Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Cards on the Table – a critical look at homophobia in an adaptation

The latest series of Agatha Christie’s Poirot all have “modern” or topical issues like homosexuality, abortion and racism woven throughout the stories. To many purists, this is an indefensible offense.

I recently watched Cards on the Table. The plot is predictably complex: a mysterious fop collects together a group of sleuths, including Christie’s legendary Hercule Poirot (David Suchet), and a guest dies. Of course, every member of the party has a reason to commit the murder.

As I walked away from this adaptation I was struck at just how homophobic this movie is. The screenwriter, Nick Dear, put together a well-crafted film with some rather interesting plot twists. He’s included homosexual characters: a lesbian and two gay men.

Spoiler alert – spoiler alert – spoiler alert – spoiler alert – spoiler alert

Without going too much into the plot, two of the characters are suspected of being the murderer because they’re closeted gay men who have had their secrets discovered and photographed; the lesbian is obsessed with a young lady and tampered with evidence from a past crime so that her object of obsession is forever linked to her.

To say that these depictions of homosexuals are archaic would be an understatement. What is surprising is that Dear felt the need to include themes of homosexuality that were not in the original novel. To make the mystery relevent Dear pulled contemporary issues and shoehorned them into the plot.

Now, I’m not saying that homosexuals should be depicted as paragons of virtue. But it feels like Dear looked to every tired, clichéd stereotype of homosexuals that predate the 1960s and employed them in his film: if we were to take his film at face value, we can believe that in Christie’s era, homosexuals were closeted, miserable, misogynistic, devious, predatory, murderous, perverse, obsessive, indulgent, sociopathic and psychotic.

I was interested to see what reviewers of this version of Cards on the Table thought of Dear’s handling of the plot – not surprisingly, many were not too pleased with the inclusion of homosexuality. But whatwas surprising was the umbrage that some viewers took with Dear, accusing the screenwriter of bowing to some imagined political correctness, liberal bias or gay agenda.

One review in particular caught my eye. The reviewer who calls him/herself “Lover of English” reviewed Cards on the Table in September of 2010. He gave the DVD 3 stars, but titled his review, “Outraged.” He took offense to the inclusion of homosexuality in the film writing,

     ” just watched “Cards on the Table” and am, once again, outraged by the blatant inclusion of homosexual characters in novels wherein they did not originally appear. If you want to write about homosexuality or make movies about the subject, write or make your own. It is shameful and cowardly to hijack the work of an established author (who is now dead and can’t defend her work) in order to append a particular agenda.”

Later on in the review he/she says, “Who knows what agenda next will be appended since there is apparently an open season on Christie’s works. Not only homosexuality but torture (Appointment with Death) and who knows what else will be included in future DVDs.”

Lover in English assures the community that he/she is not homophobic by insisting that “I am not objecting to portrayals of homosexualty as such. What I am objecting to is having them snuck in where they don’t belong.”

So in the review, Lover in English mentions twice that there is some “agenda” that is being pursued by the inclusion of homosexuality. I want to ask Lover in English: isthis the agenda that the LGBT community is trying to push? That we’re crazed sociopaths, who cannot control our urges and will not think twice about murder if our perverse and hidden desires are threatened or unsatisfied?

Going back to the film, when Poirot confronts one of the gay men, he does so with condescending disapproval. Not outright homophobia, but barely disguised contempt, maybe pity…Reminscent a bit ofMad Menwhen Don Draper sniffed “you people” to closeted gay ad man Sal when his hidden homosexuality causes trouble for the ad agency.

Lover in English is right in that any depiction of homosexuality in a Christie adaptation is pretty in appropriate. However, if there is a need seen somewhere, it should at least be realistic and original.




Filed under Book, DVD, movie review

5 responses to “Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Cards on the Table – a critical look at homophobia in an adaptation

  1. [“Going back to the film, when Poirot confronts one of the gay men, he does so with condescending disapproval. Not outright homophobia, but barely disguised contempt, maybe pity…Reminscent a bit ofMad Menwhen Don Draper sniffed “you people” to closeted gay ad man Sal when his hidden homosexuality causes trouble for the ad agency.”]

    I wondered if I had been the only one who had noticed that bit of contempt on Poirot’s part. I found it, along with the homophobia in the film, very distasteful.

    • thecrowdedbookshelf

      @ladylavinia1932 –
      I found the contempt and disgust upsetting, only because it was so unnecessary – if the writer just chose not to portray homosexuality, then he wouldn’t have to indulge in the weird impulses he displayed in the film…I get that in the context of the era, homophobia was accepted, but to shoehorn homophobia as well as regressive depictions of homosexuals into a plot that doesn’t need it seemed gratuitous.
      Thanks for reading!

  2. Brandon

    Thank you for for this piece. I found the episode itself extremely distasteful and disturbing for the reasons you give, but your account of the reception is even more depressing. In addition to the murderer/motive elements which you noted, I found the episode also seemed to endorse the views of the Amazonian explorer character, who initially makes some rather homophobic statements about the murder victim and his flamboyant excess. This character wins the girl at the end, whose mother, meanwhile, seems to get off scot-free for an earlier, rather cold-blooded murder of her husband that the episode has no intention of condemning or reproving — indeed the episode ends with her estranged daughter giving her a hug indicating all is forgiven. All the repentance is reserved for the other non-heterosexual suspect who, despite his innocence, has to bear the position of contrition before Poirot, unlike the glamorous black widow who no one seems interested in prosecuting or even condemning. Surely these TV adaptations should be critically examining the attitudes of past eras rather than simply reproducing them? I’m curious as to what you make of the series’ treatment of colonialism too…..the episodes set in the middle east have disturbed me too….given all the creative license the writers have taken in their adaptations, a fully-dimensional middle eastern character could surely have been written into the episodes set in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere….I reiterate your point that what is being advocated is not the appearance of virtuous heroes in the form of traditionally marginalised or demonised identities, but rather an attempt to rethink creatively the traditional marginalisations and demonisations of representations from previous eras. Thank you.

  3. lol

    A great amount of Poirot characters are terrible people, I don’t see the connection to homos. I think the inclusion of homos is actually a way to accept them if anything.

    • thecrowdedbookshelf

      Almost didn’t reply because you used the terms “homos” but decided to anyways. If you re-read my post, you would see that my issue is with the way Poirot handled the gay issue – the hero, with whom we identify is also contemptuous and homophobic – for the most part, Poirot is a champion of righteousness and good, so for him to be a bigot is unfortunate, but also unnecessary because homosexuality wasn’t a theme in the novel, so it was merely added by the author to either sensationalize homosexuality or to make the piece more relevant. Either way the tone is off and the theme ill-used.

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