Friday, January 15, 2021

Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie, on PBS

Presumably, the West End theater shutdown forced by CCP-Covid should not interrupt the record of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap for most consecutive performances. If it does, it will take a new play over sixty-nine years to catch-up with her. Thirty-five years after her death (almost to the day), Dame Agatha’s mystery novels and plays remain undiminished in their popularity. Christie scholars and admirers explore the inspirations for her work and her lasting cultural legacy in Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie, directed and produced by Matt Cottingham, which premieres this Sunday on most PBS stations.

Although her name is synonymous with “cozy” mysteries, all of Cottingham’s talking heads dispute that label for Christie. To the contrary, they argue she had a decidedly dark view of human nature. Due to her interest in forensic science, her murders were also unusually realistic. Plus,
And Then There Were None is often credited as the first “slasher” thriller, so there.

Of course,
Inside cannot trace the development of Christie’s work, without giving ample time to her notorious disappearance. It is almost of cliché, since the incident has already inspired two highly fictionalized films, Agatha and the Truth of Murder and Agatha, directed by the recently deceased Michael Apted. Fans generally know Christie was desperately miserable with her first husband, Archibald Christie, during this period. However, Inside gives equal or greater time to the wedded bliss she subsequently found with husband #2, Max Mallowan. He happened to be an archaeologist, which does indeed explain her frequent Egyptian and Mesopotamian settings.

It really is nice to see more of the happy Christie rather than the bitter spurned wife. The various Christie experts do an okay job surveying her oeuvre, but with sixty-six published novels, they can only scratch the surface. Logically,
And Then There Were None probably gets the most consideration, because it has probably been adapted more than anything else she wrote (and it has been ripped-off thousands of times more), but it strangely skims over one of her favorites, Ordeal by Innocence. Sarah Phelps, who penned the recent Amazon/BBC adaptation is heard rhapsodizing Christie throughout Inside, but it is worth noting she committed a cardinal sin, changing Dame Agatha’s ending in her recent teleplay (and not for the better).

Nevertheless, it is often rather amusing to watch career surveys like this, because they put us in the mood to revisit the films and books addressed. That is certainly the case here. A lot of good movies appear in
Inside, but the best is probably Rene Clair’s And Then There were None (1945). Competent and pleasantly watchable, Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie is recommended for fans when it airs this Sunday night (12/17) on PBS (and should appear on the app the next day).