Wednesday, February 1, 2017


I watched Agatha over the weekend, having DVRed it back during the autumn or maybe even Summer Under the Stars. (Edit: I just looked it up, and I recorded it on September 11. Yeah, I've got a backlog of movies on my DVR. I think I'm down to about three dozen now.) It's coming up on TCM this afternoon at 4:00 PM, and is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

The title refers to Agatha Christie (played by Vanessa Redgrave), the famous British mystery writer. And, it deals, at least peripherally, with a real incident in her life. In late 1926, as her marriage to Col. Archibald (played by Timothy Dalton) was disintegrating, Agatha disappeared for 11 days. She was eventually found at a spa (well, at least, one of those old European-style spas, of the quality of the seaside resorts in movies like The Entertainer, not the resorts of today), and the explanation given for her disappearance was "amnesia". To this day, nobody knows what really happened. This movie comes up with a fanciful guess at what might have happened, or at least something that would have made for an interesting story.

In the movie, Agatha just before her disappearance is invited to promote her new book The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (which was published in June 1926). Obviously the press wants a piece of her, including an American in London, Wally Stanton (Dustin Hoffman). However, she realizes that her husband has a mistress Nancy (Celia Gregory) and even sees her. Archie is in love Nancy who is his secretary and doesn't love Agatha (their divorce would become final in 1928), which is why Archie tells Agatha their marriage is finished and what drives Agatha to do what she does. She goes to Harrogate and checks in as Nancy's cousin.

Wally goes to the Christie home outside London, talks with one of the servants, and puts two and two together, so he shows up in Harrogate, claiming to be a patient too. And then Nancy shows up, which was apparently part of Agatha's plan. Meanwhile, she's taking an interest in the new electrostimulation techniques the spa is using, taking notes on them as if she's going to use those notes as part of her next book. Wally, for his part, falls in love with Agatha, or at least acts like he's falling in love with her; it may just be a ruse to get the story of Agatha's disappearance. And back in the south of England, the police are searching for Agatha with Archie caring suprisingly little about the search.

Agatha has an interesting (if probably utterly fictitious) story, although I felt that it began to go off the rails in the final third or so of the movie, with the ultimate climax being faintly ridiculous. I also had some problems with the way Wally's character was written. He's a self-absorbed, overbearing jerk, and for some of the things he does in the movie he should have been thrown out of the spa. I don't think you can blame Hoffman for this, however, as he's only doing what the script asks of him. Redgrave has a more complex character to play and does well with it.

Overall, I think Agatha will be pleasing to fans of Agatha Christie as well as to people who like movies set in interwar Britain. I don't think the production values are quite as high as we'd get a few years later with Chariots of Fire and then all the Merchant-Ivory productions, but they're more than good enough.

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