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DVD Review: ‘The Agatha Christie Hour’

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Even the most avid Agatha Christie buff may not be aware of the stories featured in this DVD collection, as they don’t feature either of her most famous detectives, Miss Marple or the inimitable Hercule Poirot. But the absence of those two sleuths should not deter one from checking out this great series from 1982 and distributed by Acorn Media, The Agatha Christie Hour: Complete Collection.

Cherie Lunghi and Nicholas Farrell in "The Manhood of Edward Robinson"

Cherie Lunghi and Nicholas Farrell in “The Manhood of Edward Robinson”

Featuring 10 almost hour-long episodes on four discs, with a total running time of 517 minutes, there is much to enjoy here. One of Christie’s other, lesser-known sleuths, Mr. Parker Pyne (Maurice Denham), is on hand in a few of the episodes, and fans of Poirot will also recognize the character of Miss Lemon, who is employed in a similar capacity, but perhaps with more direct involvement in his cases, by Parker Pyne. Many of the mysteries center on the supernatural and romance, two aspects that played more in the background of many of Christie’s famous detective novels, but take center stage here.

The list of episodes in the collection includes:

Set 1
Disc 1: “The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife,” “In a Glass Darkly,” “The Girl in the Train”

Disc 2: “The Fourth Man,” “The Case Of The Discontented Soldier”

Set 2
Disc 1: “Magnolia Blossom,” “The Mystery of the Blue Jar,” “The Red Signal”
Disc 2: “Jane in Search of a Job,” “The Manhood Of Edward Robinson”

The picture quality has the look of many television films from that era, a bit on the grainy side, but for the most part is clean and crisp and looks great on a large-scale high-definition television screen, with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The costumes, set design and locations are top-notch. The sound and music are clear, with English subtitles are available. Extras include two text biographies, “Agatha Christie” and “Parker Pyne: Before Poirot.”

All of the episodes are entertaining, but there are some definite standouts. Fans of Midsomer Murders will be delighted to see a very young John Nettles in “Fourth Man.” Nettles, as Raoul Letardau, enters a train compartment and joins the discussion between three men — a lawyer, and a priest, and a doctor (Michael Gough, Geoffrey Chater, Alan MacNaughton) — and their debate over a young woman’s recent suicide. But does the fourth man on the train hold the key to the mystery? in another episode, Christie seems to take a page out of Edgar Allan Poe with “In a Glass Darkly,” where a young man’s vision of a murder may play out in the future. Christopher Cazenove and Rosalie Crutchley are featured in “The Red Signal,” another supernatural mystery that centers around the foretold death of a doctor. Are otherworldly forces at work, or is this just a case of murder for gain?

Viewers will have fun spotting familiar actors in early roles: Rupert Everett “The Manhood of Edward Robinson,” Amanda Redman “Jane in Search of a Job,” and Ralph Bates “Magnolia Blossom,” just to name a few. But perhaps what is most fun about The Agatha Christie Hour (apart from its cute animated opening credits sequence) is seeing another side of Christie. At times, romantic, at times silly, at times mysterious, these stories not only feature England during a bygone era, but Christie, beginning to find her voice and stretch herself as a storyteller.

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