Whatever Happened to Agatha?

DATELINE:  1979 Vanessa Redgrave Movie

 agatha:vanessa Redgrave with Hoffman

The biopic movie about the mysterious disappearance of Agatha Christie remains a fairly puzzling non-explanation as can be found.

In Agatha, the Michael Apted movie is scruptiously produced and has big stars of the day in the key roles:  Timothy Dalton, fresh off James Bond, as Captain Christie, the unloving husband who drives his wife to distraction—and Dustin Hoffman as a no-nonsense American journalist who is hot on the trail of the missing mystery writer.

Vanessa Redgrave’s eyes steal the picture as the writer. Willowy, she is hardly like the real Agatha  who was a well-fed Miss Marple type. However, there are hints to indicate this is the same methodical writer who produced so many classics of fiction. Dame Agatha seems to apply her writing habits to orchestrating a disappearance that is inexplicable.

Mrs. Christie actually left her child for eleven days—and was dealing with her mother’s death at the time of her strange disappearance. Neither of these points is made in the movie.

All in all, the viewer is led to believe this was an insensitive publicity stunt, though the writer may have wanted to punish her husband who is having an affair—and Agatha may be researching how to do in her husband’s paramour.

Hoffman is physically dwarfed by the tall, elegant Redgrave, but he gives a sharp performance. However, he too seems to send mixed messages as to his real motives as Wally Stanton, a deceptive investigator. If the real Stanton looked like Hoffman, Christie would have seen her model for Hercule Poirot, a role Hoffman might have played with more relish.

Ultimately, this fictional theory about the incident of Christie’s weird disappearance is about as unsatisfying as you could give the audience.

Along the way, the performances are meant to distract and impress. Indeed, they do. If Christie had plotted this script, she would have done a better job.

(This entry is one of a series of blogs on Agatha Christie.)

Quartet Sounds Like a Rap on Old Age




Maggie Smith with Pauline Collins

Can we really be on a roll of great character driven dramas?

Quartet is a surprise, not because the cast features all the old stars of British series like Upstairs/Downstairs and Downton Abbey, but because the director is not one of those BBC high-brow types. It is American actor Dustin Hoffman.

To gather together a bunch of aged in the wood actors, you need a rather special setting; in this case it is Beecham Home for Musicians, a retirement community of former opera people, from singers to instrumentalists.

Into the fray comes a diva of particular reputation that throws the happy life of comfortable people out of whack as they wait for their onset of Alzheimer’s to send them round the bend.

Maggie Smith’s hoity toity dame comes in with an aura of elite disdain and a tad of self-pity for having come to this last stop: living in a communal setting. Old creative people may have survived because of their talents and abilities, but that doesn’t make waiting for that good night any easier.

A long-standing difference between Maggie Smith’s character and Tom Courtney’s character sends the light drama into deeper tragedy. Does old age ameliorate old feuds?

The movie is bittersweet, casting the standbys of a generation ago in what could be one of their final bows.

It is reminiscent of when Lillian Gish, Bette Davis, and Vincent Price did Whales of August so many years ago as their swan song.

Dustin Hoffman does a lovely, sensitive job with directing the film and surrounding us with beautiful music.

You can find William Russo’s latest collection of movie reviews on Amazon.com under the title MOVIE MASHUP: STREAMING VIEWS & DEMANDING REVIEWS.