Christie's Most Personal Mystery
Whilst Agatha Christie is known for the numerous murder/mystery thrillers with many if not all having been adapted to the big and small screen she was also a woman of mystery. Or to be precise for 11 days in 1926 she was a woman of mystery when she disappeared, hiding out at a spa in Harrogate under a false name. No one knows exactly why she disappeared although there are clues to why she chose to vanish and it is those clues along with a lot of fiction which combine to make "Agatha". And in a way "Agatha" is a story befitting of an Agatha Christie novel with its blend of mystery, treachery and a touch of romance making it work reasonably well as a mystery movie in its own right.
Despite knowing that her husband is having an affair Agatha Christie (Vanessa Redgrave - Venus) takes the news that he wants a divorce badly, begging him to reconsider. But after he heads off for the weekend Agatha leaves a note for her secretary and then disappears, crashing her car in a nearby wood. Whilst the police try to discover what has happened and the public worry themselves over her disappearance Agatha books herself into a Harrogate spa under the name of Mrs Teresa Neele where she meets American journalist Wally Stanton (Dustin Hoffman - The Graduate) who becomes her confident. But is Agatha's disappearance just a cry for help or is there something darker going on especially when her husband's lover Nancy Neele (Celia Gregory) is also at the spa.
Now it has to be said that the storyline to "Agatha" whilst taking its lead from certain facts such as her husband wanting a divorce so that he could marry his lover, is more a work of fiction than fact. The truth of the movie is as already mentioned her husband wanting a divorce, Agatha disappearing to Harrogate and the public outcry over her vanishing. The rest of the story which sees her meet American journalist Wally Stanton and a plot to get her revenge on Nancy Neele, her husband's lover, is a work of fiction. But it works because it draws you into the mystery surrounding her disappearance.
As such "Agatha" plays out almost like a murder mystery movie as we watch Wally gain Agatha's confidence at the Spa, becoming a friend on a much deeper level. And then you have the aspect of her taking an interest in a treatment which uses an electric chair for slimming. It leads you to believe that Agatha is planning to murder Nancy Neele who in this story is also staying at the spa. But like in an Agatha Christie story it's not that simple, it twists about and you are never entirely sure what the outcome will be. Well you do because after 11 days Agatha comes out of hiding, but what goes on before, that keeps you guessing and surprises you.
What is so great about "Agatha" is that whilst partly a work of fiction it does establish what Agatha was like, a shy person who didn't enjoy publicity, a fragile woman who was desperate to keep her husband even when he told her he wanted a divorce yet also a sublimely clever woman who's attention to detail was spectacular. How accurate a portrait it paints I am not sure but it makes Agatha Christie of this movie a very real person with many layers. And the same can be said of the other characters especially Wally Stanton who is more than just a 2 dimensional reporter; he is a man who in the short days that he became her friend he grew loyally fond of her.
As such both Vanessa Redgrave and Dustin Hoffman do a good job of playing these characters making them feel real. Redgrave gets across the fragility of Agatha wonderfully and makes her depressive but not to the point of being morbid, in fact she actually brings colour to the character when after a few days at the Spa she begins to put her real life behind her. And whilst you could say Hoffman plays Wally Stanton as too stiff and regimented it works because it comes across as being respectable rather than brash which is the norm when it comes to American journalists. The rest of the cast which includes Timothy Dalton, Helen Morse and Celia Gregory are just as good in their supporting roles.
What this all boils down to is that "Agatha" is a very enjoyable movie which delivers an interesting speculation as to what Agatha Christie got up to in those 11 days when she disappeared. I would say the speculation is more about creating a story worthy of an Agatha Christie novel than of real life but it draws you in and keeps you on the edge of your seat as you wonder what will happen before those 11 days are over.