Neglected Films No. 13: ‘Agatha’

The Arts

Written by Kathleen Tynan (Kenneth’s wife) and directed by Michael Apted, ‘Agatha’ explains what hypothetically happened to Agatha Christie during the eleven days she was missing in 1926. Her car was found crashed in a ditch and the police combed woodlands for her but Mrs Christie eventually reappeared in a Harrogate hotel under an assumed name.

Questions had been asked by everyone from the Home Secretary to Conan Doyle – had she been killed by her unfaithful former WWI flying ace husband Archie? Was it a publicity stunt? Or was she researching a murder for her upcoming seventh novel, after the huge success of the sixth, ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’?

Tynan proposes another idea, then cleverly structures her heroine’s missing days so that Christie’s actions play out like the plot of one of her own novels. Vanessa Redgrave plays Christie, on the trail of her husband’s lover, tracking her to the spa at Harrogate, where she’s soon delving deeply into the mechanics of electric hydrotherapy, buying a rheostat to adjust the generating power of the lethal looking treatment device that the lover is soon to use. Checking into the Old Swan hotel under the lover’s surname, she constructs an intricate plot…

Only an American reporter, played by Dustin Hoffman, knows where she is. Christie makes no attempt to hide herself but the cloche hats of the period work as perfect disguises. A tentative love affair begins between Hoffman and Christie, although they’re both known to each other under false names. The height difference between them – Redgrave has to stoop to kiss Hoffman – makes them a believable and charming pair, and for once the actors have genuine screen chemistry. Hoffman’s steely confident manner is perfectly matched by Redgrave’s wide blue-eyed innocence and reticence, but can he stop a murder from being committed?

Tynan plays fairly with the audience by springing a surprise twist that’s entirely organic and born from character, and the period setting is lovingly detailed. I travel to Harrogate once a year for a crime writers’ convention and it really hasn’t changed that much. Warners has released the film as part of its on-demand archive collection.

9 comments on “Neglected Films No. 13: ‘Agatha’”

  1. Red Wolf says:

    A most enjoyable film.

  2. Rick D says:

    Once again our planets share the same orbit. Great film – beautifully shot. My wife and I recently got the Warner Archive version (via Amazon, strangely) to replace the fuzzy old VHS one we had from a TV recording. I am surprised it (like one of our other mutual favorites, THE LAST OF SHEILA) is not better known or appreciated, particularly given their star wattage and originality. The Warner Archive also has another camp favourite of mine, TWO ON A GUILLOTINE, which is silly retro fun. AGATHA on the other hand is a true neglected gem.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    I’ll definitely have to look this one out after having so much fun watching The Last of Sheila.

  4. jan says:

    hiya Chris. Went down to Dartmouth on Wednesday and saw Greenways the Agatha Christie museum, formerly her holiday home, just by the river Dart down in the Hams south Devon. Really very beautiful house and gardens and unbelievably they have created a railway halt so folk can get off the steam train that serves Dartmouth and alight at Greenways to c the place. By the way did u know the Celtic word 4 oak? well it is apparently Dart and the Dart river is pretty much lined by a specific oak tree that only grows in the south west don’t say i only prattle on about London.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    By the way, wasn’t Bryant headed to Dartmouth when they got stranded on the edge of Dartmoor in White Corridor? I wonder how many kinds of oak there are? We have something called the garry oak that only grows on Vancouver Island and there’s what we call the English oak, which we plant and eventually would get to be huge like “the ones we see on the telly”, there’s the holm oak (quercus ilex – which sounds like holly, but is in the beech family and came originally from the Mediterranean [with the Romans?]) and are these Dart ones another kind yet?

  6. glasgow1975 says:

    A great film, surprisingly neglected as you say, given the stars involved.

  7. Lulu says:

    From the Wall Street Journal, “Ms. Marple vs. Phillip Marlowe”.

    An excerpt:

    It almost sounds like a plot pretext for a comic spy story: As World War II was coming to a climax in 1945, the British Ministry of Information asked Agatha Christie to pen an article, “Detective Writers in England,” for a magazine in the Soviet Union. (Ah, if only Graham Greene had used that setup for one of his “entertainments.”) Now, more than half a century later, Christie’s war effort has finally been published in the West. It is included as a foreword to a reissue of “Ask a Policeman,” a 1933 novel collaboratively written by several of the authors Christie touches on in her essay, including Dorothy L. Sayers. (Christie herself is not one of the book’s authors.)

    It’s a glib little article, and one that would likely have been baffling for Russian readers more familiar with “Crime and Punishment” than the crimes and punishments common to the golden age of British detective stories. Christie leavens the praise for her contemporaries with some catty asides about their minor prose failings. But for all the quibbles, she shows no uncertainty about the fundamental merit of her profession, even though she was at that moment under furious critical assault from across the Atlantic.
    Amusing read…

  8. Lulu says:

    Sorry. The article’s title is “Miss Marple vs Phillip Marlowe”.

    No Ms. in those days….

  9. Dan Terrell says:

    Lulu thought you were punning on ms-tery.

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