Thursday, 10 March 2016

Agatha (1979)

I grew up reading Agatha Christie novels and was a big fan well into my mid teens. I also enjoyed the adaptations of her novels, so I was always a little disappointed that this biopic based on the intriguing, mysterious brief disappearance of the author in 1926, proved just as elusive to me during my days of fandom as Christie herself was for those 11 days AWOL. It was just never on TV, so I never got around to watching Agatha until now.

It wasn't worth the wait alas. Maybe I'd have appreciated more when I was an avid Christie reader (I must admit its been some twenty years since I last picked up a novel of hers) but where I've seen other reviews call this movie respectful and reserved, I felt it deserved another description; anemic. 

It's so disappointing how this movie squanders what remains to this day a fascinating puzzle. We can accept that, faced with her husband's desire for a divorce, Christie fled from the world, adopted the alias of Teresa Neele (the surname of her husband's lover) and booked into a hydropathic hotel in Harrogate. It might not be our own first course of action, granted but it is perhaps an understandable one. When she resurfaced, her actions remained shrouded in mystery, with two doctors diagnosing a Fugue state of amnesia and no mention of the events in her autobiography. But what did she actually do in those 11 days? What was she thinking? What was truly her state of mind?

Kathleen Tynan's novel - on which this film is based, the author co-writing the screenplay with Arthur Hopcroft, the man responsible for the BBC's adaptation of John Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - proposes that Christie was not necessarily running away, but was in fact carefully and coldly plotting something. In itself this is an interesting theory, but the film ultimately cannot concentrate on its own supposition and distracts itself by an ill advised romance/connection it saddles itself with between Vanessa Redgrave's Christie and Dustin Hoffman's wholly fictitious visiting American journalist Wally Stanton, hot on her trail.  

It's a stilted ponderous production that really could have benefited from a much more droll, knowing and wicked approach concerning the author and how her homicidal, violent imagination seems to be impinging upon her reality, but all life is utterly squeezed out of the film despite a relatively fine performances from Redgrave, who depicts Christie as a subdued, bruised eccentric, and an OK one from Hoffman as a stiffbacked, confident motormouth, even if he does seem a little out of place in an English period drama.

The puzzling location shoot - merging Harrogate in Yorkshire (where Christie turned up) with Bath in Somerset - doesn't help matter either.

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