Agatha and the Truth of Murder


“Colonel Mustard, in the study, with the lead pipe.”

(2018) Mystery (Vision) Ruth Bradley, Pippa Haywood, Ralph Ineson, Bebe Cave, Luke Pierre, Joshua Silver, Samantha Spiro, Tim McInnerny, Blake Harrison, Dean Andrews, Brian McCardie, Michael McElhatton, Seamus O’Hara, Derek Halligan, Liam McMahon, Amelia Rose Dell, Clare McMahon, Richard Doubleday, Stacha Hicks. Directed by Terry Loane 

 

In 1926, the great mystery writer Agatha Christie disappeared, A great nationwide manhunt ensued with more than 10,000 police officers working the case. She was discovered eleven days later in a hotel, using the surname of her husband’s lover and with no memory of what transpired over those eleven days. To this day, it is a real-life unsolved mystery. This British made-for-TV film offers it’s own explanation.

Christie (Bradley) was at a crisis point in her life. While her career as a mystery author was going well, she was suffering from writer’s block and was tired of writing novels in which her readers simply picked the least likely suspect and solved the crime in that manner. Worse still, her husband (McMahon) was carrying on an affair with a younger woman and was demanding a divorce, one which she didn’t want to grant. Despite his infidelity, Christie was still in love with her husband.

She is in despair when approached by Mabel Rogers (Haywood), a nurse who begs the author to solve the murder of Rogers’ friend (and lover) Florence Nightingale Shore, bludgeoned to death on a train six years earlier. Although at first reluctant, Christie decides that solving the murder is not only the right thing to do but exactly what she needs to get out of her funk. She and Mabel concoct a plan to invite the main suspects in the crime to a country manor under the guise of being an insurance company representative seeing to the disbursement of funds from a will – nothing like appealing to greed to round up a disparate group of people.

Needless to say, things don’t go necessarily the way the great writer planned things and it ends up with her prime suspect (Andrews) being killed. When the actual police, in the person of Detective Inspector Dicks (Ineson), the cat is out of the bag and the game is truly afoot – to quote Arthur Conan Doyle (McElhatton), whom Christie consulted earlier about her writer’s block.

Part homage and part real life mystery, the case that Christie was called upon to solve in the film – the murder of Florence Nightingale Shore, a niece of that Florence Nightingale, actually happened as described and in reality, was never solved. That Christie knew about the case is certain; it was big news in Britain at the time and Christie used elements of the crime in her book The Man in the Brown Suit. Mabel Rogers also existed as well.

Bradley makes an extremely engaging Christie. The actress, best known in the States for her work in Grabbers as well as the genre series Primeval and Humans, gives the acclaimed mystery writer a certain amount of pluck. While she is devastated by her husband’s affair, she has enough self-awareness to know that wallowing in misery is not the way to go. I don’t know how close her portrayal is to how the real Christie was but I think she plays Agatha Christie the way we wish she was.

The era is captured pretty well and while the production values aren’t quite as lush as the best adaptations of Christie’s work are, the movie suffices in that regard. While mystery buffs will find nothing particularly innovative here, I don’t think the movie necessarily had to reinvent the wheel in order to be successful. If I do have a bit of a quibble, the dialogue can be stiff and sound unrealistic to my ears. It doesn’t sound like real people conversing at times.

Fans of Christie’s work – my mother is one and I grew up reading many of her novels – will find familiar territory here, from the gathering at a country manor to the somewhat positive light that the police are portrayed here (other mystery writers have tended to write them as bumbling fools). That makes this kind of cinematic comfort food, the sort of thing that is sorely needed in these trying times.

REASONS TO SEE: Bradley makes a wonderful Christie.
REASONS TO AVOID: The dialogue tends to be a bit stiff.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The film was broadcast on Channel 5 in the UK on December 23rd, 2018. It was the first in a series of fictional films about Christie to be shown on television – each featuring a different actress in the role.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft,  Netflix, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/8/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Agatha
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald

In Her Skin (I Am You)


In Your Skin

Ruth Bradley literally leads Kate Bell down the garden path.

