actor playing Sir Strange before – he was the terrorist in True Lies, if you can believe it.)

Three Act Tragedy airs Sunday, June 19 on Masterpiece Mystery.