I really enjoy watching the ITV television series “Agatha Christie’s Poirot”, starring David Suchet as Poirot and with enjoyable regular performances from Hugh Fraser, Philip Jackson, and Pauling Moran. The shows themselves are great fun, especially the lighter episodes; but that isn’t what makes this show such compelling viewing.
The part of this show I enjoy the most is the “background stuffing”.
Poirot is set in the 1930’s, and the location scouts did a good job of finding the architectural backdrop for filming – but the buildings alone are not enough to transport viewers back in time… so the show’s producers decided to place cars and people in the background to assist the illusion. They didn’t just use one or two people though, they use thousands!
If you take a typical scene of Poirot and Hastings entering a hotel (and this is a surprisingly common scene, as Hastings turns up a lot more in the series than he does in the books). By the time our characters have transfered from the car to the lobby (some five or six steps), they will have had extras walking past in both directions, one leaving the hotel, two hanging around by the entrance talking, and several passing by in cars.
In one immortal scene, you can enjoy the moment when the director calls “go” in a scene in the desert where about one hundren extras all set off in the same instant in a complex scatter arrangement through an encampment. Brilliant stuff.
If all of the extras were listed at the end of an episode, the credits would read like a telephone directory.
And this is the Poirot Effect.
Placing one or two extras in the background contributes towards an effect, but making a 1930s hotel entrance busier than modern day Trafalgar Square actually shatters the illusion.
And that’s what happens when you overstate your case. There comes a point where it stops resounding with passion and starts to ring more true as a cover story.