"The Agatha Christie Hour, Set 1" another classic British mystery television series, and a long-awaited one, finally arrives here. Ten episodes of it were made by Thames Television for Britain's ITV (independent television stations), in 1982; it was broadcast on Public Broadcasting's "Mystery!" in the early 1980s. We now get the first five stories, showing another, softer side of, possibly, the world's most famous and beloved practitioner of British mystery writing. They arrive in a boxed set of two disks, running approximately 257 minutes, with, happily, subtitles, and an interesting feature on Christie's early non-Poirot work.
The series was based on short fiction by Dame Agatha, the mistress of mystery; all the episodes are set in the 1920s and `30's, and do not feature her signature detective Hercule Poirot. However, interestingly enough, they feature some characters that carry over to the Poirot stories, most notably Miss Lemon, Poirot's secretary/assistant, and Ariadne Oliver, a fictional, successful detective novelist who much resembles her creator. The production is blessed with the meticulous attention to detail that used to characterize British TV: costumes, transportation, interiors are accurate, and the location photography is excellent. The stars are worthy of their settings: they include a young John Nettles (Midsomer Murders: Set 15); the respected Maurice Denham (All Passion Spent); a handsome young Rupert Frazer (P.D. James - Cover Her Face); and Michael Gough(Batman (Two-Disc Special Edition)). The supporting players are also strong, and there was no skimping on extras. The stories run from crime-solving, to romance and the supernatural.
The episodes are:
"The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife." A cheated-upon housewife hires Parker Pyne, retired civil servant and `doctor of happiness.' Pyne sends forth Claude, a handsome young almost gigolo played by Rupert Frazer. Can Claude help this neglected wife to recapture her husband's attention?
"In a Glass Darkly." There's an engagement party; a handsome young guest has a vision of the bride-to-be, the sister of his friend, at risk, and suggests she break her engagement, which she does. The young man struggles through World War I, and comes back to marry the young woman himself. A strong episode and an early look at post-traumatic stress disorder, which they then called shell shock.
"The Girl in the Train." A suddenly unemployed young broker decides to take a train trip from London to Portsmouth, U.K. He meets a beautiful young woman on the train, and finds himself mixed up with spies and international affairs. A light and fluffy comic romance.
"The Fourth Man." Another train trip. A young John Nettles has the difficult acting job of playing a Frenchman, just sitting and telling a story (that verges on the supernatural) to his three train compartment companions, a doctor, a churchman, and an academic. Luckily, they're all played by solid supporting actors, including Michael Gough, and there are atmospheric flashbacks to France, in which a young Fiona Mathieson does good work.
"The Case of the Discontented Soldier." A bored retired Army man goes to Parker Pyne for stimulation. An entertaining little mystery that features an appearance by the fictional Ariadne Oliver.
The short story genesis of these entertainments precludes much of Christie's customary complexity of plot; but the fact that these stories were written in the eras in which they were set does give them a certain resonance, and Thames TV sure knew how to make mysteries. Worth a look any time.