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DVD Review: Agatha Christie: Mystery Lover’s Collection

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This set of DVDs is an odd collection of film adaptations of Agatha Christie's books and short stories. Culled from several other DVD sets, Agatha Christie: Mystery Lover's Collection attempts to give the viewer a sample platter of Christie's amateur detectives. Devoted fans will already have most of the discs in this collection, but it may be useful for introducing new viewers to some of the past 25 years of Christie adaptations.

The Secret Adversary

Childhood friends Tommy Beresford and Prudence "Tuppence" Cowley meet by chance in London shortly after World War I. Both are nearly penniless and unable to find work due to the post-war depression. Chance leads them to stumble into a plot to use an un-signed treaty from the war years to manipulate the Labour Party and Trade Unions into leading a socialist revolution in England.

One of the main characteristics of the Tommy & Tuppence stories is the balance of seriousness and levity, which is carefully maintained here, as well. Francesca Anis playes Tuppence as quick and bright, if not always accurate in the conclusions she reaches. James Warwick's Tommy is sober, but with a dry wit and ready grin. Tommy is an English gentleman to the core, which often makes him the "straight man."

When I read the book, it was the first time I felt tension and worry over a Christie story. The filmmakers successfully translated the ominous presence of the mysterious Mr. Brown, leaving me just as on the edge of my seat watching it as I was reading it, despite already knowing the identity of Mr. Brown. One of the interesting characteristics of this particular story is that until nearly the end, there are quite a few people who could be Mr. Brown.

Tommy & Tuppence: Partners in Crime – "The Affair of the Pink Pearl"

Following the success of The Secret Adversary, Granada produced ten episodes of the TV series Tommy & Tuppence: Partners in Crime. Where The Secret Adversary was done as a feature film production, the TV series is rather obviously a 1980s British television series.

The first episode, "The Affair of the Pink Pearl," begins six years after the events in The Secret Adversary with the now happily married Beresfords (still Anis and Warwick) living comfortable but dull lives, in Tuppence's opinion. That quickly changes when Tommy reveals to her that they will be taking over a now-defunct international detective agency. As they say, hijinks ensue. The theme of the short story collection that most of the episodes (including this one) are drawn from is that the duo take on the characteristics and techniques of famous literary detectives like Sherlock Holmes and even Christie's Hercule Poirot. The episode is amusing and entertaining, but not nearly as meaty or clever as The Secret Adversary.

The Body in the Library

Miss Marple's old friend Dolly Bantry calls upon her to help find out why a mysterious young woman ended up dead on a rug in the library of her house. The police, of course, are running their own investigation, which leads them to the Majestic Hotel. Of course, it is Miss Marple who notices the crucial clues to solve the crime.

The 1984 adaptation starring Joan Hickson as Miss Marple stayed fairly true to the original text; however, this adaptation does not. Originally aired in 2004 as a part of the Agatha Christie's Marple series featuring Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple, this version of the story takes many liberties with both the plot, the scenes, and the motivation for murder, which in turn significantly alters the identity of the perpetrator.

It is entertaining to imagine this possible alternate ending; however, unlike with The Secret Adversary, Christie did not leave much ambiguity in the original text that might lead to this alternate ending. Some of her other books have hinted at characters having non-heterosexual relationships, but none were ever as explicit as depicted in this ITV adaptation. I am disappointed that this is the Miss Marple story selected to be in this set. From among all that could have been chosen, this is the one that I would not have picked.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Set in the English countryside of 1917, a war-wounded Captain Hastings is staying with an old friend when he runs into Belgian refugee and retired police detective Hercule Poirot, whom he had met in Belgium during the war. When the stepmother of Hastings' friend dies under mysterious circumstances, he sets out to solve the mystery and identify the killer. Ultimately, it is Poirot who ferrets out the truth when Hastings and the police are distracted by the killer's carefully laid red herrings.

David Suchet deftly portrays a Poirot who is still learning English culture, and who has not yet learned that his own sense of order and method cannot be every fully conveyed to others. Hugh Frasier's Captain Hastings is earnest yet innocent in his attempts to understand the darker side of human nature that his cultured upbringing would not allow him to see, even with the evil spectre of war behind him.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is Christie's first published book, and it is the classic that so many others of the genre have drawn upon. Therefore, it is fitting that it was chosen to be a part of this collection. Given the other, odder choices, it's refreshing to be able to watch this gem.

The Pale Horse

Set in 1960s England, the story focuses on Mark Easterbrook, who is a young man who is a suspect for murder simply because he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. With the help of two young women, he sets out to prove himself innocent, but the only way he can do that is by finding out who the real killer is. By doing so, he puts himself and his new friends in the crosshairs of the killer, who is determined to keep the attention of the police on Easterbrook.

The direction and production is dark — much darker than the treatment usually given to film adaptations of Christie's stories. It certainly shows a different side to the Queen of Crime, and perhaps that was why it was chosen to be in this introductory collection.

Aside from the films (and episode), the discs do not include any additional material beyond the usual text-based brief background information on Agatha Christie and the key actors involved in the production. This is not surprising. Although the box is given a distinctive design and theme, the contents are clearly pulled from the various sets and single releases previously made available by Acorn Media. It's a little disappointing that they did not change the packaging of the contents to match, rather than making it appear to be an assortment of remainders marketed as something new. Luckily, it's the contents that matter more than the packaging.

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