|Miss Lemon, Asst. Commissioner Japp, Poirot, and Capt. Hastings|
The Big Four begins with some familiar faces receiving invitations to the funeral of Hercule Poirot. It is a clever way of reuniting the three characters who started out with Poirot back in 1989: Captain Arthur Hastings (Hugh Fraser), Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran), and Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson). As Poirot's coffin is placed in its grave, the story flashes back to four weeks earlier. There we see Hercule Poirot meeting his old friend Japp, now Assistant Commissioner, at chess match between Dr. Ivan Savaranoff (Michael Culkin) and Abe Ryland (James Carroll Jordan). Savaranoff is a renowned Russian chess champion, while Ryland is a wealthy American involved in the Peace Party. In fact, the event is really a gathering for the Peace Party to spread its message to world on the brink of another world war. The Peace Party was founded by a Chinese national Li Chang Yen. It is Yen's book which has inspired the worldwide peace movement. Ryland has joined forces with Madame Olivier (Patricia Hodge), a prominent French scientist, to lead the Peace Party. The Peace Party has attracted a number of important members in Britain like English diplomat Stephen Paynter (Steven Pacey) and his personal physician, Dr. Quentin (Simon Lowe).
Savaranoff's death appears to be a heart attack. However, it is known that Madame Olivier does research with drugs that could mimic a heart attack. In addition, Tysoe is pressuring Japp for answers because he believes Ryland is involved and a member of "The Big Four." Poirot assists Japp in the case because it is a high profile death. Since Poirot is familiar with chess, he discovers that Savaranoff was fond of using the Ruy Lopez opening. It is then that Poirot realizes the Russian was murdered and how it was done. Japp and Poirot go back to the crime scene with Abe Ryland. There Poirot shows the other two men that the chess board was electrified and the bishop was wired to receive the charge. Since Savaranoff routinely used the same opening move, the killer was able to wire the chess board accordingly. Ryland is annoyed by the discovery and leaves in a huff. The American millionaire disappears after his meeting with Japp and Poirot. Is Ryland on the run and in fact one of "The Big Four?"
|James Carroll Jordan as Abe Ryland|
Another murder occurs shortly after Ryland's disappearance. The victim is Jonathan Whalley, an expert on the Chinese culture. In fact, Whalley wrote a biography on Li Chang Yen, the founder of the Peace Party. This killing suggests that Tysoe's claims of a global crime syndicate led by Yen could be valid. Tysoe has meeting with his source after Whalley is murdered. Unfortunately, Tysoe's inside informant has been stabbed in the back and will no longer be providing anymore tips to the reporter. One very important clue is found in the coat pocket of the informant's jacket. It is an envelope with four cards. Card #1 is a Chinese playing card; card #2 is a monopoly card; card #3 is a queen from a French deck of cards; and card #4 is the death card from a tarot deck. Obviously, Chen is #1; Ryland is #2; and Olivier is #3. The most dangerous is #4 because he/she is the unknown player who is carrying out the evil deeds of the organization.
All of these tragedies are damaging the Peace Party's efforts. Madame Olivier is continuing the party's work. However, it seems that one of her biggest supporters, Stephen Paynter, is having doubts about what they're doing. Paynter is found dead in his room after his conversation with Madame Olivier. His death was a particularly cruel one. Paynter was placed face down onto a gas heater and his head was charred. The investigation leads to accusations against Paynter's ne'er-do-well nephew who was visiting. However, Mrs. Paynter points her finger at Madame Olivier who she knows was her husband's lover. She thinks her husband had broken off the relationship on the night of his death. But, could it be that Olivier was acting on behalf of "The Big Four?" Madame Olivier disappears not long after Paynter's death which gives Tysoe's theory more credibility.
|Patricia Hodge as Madame Olivier|
After each of these events, the audience is shown an actress, Flossie Monro (Sarah Parish) receiving bouquets of roses. The card is signed each time "4 kisses." Flossie has no idea who her secret admirer is. The fact that the flowers contain a message that includes the number four, implies that Flossie must be connected to "The Big Four." But how?
|Flossie Monro with Poirot|
The story has given us the pieces to put together. Can we put together the all evidence and solve the case? Can Japp? After all, Poirot is not around to solve it... or is he? I highly recommend watching The Big Four to find out.
This production was absolutely stunning. British productions are so on target in capturing an era. You truly believe the events are happening in late 1930's Europe. In addition, I love the style of the storytelling. The montages after each murder or disappearance were reminiscent of old style film making. My only complaint about the movie was there was not enough of Miss Lemon and Captain Hastings. In the original book, Hastings was back from his South American ranch on business and winds up assisting his friend in the investigation. In addition, Countess Vera Rossakoff, the one woman who truly intrigued Hercule Poirot, was left out of the film although she is a character in the novel. However, I must admit that the screenplay by Mark Gatiss and Ian Hallard was very good. It took the basic idea Chrsitie had and turned it into a true murder mystery. The original book was more of a spy thriller and not well received. I think this version is worthy of Agatha Christie in her prime and very entertaining. Hopefully, the next four movies will be as well done.