Neglected Films No. 13: ‘Agatha’
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.