Harrogate’s Royal Pump Room Museum hosts Agatha Christie costume exhibition

PUBLISHED: 22:17 21 October 2014 | UPDATED: 22:17 21 October 2014

No one can look quite as imperious as Bette Davis

No one can look quite as imperious as Bette Davis

Copyright (c) 2007 Rex Features. No use without permission.

A thrilling new exhibition hits Harrogate

Fed up with the dagger in the drawing room, the rope in the orangery and the sparkling cyanide in the dandelion and burdock? Well, how about the sensible tweed suit in the museum instead?

Miss Marple’s innocent little outfit is just one of the evocative Agatha Christie costumes created for film and television now on display at Harrogate’s Royal Pump Room Museum in an exhibition pithily entitled Dressed to Kill, which runs through at the Crown Place attraction until December 31st.

From Hercule Poirot’s dapper suit (never knowingly creased) to the gloriously glamorous silk gown of a passenger on the Orient Express (watch out for sharp objects in the lining), each costume breathes new life into the enduringly popular characters created by the mistress of the whodunit.

‘The Dressed to Kill exhibition celebrates Harrogate’s link with Agatha Christie herself as well as the era in which the dramas are set,’ said Nicola Baxter, exhibitions and collections assistant. ‘As an elegant spa town you can imagine that Harrogate was a place a lot of Christie’s characters would like to have visited and be seen in.

‘The Harrogate collection includes a great selection of costumes from the 1900s to the 1930s, the period in which the popular crime dramas are set. These are also included in the exhibition to complement the wonderful range of costumes on display from the dramas and films based on Agatha Christie’s popular novels.’

Among the most notable items you can detect is a cream suit worn by David Suchet, who played Poirot, Christie’s Belgian sleuth, on television in 70 episodes over 25 years. When he first took on the role, he read the stories while making meticulous notes to understand the character and what he looked like.

‘Not to determine how I was going to play him, but just to get to know what she was writing, what eccentricities, how he dressed,’ he said. ‘I worked on his dress sense, on how he looked, on the padding underneath to give me the shape that Agatha Christie had designed for him’.

For the last ten years (and 20 episodes), Poirot’s wardrobe has been cared for by costume designer Sheena Napier: ‘Although the Poirot look and style has stayed fairly constant over the 25 years, there has been a definite increase in the quality of the suits.’

The suit in the Harrogate exhibition is one of the later ones, with a replica collar pin as the original has kept carefully stored away.

Visitors can also scrutinise a skirt suit worn by Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple, who knew exactly what she was taking on ten years – and 11 episodes – ago: ‘Just about everybody in the world knows about Miss Marple and has an opinion of what she should be like, so I’m under no illusions about the size of the task.’

Once again, it was Sheena Napier who helped dress Julia in clothes that would make her Marple.

‘Agatha Christie wrote her in two ways,’ the actress explained. ‘First, very much what Geraldine McEwan played: a slight, rather Victorian creature. Then, a little sturdier and tweedier. I chose the latter. A lot of people say they don’t like the tweedier version. But they’re both genuine.’

As if all that wasn’t starry enough, you can also get within swishing distance of a mauve dress worn by Bette Davis in Death on the Nile in which she played elderly kleptomaniac Mrs van Schuyler opposite Peter Ustinov as Poirot; a chiffon day dress worn by Emily Blunt, the unfortunate murder victim Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle in the 2004 Suchet remake; a vibrant dotty trouser suit worn by Dame Maggie Smith as Daphne Hardcastle in Evil Under the Sun; and an opulent, fur-collar coat worn by Jacqueline Bisset, one of 13 suspected killers in a 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express, with Albert Finney in the moustache-twiddling Poirot role.

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