Acorn Media // 1982 // 260 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Jennifer Malkowski // January 6th, 2011
"Intrigue and romance in Art Deco England."
The above tagline from the DVD case does a good job describing The Agatha Christie Hour: Set 2 without quite promising the one thing we all expect but won't fully find inside: mysteries. Missing Christie's sleuths Poirot and Marple, these 1982 episodes are a hodgepodge of other Christie fare, including a melancholy love triangle, a couple of séances, a woman going undercover, and a man searching for adventure. They're serviceable stories, but their age and lack of resemblance to Christie's trademark tales will make them a tough sell for most viewers.
The Agatha Christie Hour: Set 2 completes the 1982, 10-episode run of Christie stories begun in Set 1, adding five episodes (each about 52 minutes in length) on two discs:
* "Magnolia Blossom"
When wealthy wife Theo (Ciaran Madden, The Beast Must Die) gets instructions from her husband to be particularly nice to a gentleman at their party, neither spouse fully realizes where that request will lead.
* "The Mystery of the Blue Jar"
A sweet and befuddled young law student (Robin Kermode, Ruth Rendell Mysteries) suspects he's losing his marbles when he repeatedly hears a woman calling for help whom no one else can hear. Sorting out his sanity leads him to enlist the help of an erudite "doctor of the soul" and to come to the aid of a beautiful damsel in supernatural distress.
* "The Red Signal"
A young London gentleman, Dermot (Richard Morant, The Knock), gets two warnings that his evening out will go afoul: a warning from a séance mystic and an idiosyncratic "red signal" that he's seen before when his life was in danger. On top of that, his uncle and patron is convinced that the woman Dermot loves is dangerously demented.
* "Jane in Search of a Job"
In said search, poor jobless Jane (Elizabeth Garvie, Diana: Her True Story) decides to take on a risky assignment for a handsome sum that will allow her to pay her landlady and eat a heartier breakfast than one boiled egg. She agrees to impersonate a duchess at a charity auction where she may be subject to an assassination attempt.
* "The Manhood of Edward Robinson"
Feeling cowed by his penny-pinching fiancée, Edward (Nicholas Farrell, Chariots of Fire) spends a large sum of prize money on a sporty little roadster. When he drives off in it on a solo holiday, he has little idea what an adventure he'll get into.
Though her mystery novels with fussy Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and spinster sleuth Miss Jane Marple are her best known work, Agatha Christie also published a heap of short stories in her day, five of which provide the source material for The Agatha Christie Hour: Set 2. Though they do demonstrate that Christie had some real range beyond just "Prof. Plum in the library with the candlestick" type fare, in the end she is -- unsurprisingly -- best at what she's best known for.
Still, there are some treats in The Agatha Christie Hour. Performances are pretty strong throughout, which helps the series pull off the sparse "Magnolia Blossom," a story that really just has three people talking about their feelings for each other for an hour. A nice lead also saves the title character in "Jane in Search of a Job," who really is a deeply silly woman made likable by Garvie's performance. There are also some fun period costumes and props, like Jane's gentleman friend in full-on motorcycle gear or Edward Robinson's shiny new car.
Among these five episodes, "The Manhood of Edward Robinson" stood out as my favorite. With hardly any mystery and no murder in sight, Christie manages to weave a lovely little tale about one perfect evening in the existence of a fairly miserable chap that may recalibrate his whole worldview and sense of self. Nicholas Farrell does a nice job as the downtrodden Edward, and the brief romance he shares with a pretty jewel thief provides some delightful scenes. "The Red Signal" is also good fun, with an actual murder mystery that moves along at a good clip. On the other end of the spectrum, there's "The Mystery of the Blue Jar," a story that moves like molasses and features another fairly miserable chap who never gets to have the fun that Edward does. It's a rather dull hour with an off-kilter ending.
Adding to The Agatha Christie Hour: Set 2's detractions are a variety of audiovisual problems. Acorn Media offers an apology note at the disc's beginning explaining that they were not able to make this three-decade-old television program look perfect, and you'll definitely notice flaws. The image looks dull and washed-out throughout, and it's far from crisp in its detail. Light sources cause flaring, a strange little box appears in the upper right corner from time to time, and faint lines travel up and down the screen during parts of "Edward Robinson." The sound mix also has some problems, mainly with balance, as sound effects and background noise overpower the dialogue. Apart from just the transfer, though, the series lacks aesthetic appeal -- mostly shot on interior sets with the lighting and general look of a daytime soap opera, it doesn't dazzle. You're probably not considering this 1982 TV show in the hopes of experiencing great A/V work, though, so these issues shouldn't deter Christie buffs. Unfortunately, the only extra is an on-screen text biography of Christie.
While it does prove that there was more to her work than whodunnits, The Agatha Christie Hour is hardly Agatha Christie's finest hour. The less than lavish 1982 TV production adds few attractions to the original stories, making this set a good buy mostly for diehard Christie fans.
Guilty of lacking guilty parties, these are skippable Christie non-mysteries.
Review content copyright © 2011 Jennifer Malkowski; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 260 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Not Rated