US, 1978, 105 minutes, Colour.
Dustin Hoffman, Vanessa Redgrave, Timothy Dalton, Helen Morse, Celia Gregory.
Directed by Michael Apted.
Agatha is an elegant hypothesis/answer for the disappearance in 1926 of celebrated author Agatha Christie, here portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave with shy and passionate vulnerability. She is unusually matched with Dustin Hoffman as a genial U.S. journalist (she tall, he so small) and romance is tenderly restrained. Timothy Dalton is a caddish Archibald Christie. Dame Agatha's own mysteries are melodramatic and make one wonder what happened in the mind and imagination of a nice lady who could invent so much criminal activity. This film's plot is not so implausible. Michael Apted directs with finesse and pleasing use of affluent Harrogate spa and Bath settings and has great stars who relish their roles. Entertainment for all.
1. Audience interest in Agatha Christie especially in the '70s? Knowledge of her as a person or as a novelist? Her reputation for such a long time, the impact of her novels? The media presentation of Agatha Christie and her work, the film versions in the '70s?
2. The presuppositions of the film for entertainment value: audience interest in the '20s, the re-creation of the period? The love of a mystery, the relishing of clues and following them out? In association with such a person as Agatha Christie?
3. The quality of the film production and audience response to this: England in the '20s, society, Harrogate, the lavish aspects of the way of life? The colour photography, the decor? The score? The importance of the stars and the contrast with Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman? How well did this work for interest and entertainment?
4. Audience knowledge about the facts as reported at the time? The explanations of amnesia? How plausible was this hypothesis, with relation to the facts, with relation to the psychology of the characters? Audience interest in such a hypothesis and its plausibility? The repercussions of such an experience on Agatha Christie, her husband, people's impressions at the time, her mentality towards her creative work?
5. The choice of Vanessa Redgrave to portray Agatha Christie? The initial gift and indications of her love for her husband, her present to him and their quarrel, her persuading him to attend the launching of the book, her response to his hostilities and trying to ignore them? Their way of talking with one another and the discussions about the lack of love between them? Did Agatha genuinely love her husband? What was revealed about them at the meeting? Indications of her personality in dealing with her husband, at the meting and her short speech, her shyness? The reasons for her writing, interest in murder mysteries, her reputation?
6. How well did the film move from establishing the public appearance of Agatha Christie to her private life? The scenes of discussion with her secretary, the meal with her husband and her desperation and pleas? The reaction to his going off? Her drive, the disappearance? How deliberate was it? The crashing of the car ? deliberately or not? The decision to go to Harrogate, the decision to take the name of Miss Neale? Her knowledge about Miss Neale being at Harrogate? When did she develop her plan, especially for the suicide? What did the audience think she was going to do?
7. The presentation of Harrogate as background to the mystery of Agatha's disappearance? Harrogate as a spa in the '20s, its lavish style, the hotels and their decor? The film's great attention to the baths, the treatment at the spa? Agatha Christie impersonating Teresa Neale ? the story of her background, widowhood, presence at the spa? Her anonymity? The friendship with Evelyn and their discussions? Agatha taking the treatments herself? The encounter with Wally and the growing friendship? Agatha's capacity for making friendships as illustrated by Wally and Evelyn?
8. How well did the film introduce the character of Wallace Stanton? His presence at the launching of the book,' his reputation, American background? Dustin Hoffman and his style and the continued references to his shortness? His courtesy with the journalist trying to get into the meeting? The meal with him and their discussions and gaining information about Agatha Christie? His admiration for her? The significance of his visit to Archie Christie and their clash? His presence at the lake and the dragging of the lake and being seen by Christie? His persuasiveness in getting information from Agatha Christie’s secretary? His decision to go to Harrogate ? false identity, the lies that he told, the importance of his presence there?
9. The bond between the two, seemingly unlikely? Its gentility, devotion? The romantic aspects? The kiss? The propriety? Each learning something about the other? Wally and his mastery of the situation because of his knowledge of the truth? His discussions with Agatha and trying to understand her? Her allowing herself to be drawn out? The ultimate importance in his saving her life?
10. Agatha's experiences at Harrogate? The importance of the plan? The extent of her being hurt by her husband, her knowledge of electricity and machines, buying the various parts, her detective work and notes in preparing the plan? Miss Neale's arrival and the contrast between the two? Her build up for getting Miss Neale to the baths and the beginning of the plans being executed? The result with her death, Miss Neale's being guilty?
11. The importance of the background search going on all the time? The police and their work, the Superintendent and his approach? The crowds and their searching over the hills? Archie and his continued presence and concern? The speculation at Harrogate in the papers and in discussions?
12. The importance of the interweaving of the bath sequences with the treatment, drawing audience attention to this? The kind of society that went to Harrogate?
13. The character of Evelyn, the modern woman of the '20s, the Charleston etc., trying to draw Agatha out of herself?
14. The characterisation of the bath attendants etc.? A ring of authenticity?
15. Wally and his working out the truth.. the effect on him and his trying to save her?
16. The aftermath and her relief? Wally's support? The mutual recognition? The importance of the packing sequence and what it revealed about the two?
17. Archie Christie's press conference as a postscript to the event? His personality, the questions, Wally's sarcastic comment?
18. The pathos of the farewell, the train sequence, Agatha leaving? The information about the later divorce?
19. A satisfying mystery and hypothesis? How well did the film explain the aura of Agatha Christie? As English., English society, her place and influence in the 20th. century? As a person with her vulnerability, romantic attitudes, capacity for relationships? Was this the real Agatha Christie?