Saturday, May 29, 2021

Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar

It wasn't just Death on the Nile. Agatha Christie often took inspiration from archaeology, including her ancient Egyptian mystery novel Death Comes as the End and the story “Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb,” wherein Poirot initially gives credence to the notion of a curse, before debunking it Scooby Do-style. Her continuing interest makes sense, considering she met her second husband and great love Max Mallowan on a dig. There was also murder and skullduggery afoot during their fateful meeting according to the highly fictionalized (and unauthorized) Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar, which airs throughout June on PBS stations nationwide (and the entire Agatha trilogy releases this coming Tuesday on DVD).

Christie’s career as a bestselling mystery novelist is in full-swing, but her publisher is less than thrilled with the sentimental departure novel she submitted. Even she realizes it still needs polishing, so she impulsively departs to visit casual friends at an archaeological dig in British-administered Iraq, to research exotic romance. When she first arrives at the dig, she discovers Mallowan reeling from a head-wound caused by a low-caliber gun-shot.

As soon as the somewhat younger Mallowan recovers his senses and his manners, he realizes he is quite attracted to Christie. Inevitably, he assists her investigation into his assault, the murder of their hostess’s pet monkey, and the subsequent human murders that crop up.

Obviously, fans know Christie and Mallowan are going to last, but their will-they-or-won’t-they chemistry works quite well in
Ishtar. As Christie, Lyndsey Marshal represents a major step-up from Ruth Bradley’s neurotic predecessor in Agatha and the Truth of Murder. Marshal’s Christie is over her needy codependency and now projects a good deal of confidence, personally and professionally, but not yet romantically.

Likewise, Jonah Hauer-King (of
World on Fire) plays Mallowan like quite a proper and decent British chap. Frankly, watching the two of them sleuth around is a good deal of fun. Unfortunately, most of the supporting cast is rather bland and forgettable. Only Stanley Townsend really registers to any extent as Sir Constance, the local British administer.

Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman could tell you there really is a “Curse of Ishtar.” This one is much more watchable. In fact, it is quite entertaining, in a British cozy kind of way. It also represents a considerable improvement over
Truth of Murder, thanks to Marshal and Hauer-King. Recommended for Agatha Christie fans (despite its unauthorized status), Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar will air on PBS stations throughout June (WLIW on 6/7 and 6/12), and all three films release Tuesday (6/1) on DVD.