Tag Archives: Vanessa Redgrave

Agatha (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Agatha Christie runs away.

Despondent over her husband’s affair famous British novelist Agatha Christie (Vanessa Redgrave) decides to go away for a while to collect her thoughts. She then gets into a car accident while on the road and having her car disabled she first takes a train and then a cab to the Old Swain Hotel where she registers there under an assumed name. The police find her disabled car and fear that Agatha may have drowned in a nearby lake, been kidnapped, murdered by her husband Archie (Timothy Dalton) or committed suicide. A nationwide search begins that encompasses thousands of volunteers that scour the nearby countryside for clues. Meanwhile American reporter Wally Stanton (Dustin Hoffman), working off of  a tip from Agatha’s secretary, decides to check into the same hotel and begins following Agatha around where he keeps notes on everything she does while also falling in love with her in the process.

The film is loosely based on Agatha Christie’s real-life 11-day disappearance that occurred in 1926. No explanation was ever given for the reason nor was it even mentioned in her autobiography. Had there been some actual research about what might’ve transpired during those 11-days then this would be worth a look, but, as the film plainly states at the beginning, it is simply an ‘imaginary solution to an authentic mystery’, so then what’s the point?

Most likely it was nothing more than a woman looking to escape to some quiet location for a short respite that unfortunately due to the press getting wind of it, spiraled quickly out-of-control. The film’s low point comes in the side-story dealing with Agatha’s attempts to kill herself through a jolt of electricity from sitting in a Bergonic chair, but is saved at the last second by Wally who grabs her from the chair just as she’s shocked. Yet as he lays her limp body on the floor he doesn’t perform CPR, but instead shouts at her to ‘breath’ several times and despite no scientific study proving that this ‘technique’ can actually work she still miraculously begins breathing again anyways.

I have never read a biography on Christie, so I have no idea what her real personality was like, but the film portrays her as being a complete wallflower lacking any type of confidence and so painfully shy it’s pathetic. The character is so transparent it’s almost like she’s not even there. Hoffman’s character was completely made-up and the way he chain smokes reminded me too much of the character that he had played in Midnight Cowboy. His growing ‘love’ for her and the way he later expresses it is extremely forced and corny. Also, why is Hoffman given top billing when the main subject is Agatha?

Johnny Mandel’s soothing score is the best thing. I also liked the shot of the thousands of volunteers searching for her along the vast countryside, but everything else about the movie gets either under cooked or overbaked. The scene where Agatha tries to do a triple bank shot while playing pool gets badly botched. We initially see it captured from above where the entire pool table is in view. The pool ball banks off the side and rolls towards the corner pocket, but then it slows up and it becomes clear that it won’t make it to the pocket, so director Michael Apted cheats by cutting to a close-up of the ball and having it magically regain speed, which easily makes it into the corner pocket. The attempt was to ‘trick’ the viewer into believing that this was a continuation of the same shot but any halfway savvy person will realize this close-up was shot later and edited in.

The film’s poster tells us that ‘What may have happened during the next 11 days is far more suspenseful than anything she ever wrote’, but it really isn’t and in fact it’s not even close. The original intent by screenwriter Kathleen Tynan was to make this into a documentary after researching the true facts of the case, which would’ve been far better than the flimsy fanciful thing we get here.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Apted

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

Steaming (1985)

steaming

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Saving a steam room.

Three women (Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, Patti Love) congregate at a London steam room designed like a Turkish bathhouse. Despite their lifestyle differences they become good friends as they divulge their problems to one another and learn to lean on each other to help them cope with life’s difficulties. Then one day Violet (Diana Dors), who is the bath house owner, informs them that the place is set for demolition, which causes everyone to go on a mission to try and save it.

The film is based on the Nell Dunn play, which was highly regarded at the time, but makes for a very poor transfer to film. It starts out flat and never recovers. The dialogue has too much of a conversational quality that is not interesting and the problems that they discuss are not compelling, or original. The humor from the play is missing and the dry, somber tone only makes things even more boring. The only time it gains any traction is when it’s announced that the place is closing, but everything gets resolved in such a sitcom-styled way that it hardly seems worth the effort to watch.

The entire cast is made up of women and there is an abundance of nudity particularly from Miles, which doesn’t seem like a big deal these days. The biggest issue though is the fact that everything takes place from inside the bath house, which is gray, grimy, and rundown. The film should’ve had some segments shot from different locales if to only allow for some visual variety and to help the viewer understand the characters better by seeing how they react in different social settings.

Miles and Redgrave are wasted in drab roles and this goes likewise for Dors whose last film role this was. Love is the only one that shows any liveliness and although her character is a bit annoying she at least has an emotional breakdown near the middle, which adds some mild dramatic tension.

Joseph Losey was a competent director who made many interesting films, so it’s a shame that his career had to end with such a dud. He was already sick with cancer while he filmed this and like with Dors died a year before it was released. The disease may have sapped his creative energy and explain why this production is so ponderously sterile. It’s certainly a far cry from his other works as well as the Bruce Jay Friedman play Steambath, which had a similar setting, but a much more imaginative plotline.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 28, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Losey

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD (Region 2)