A few years ago, I was reading an interview with Damian Lewis in which he was telling Esquire about… well, his taxes 🙂
“I’m behind with my taxes,” he groans.
He spent the morning going through his receipts and says the only love the taxman ever gives him are “residuals cheques for 79p for the selling of Poirot to Paraguay.”
And I go… WHAT? Poirot? My beloved Hercule Poirot?
Did Damian Lewis play in Agatha Christie’s Poirot?
Wow! I watched A LOT of Poirot to improve my English especially when I first came to the US after college in late 1990s. I’m pretty sure I watched Hickory Dickory Dock that Damian Lewis played in but I most probably didn’t pay attention to this 24 year old guy that played a medical student since it was the times that my one and only screen crush was Kevin Costner…
So… Let today’s throwback take us to Agatha Christie’s Poirot and to a 24 year old Damian Lewis as Leonard (Len) Bateson, a medical student, in Hickory Dickory Dock that I have recently watched and loved.
I’ve been a bookworm all my life. I started reading well before going to school and as an only child with a HUGE imagination, I found a big treasure in the world of books… The first real novel I read in first grade was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Since we didn’t really have great children’s literature in Turkey and my parents were very western-oriented, by the end of elementary school, I had read all children’s classics and some more… And I was totally in this “I want to be a private detective when I grow up” phase at the time that I read the entire “Secret Seven” and “Famous Five” series by Enid Blyton… I have recently read somewhere though Blyton’s books were perceived as elitist, racist, and xenophobic… Oh my, I had no idea and I am happy I turned out alright! Anyhow, after I was done with those children’s mystery books I was now so ready for THE REAL THING, Agatha Christie and the world of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple that she created… And, oh man, did I dig into that… I read all 66 murder mysteries by the Queen of the Crime, and they still remain among the most precious memories of my childhood and early teenage years… And, if you love Agatha Christie, The New Yorker had a great piece on how she created the modern murder mystery that you may enjoy.
So it was a sweet moment when I found out about Damian Lewis, a recent graduate of Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1995, playing Len Bateson, the red-head medical student — oh yes, the character is a red head in the book, too! — in Hickory Dickory Dock.
The BBC adaptation of Hickory Dickory Dock diverges from the storyline here and there but the main story stays the same. The title comes from an old nursery rhyme which the book itself doesn’t really refer to except that the student hostel where the events take place is located on Hickory Road in London. The BBC adaptation also has a twist in the form of this little cute mouse from the nursery rhyme, running up and down the clock as well as around the hostel and seeing it all 🙂
Hickory, dickory, dock.
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
The mouse ran down,
Hickory, dickory, dock.
Our story starts with Len Bateson (Damian Lewis) and his friend, Sally Finch, coming back from a vacation in Amsterdam. They are both college students; Len is studying medicine and Sally is studying English Literature. Some shady guy watches them closely as they arrive in London and take the tube to Hickory Road where they stay at a student hostel.
Then we find Hercule Poirot in his office confused. Very confused. He finds a few typos in a letter that his impeccable secretary Miss Lemon has written. What? Miss Lemon never makes typos. Never. So, Hercule Poirot asks her if something preoccupies her and Miss Lemon admits her sister, Florence Hubbard, is working at this student hostel on Hickory Road and is pretty concerned about a recent outbreak of theft at the hostel with a bizarre list of stolen items: a stethoscope, a few light bulbs, a box of chocolates, a shoe, some old flannel trousers, a cut up and slashed rucksack , some boracic powder and a diamond ring found later in a bowl of a soup…
Poirot offers to help and goes to the hostel to have dinner with the young residents as well as give a talk on his career. However, the young people at the hostel are not naive, and our young medical student Len Bateson is the first to ask Poirot if he is there to investigate the on-going thefts.
Once Poirot threatens to call in the police, Celia Austin, one of the young women staying in the hostel, comes forward to confess to some of the petty thefts but says she has nothing to do with disappearance of the stethoscope, the light bulbs, the boracic powder or the rucksack. And she tells the other residents in the hostel that she knows who slashed the rucksack and she’s sure that person will come forward. And… Next morning… Celia is found in her room dead from an overdose of morphine.
Hmm… Who has ready access to morphine?
Oh, how about our medical student Len who is in the hospital all the time?
And, besides, his roommate Nigel Chapman (played by Jonathan Firth, brother of a little actor called Colin Firth!) has seen him enter Celia Austin’s room just after Celia confessed to her crimes but said she did not have anything to do with Len’s stethoscope.
Oh my…. so…. Is he or isn’t he?
Ha Ha isn’t this exactly like Homeland, whose first season kept us at the edge of our seats constantly thinking “Is he or isn’t he?” about Brody and then did it again at the end of Season 2 when bombs exploded at Langley: “Is he or isn’t he?” And Brody saying to Carrie: “It wasn’t me.”
This is exactly what Len Bateson says to Poirot when he reminds him of his constant access to morphine in the hospital in a clip from Hickory Dickory Dock (the entire episode is available on You Tube) that starts at 33:00.
“It wasn’t me.”
And, up to that very moment, I am looking at this young guy, and I am hearing Damian Lewis, the voice is HIS, but I am not seeing HIM, not yet. Funny, isn’t it, I know it is him but he’s not the guy I know as Dick Winters, or Soames Forsyte or my beloved Nicholas Brody. He’s so YOUNG! Having said that… the moment Len Bateson says “It wasn’t me” I see Damian Lewis there and then. Yes, it’s HIM!
I am not giving any more spoilers! This is a murder mystery and the whole point is for you to collect hints here and there, make your guess, and see how Poirot and his “gray little cells” deliver!