Sunday, May 30, 2021

Agatha and the Midnight Murders

Blame Inland Revenue, the UK’s equivalent of the IRS. If they had not hounded Agatha Christie for tax on the American royalties she had not received, she would not come to this late-night meeting to sell her latest manuscript. It is not just any manuscript. It is an early draft of Curtain, the final Poirot novel. Unfortunately, the ms. will be purloined and that soon leads to murder, but an air raid holds all the suspects for Ms. Christie to investigate in the fictionalized and unauthorized Agatha and the Midnight Murders, which airs throughout June on PBS stations nationwide (and the entire Agatha trilogy releases this coming Tuesday on DVD).

Presumably, Christie wants to keep the 20,000 Pound cash-sale of her “final” Poirot mystery to a Chinese super-fan secret from Inland Revenue, but she prudently brought along bodyguard Travis Pickford as protection. Frankie Lei and his translator wife Jun have their own muscle. Nevertheless, Pickford does not prevent the theft of the manuscript and Lei is killed right under Rocco Vella’s eyes shortly thereafter.

It will not be a problem to assemble the suspects, since the officious PC O’Hanauer herded them all into the cellar after the air raid siren started wailing, but they are an uncooperative lot. Snobby Sir Malcolm Campbell and his much younger date can hardly be bothered, while the mobbed-up hotel manager is obviously looking to exploit the situation. The neurotic O’Hanauer will not be much use either. At least the murder will help her out by eliminating several suspects.

Midnight Murders
is definitely the darkest of the three “Agatha And” movies, due to the disillusioned portrayal of Christie, some rather nefarious plot developments, and the general milieu of London during the Blitz. Arguably, real Christie fans will most enjoy Lyndsey Marshal’s upbeat and romantically-empowered performance in Curse of Ishtar, but they will most appreciate murder-mystery business of Midnight Murders, rather well executed by director Joe Stephenson.

Helen Baxendale is okay as the older, more jaded Christie, but sometimes she comes across as weirdly passive, which is problematic. As it turns out, a lot of the film’s energy really comes from Blake Harrison and Morgan Watkins, playing the two toughs. Alistair Petrie also chews the scenery nicely as Campbell, in a way that would not be out of place in
White Mischief or Burmese Days.

In some ways,
Midnight Murders is the most Christie of the trilogy, because its claustrophobic setting totally follows in the tradition of her hit plays. Strangely though, the prologue scene doesn’t seem to relate to anything that follows, but whatever. Recommended for Christie fans (especially those who dig her darker works), Agatha and the Midnight Murders will air on PBS stations throughout June and all three films release as a set this Tuesday (6/1) on DVD.