The Agatha Christie Hour Set 1

The Agatha Christie Hour Set 1 (DVD Cover)

Recurring character(s): This anthology series does not feature a cast of recurring characters

Director: Various

Original air date(s): 09/07/1982 to 10/05/1982
DVD Date: 07/27/2010

Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 257 minutes

Note(s): Based on short stories by Agatha Christie, notably those that do not include either Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot.

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The Agatha Christie Hour Set 1

Review: Most people are probably familiar with Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, two characters featured in a large number of mystery novels and short stories by Agatha Christie. However, Christie wrote an equally large number of books and short stories that didn't include either of her two sleuths. In 1982, the BBC produced 10 hour-long episodes adapted from these latter stories under the title The Agatha Christie Hour. The DVD set reviewed here comprises the first five of these episodes.

While all five episodes in this set can probably be labeled "tales of suspense", they are possibly more accurately called "tales of the unexpected". There is, admittedly, a murder or two and a couple that could loosely be considered whodunits, but for the most part, these are entertaining stories quite different from the village mysteries of Miss Marple or the puzzling cases that tickle the gray cells of Hercule Poirot.

Two of the episodes, "The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife" and "The Case of the Discontented Soldier" feature Parker Pyne, a retired government statistician who takes on cases of the unhappy. An interesting side note here is that these stories (and their adaptations) also feature characters that would later appear in Christie's Poirot mysteries: Parker Pyne's secretary is the efficient Miss Felicity Lemon, who would go on to become Poirot's secretary; and Ariadne Oliver, a writer of detective novels -- many believe this was Christie self-inserting herself into the story -- who is one of Pyne's freelance assistants and subsequently appears in several Poirot stories.

Another two of the episodes, "In a Glass Darkly" and "The Fourth Man", have paranormal elements to them. Notable in the latter is the appearance of a young John Nettles, who at the time was also starring in the crime drama Bergerac and later went on to play DCI Tom Barnaby in Midsomer Murders. Neither of these episodes seems to work as well as the others, in particular, "In a Glass Darkly", which moves along far too slowly to generate any real suspense.

Finally, the one episode that I enjoyed the most is "The Girl in the Train", a thriller with a deft comic touch.

All five episodes are richly produced, with detailed interior sets and a fair number of scenes taking place in story- and time-appropriate exterior settings. The visuals are somewhat washed out, at times little more than black-and-white, but that may have been intentional, especially in those stories that include flashbacks, and not any fault in the DVD transfer.

There are two extras included on the DVD set, but these are nothing more than text screen shots of a biography of Agatha Christie and a short bit on Parker Pyne.

On balance, The Agatha Christie Hour is a good -- and recommended -- set, showcasing Christie's talent in crafting interesting stories with an unexpected twist or two, but which are not necessarily mysteries (in the whodunit sense of the word).

Here is a summary of the episodes from the studio; I've added some additional, parenthetical notes:

"The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife": Suspecting her husband of having an affair, a housewife pays a visit to Parker Pyne, a self-proclaimed expert in happiness. Part of his unusual treatment includes introducing her to a young French beau. (The short story was originally published in 1934 in the anthology Parker Pyne Investigates in the UK and Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective in the US. It marks the first appearance of Miss Felicity Lemon.)

"In a Glass Darkly": At an engagement party for a friend’s sister, an army officer has a disturbing vision—and warns the young woman against the marriage. After returning from World War I, he finds her again and realizes the true meaning of his prophecy. (The short story was first published in 1934 the US magazine Collier's and in Woman's Journal in the UK. It was later included, somewhat inexplicably, in Miss Marple's Final Cases, one of two short stories in this collection that did not feature Miss Marple and, indeed, were not her final cases.)

"The Girl in the Train": After losing his job, a young investment broker seeks some adventure in his life. He finds it on a train to Portsmouth when a beautiful blonde darts into his compartment and entangles him in international intrigue. (The short story was originally published in 1924 in Grand Magazine, and later included in the 1934 collection The Listerdale Mystery.)

"The Fourth Man": On the night train from London to Scotland, a lawyer, a clergyman, and a doctor discuss a celebrated case of multiple personalities. When a fourth traveler joins their compartment, he makes them question everything they once believed. (The short story was originally published in 1925 in Pearson's Magazine, and later included in the collection The Hound of Death and other stories, published in 1933.)

"The Case of the Discontented Soldier": An army major returned from life abroad feels restless and bored in his new English village. He consults Parker Pyne to find the excitement and danger missing from his life—plus a little something extra. (The short story was originally published in 1934 in the anthology Parker Pyne Investigates in the UK and Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective in the US. It marks the first appearance of crime novelist Ariadne Oliver.)


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