(2009) True Crime Drama (IFC) Guy Pearce, Miranda Otto, Ruth Bradley, Sam Neill, Kate Bell, Khan Chittenden, Graeme Blundell, John Butler, Justine Clarke, Diane Craig, Jack Finsterer, Rebecca Gibney, Eugene Gilfedder, Jeremy Sims, Steven Vidler. Directed by Simone North

 

Very few of us are genuinely happy with who we are. Some of us long to change certain things about ourselves, be it our physical appearance or our own natures. Sometimes this self-loathing leads to a hatred for everyone who at least on the surface appears to have everything we want.

Rachel Barber (Bell) is one of those that looks to have everything anyone could want. Beautiful and graceful, training to become a ballet dancer who one day will dance for a world class company, happy and well-adjusted, she has parents (Pearce, Otto) who adore her and a handsome boyfriend named Manni (Chittenden) who is head over heels for her.

Caroline Reid (Bradley), who was once Rachel’s babysitter, is in the other class. She isn’t conventionally pretty, struggles with her weight, and has less of a bright future before her. Her parents’ divorce really affected her deeply and from that arose anger issues that have given her a hair-trigger temper, prone to rages that are truly terrifying. Her father (Neill) is wealthy and distant, tending to be more critical than loving although he does love her in his own way.

When Rachel fails to return home after dance practice, her parents are alarmed. This just isn’t like their daughter at all. The police seem disinterested in finding their girl; they chalk it up as a runaway situation, which mystifies Manni who tells her everything but didn’t tell her that she had any idea about running off. Even Caroline, surly at best, expresses concern. The Barbers, desperate to find their daughter, decide to search on their own with the police scarcely willing to help.

Tragically, the Barbers are searching in vain. Their dearest Rachel is already gone, brutally murdered at the hands of her trusted friend and former babysitter Caroline. The deed was done as part of a twisted, psychotic attempt of Caroline to transform herself into Rachel, the only way the girl thought she had of ever having the things she wanted.

The movie is told from three differing points of view; that of the Barbers, of Caroline and of Rachel herself. North, in an attempt I suppose to take some artistic license, jumps wildly between time frames which is often confusing. Still, North gets the benefit of some riveting performances.

Bradley, an Irish actress, was someone I hadn’t seen much of (if anything) prior to this film but she nails the role. You feel like you as a viewer are walking on eggshells every time Caroline is onscreen; she can be sweetness and light but can explode into a volcanic eruption of rage without warning or cause. Her self-loathing is palpable as is her need for her father’s acknowledgment, something she can never get – the way she wants, in any case. You never really understand the motives, but then you can’t really understand crazy unless you are a lunatic yourself.

Pearce and Otto are two of the most dependable actors working today and as the parents their grief and worry consume them, sometimes leading to conflict between their characters. They are both sympathetic but imperfect adding a touch of realism to the film. It isn’t always easy to watch them, but it never feels anything but genuine.

Speaking of realism and genuine, the murder scene is quite horrific and very tough to watch. It doesn’t pull any punches and there’s nothing about it that is clean or easy. I very much suggest that those who are easily upset by those sorts of things to think twice before viewing.

This is definitely a flawed film but it is still quite good nevertheless. North excels at keeping a sense of tension even when it is obvious what is about to occur or what has already occurred. For those of us in America who are mostly unfamiliar with the case (it was front page news in Oz so Aussie readers may be far more familiar with the events in the film than us Yanks) there is an element of suspense that is well-appreciated. Like the Barbers, North doesn’t always do the right thing here but she does her best and even if she makes mistakes they are at least honest ones. She has a good deal of talent and I look forward to seeing what the future has in store for her.

WHY RENT THIS: Extremely well-acted. Tense and suspenseful, even though it is pretty obvious even to those unfamiliar with the case how it’s going to end up. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Time jumping confuses the viewer unnecessarily. Tries too hard in places.

FAMILY VALUES: The movie is intense in places and the murder scene might be too much for the sensitive. There’s also a few instances of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bell and Chittenden, girlfriend and boyfriend in the film, also played girlfriend and boyfriend in the Australian TV series “Blue Water High.”

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are some cast interviews that get highly emotional.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Data not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Taking Lives

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Instinct