In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

Thumb wildlife


One never senses judgment from Dano, Kazan, Gyllenhaal, or Mulligan—they recognize that there’s beauty even in the mistakes we make in life. It’s what makes…

Thumb halloween poster


Do you know the biggest sin of the new Halloween? It’s just not scary. And that’s one thing you could never say about the original.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives




I'm an incurable reader of mystery novels, but somehow I've never been able to work up much enthusiasm for the works of Agatha Christie. I like books with some juice in them - with flesh and blood people involved in the crimes. Miss Christie seems to have favored stilted, anemic caricatures from what could be called Great Britain According to Punch.

I know I'm intended to curl up on a cold evening, of which there has been no shortage, and savor Miss Christie's languid logical puzzles while the chestnuts roast by the fire and the old hound dreams of rabbits, etc., but the fact is I grow maddened by her refusal to tell me what her characters are really thinking and feeling.


It is, therefore, no doubt ironic that the movie "Agatha," a speculation based on what was - so far as I know - the only public display of eccentricity and passion in Dame Agatha's life, fails for the same reason her books do: Because it hasn't the juice and the life and the passion. It tells of 11 mystery days in 1926 when the novelist, distraught because her husband wanted a divorce, disappeared from view and checked into a health spa under the name of her husband's mistress.

The official explanation for the episode was "insomnia," and the event is ignored in Christie's autobiography. But how much explanation do we need? Her disappearance, her pseudonym and her behavior are easily accounted for by the crisis she was facing. We might not have acted that way ourselves, but we can understand why someone else would have.

Kathleen Tynan, however, could not. And so she wrote a mystery novel speculating on what happened during those missing 11 days (or, more accurately, she wrote a treatment for a movie and fleshed it out into both a novel and a screenplay). We learn that Dame Agatha was acting, not in a panic, but in a coldly calculated manner, and that what she hoped to do was...

I had better not give away what it was that she hoped to do. Let it just be said that her plans were worthy of comparison with the poisonings, dismemberments, asphyxiations, electrocutions and burials alive of the great murderers immortalized by George Orwell in his "The Decline of the English Murder." And If Kathleen Tynan and the makers of "Agatha" had worked in that spirit - had given us a droll and macabre black comedy - the movie might have worked.

They do not, and so it does not. They hypothesize a visiting American journalist (Dustin Hoffman) who successfully tracks down Agatha Christie (Vanessa Redgrave). They establish a cold and bitter marriage for Miss Christie, they're very good at creating the health spa she flees to (it's a little like a hygienic sea cruise), and then they give us this strange and stilted courtship between the reporter and the novelist.

Both Redgrave and Hoffman provide interesting performances: Hoffman is very stiff and very confident, and speaks as if expecting to be heard at great distances, and Redgrave is tall and solemn and a little mad, as the British like their lady novelists. They inhabit a decor that's a triumph of set decoration (they're forever coming and going through a forest of potted plants). They are almost charming when each pretends that the other isn't on to the secret.

But the relationship isn't real. It's never for a moment deeply felt - it's just deeply acted. And Miss Christie's carefully planned disaster, when it comes, seems to belong in some more naive movie with, say, Alec Guinness in the hot seat. It's doubly ironic, really, that a movie could so blatantly violate the privacy Dame Agatha so fiercely treasured, and at the same time fail because it shares her inability to create real people.


Popular Blog Posts

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Netflix’s Terrifying, Moving The Haunting of Hill House is Essential Viewing

A review of Mike Flanagan's new horror series based on the Shirley Jackson novel, The Haunting of Hill House.

Always Leave 'Em Laughing: Peter Bogdanovich on Buster Keaton, superheroes, television, and the effect of time on movies

Peter Bogdanovich, film historian and filmmaker, talks about Buster Keaton, the subject of his new documentary.

"It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" Gets the Deluxe Treatment from Criterion

An epic essay on an epic comedy of the 1960s, now given deluxe treatment on Blu-ray and DVD by Criterion.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus