The Agatha Christie Hour – Set 2
Directed by John Frankau et al
Studio: Acorn Media
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Running Time: 260 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo/mono English
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: January 25, 2011
Review Date: January 18, 2011
During a writing career that stretched over more than half a century, Agatha Christie made a name for herself with a long string of baffling and ingenious mysteries and thrillers. So successful was she that she is now and has been for decades, apart from Shakespeare and The Bible, the best selling author in the world. Most people who know the name Agatha Christie think immediately of her two most well known creations: Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. Christie wrote, however, quite a surprising amount of material not featuring either of these two celebrated sleuths. In her lifetime, she wrote several nonfiction books about herself and her husband and the adventures they shared as she traveled with him on his archaeological digs. She wrote plays, poetry, romance novels (under a pseudonym), and volumes of short stories which sometimes featured Poirot or Miss Marple but just as often did not. The five 52-minute episodes in this second box set from The Agatha Christie Hour are dramatizations of five short stories that do not feature her famous detectives. While some of these short tales are rather simple mysteries which experienced armchair sleuths will easily solve before the end of the program, there are elements of veiled motives and hidden agendas in all them. And if one is at all familiar with the works of Mrs. Christie, he can see germs of ideas in these stories which were elaborated in later, longer works.
These five Christie stories are more often than not slight, whimsical tales set in the distant past with Britishers who are troubled or looking for something out of life that has up to now been denied them. Occasionally there is a whiff of the supernatural (“The Red Signal” features a séance), and all of the tales involve some degree of romance either sought, thwarted, or both. The set gets started with “Magnolia Blossom,” a triangle situation where an unhappy wife (Ciaran Madden) falls for an attractive stranger (Ralph Bates) but feels a sense of duty to her unscrupulous husband (Jeremy Clyde). The least interesting of the stories, for Mrs. Christie it’s a toe dip in the pool of romance fiction which she’d later go on to write in novel form as Mary Westmacott. She also often used triangle situations as jumping off points for murder mysteries both as short stories (“Triangle at Rhodes”) and novels (Death on the Nile, Evil Under the Sun, A Caribbean Mystery), but there is no murder at the core of this story.
Next comes a genuine mystery in “The Mystery of the Blue Jar” as a young law student (Michael Aldridge) hears screams of murder on a golf course but can’t get anyone else to hear them. It’s an overly familiar device Mrs. Christie trots out here to misdirect her leading character (and the audience), and it doesn’t quite work this time out.
“The Red Signal” is another triangle situation as young Dermot West (Richard Morant) keeps in check his romantic feelings for the wife (Joanna David) of his best friend (Christopher Cazenove) at a séance where the medium (Rosalie Crutchley) warns the party attendees not to go home to avoid the blood. Though the solution of the story’s murder is an easy and obvious one, the tale is nonetheless the best of the five offered with this set.
“Jane in Search of a Job” finds penniless Jane Cleveland (Elizabeth Garvie) agreeing to impersonate for a fee of three thousand pounds a visiting grand duchess (Amanda Redman) who’s been threatened with kidnapping. Though Jane’s adventure is amusing, it’s obvious Christie was intimately familiar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Red-Headed League” when fashioning the plot for this slight story.
The set concludes with “The Manhood of Edward Robinson” as milquetoast accountant Edward Robinson (Nicholas Farrell) takes his substantial winnings from a contest and rather than investing it buys a new sports car, leaves his caustic fiancé (Ann Thornton) on Christmas Eve and heads for the coast where he has a misadventure with a jewel thief (Cherie Lunghi) and gets a new perspective on life. This light adventure is reminiscent of Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence escapades, delightful if completely unrealistic.
The original broadcast ratio of 1.33:1 is faithfully rendered with these transfers. Shot on videotape rather than film, the programs appear somewhat desaturated of color and bland in appearance though there is nothing wrong with the clarity of the images, and there is a fair amount of detail to be seen. The images sport very weak black levels, however, and there is considerable banding in all of the programs. Each episode has been divided into 6 chapters.
Though the package claims the programs sport a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo encode, the episodes themselves are in 2.0 mono (which Dolby Prologic properly decodes into the center channel); only the opening Freemantle Video title sequence is in stereo. Sound quality is rather flat, and there is light hiss to be heard in these transfers. Occasionally the music overwhelms the dialogue though this is not a constant problem. There are also one or two examples of audio dropouts.
There is a text biography of Agatha Christie which the reader can step through. It’s the same biography of the celebrated author used in all of these Acorn/Christie releases.
3/5 (not an average)
The Agatha Christie Hour is a modestly pleasant but undemanding series of stories featuring some of Mrs. Christie’s lesser tales. Fans of the author will be glad to finally add these remaining programs in the series to their collections, but there is better Christie material out there on disc to be found with very little investigation.