Agatha Christie’s Mystery Lover’s Collection
by Jef Burnham
Now available on DVD from Acorn Media.
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If you are one of the few people as yet unacquainted with the works of world-famous mystery writer, Dame Agatha Christie, this collection will provide a fine introduction to the author’s work… at least, as it was reinterpreted for British television. Agatha Christie’s Mystery Lover’s Collection includes five tales featuring her most celebrated sleuths, Miss Marple, Poirot, and Tommy and Tuppence.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles is notable for being based on Christie’s first novel of the same name, and is the first appearance of the “dandy,” Dutch detective Hercule Poirot as played here by David Suchet, who would realize the detective in numerous later installments as well. The most enjoyable part of this tale is watching the obsessive-compulsive Poirot at work.
The Secret Adversary and The Affair of the Pink Pearl find Tommy and Tuppence, long-time friends later turned spouses, in their first and second filmed adventures starring James Warwick and Fracesca Annis. The latter of these is the only mystery in the collection that is not feature length and feature quality, but is an episode of the Partners in Crime television series. I find Tommy and Tuppence to be a bit bland in comparison to the other leading Christie sleuths, so having two mysteries from them is disappointing.
The Pale Horse is a stand-alone tale about a series of murders shrouded in a local village’s history of black magic and witchcraft, with a wrong man scenario thrown in for good measure. This is the darkest of the mysteries in both tone and presentation. There is none of Christie’s humor in this tale, but that makes it a pleasant departure from the others.
The highlight of the set is The Body in the Library, the second tale to feature Geraldine McEwan as the gossipy Miss Marple. The structure of the story is such that we are not overwhelmed by constantly having to watch Marple herself, but follow a parade of characters portrayed by British actors that BBC aficionados are sure to recognize. Most notably (for me anyway), The Body in the Library features David Walliams from Little Britain and Jack Davenport from Coupling in a wonderfully film noir-style detective role.
I am admittedly torn in regards to this compilation. It seems to be intended as an introduction to Christie’s work, and yet is detached from reading. One part of me is disgusted by it as an example of film/television perpetuating people’s aversions to reading, and yet another part of me sees it as completely contrary to that. Personally, my only encounter with Agatha Christie prior to viewing this collection was seeing a high school production of her play, The Mouse Trap, which is admittedly not the best of introductions. After viewing these movies, however, I find myself more drawn to her work in general. These films are populated by surprisingly complex and fleshed-out characters across the board, with complicated mysteries where the end result is never as simple as “that’s the person who did it.” Those characteristics make these mysteries stand out from other whodunits in that one could easily partake in multiple viewings of them, for the characters if nothing else.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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