While the Lady Vanished (Film Review: “Agatha and the Truth of Murder”)

An amusing re-imagining of the 11 days the legendary murder mystery author went missing in 1926. . . when Author becomes Sleuth.

SnapShot Plot

An entertaining entry in the alternate history category is the British import, Agatha and the Truth of Murder which, despite its clunky title, is a refreshing, albeit familiar romp in the world of Agatha Christie, with an appealing twist. Starring Ruth Bradley, who does an admirable job with her portrayal of the young Mrs. Christie, this is a what-if tale about the whereabouts and activities of the famed murder mystery writer during her widely publicized real-life disappearance for 11 days in 1926.

As Mrs. Christie’s marriage is on the brink of collapse, and she’s struggling with a concurrent case of writer’s block, she receives a strange visitor who implores her to apply her detective skills to solving a real-life murder case that’s gone cold after 6 long years. Here’s where the movie gets interesting.

Pippa Haywood plays Mabel Rogers, the grieving companion of Florence Nightingale Shore (god-daughter to the legendary Florence Nightingale) who in fact was bludgeoned to death on an outbound train from London in 1920. The case has been shrouded in mystery all these many decades, and so the events as depicted in this fictitious treatment are as good as any in deciphering a mystery that – if it not for its sourcing in the annals of British crime – might have been concocted by the legendary writer herself.

In short, the two women devise a convincing back story and aliases to lure the usual suspects (including distant relatives and those who may have wanted Florence out of the way) to a remote country estate, where they will methodically investigate each person’s relationship, motive, and means for murdering poor Florence. A viable plan, until murder and mayhem really do ensue with the local authorities brought in and quite a mess to clean up. . . with the real murderer of Florence afoot in the house.

Parting Shot

Written by Tom Dalton and directed by Terry Loane, Agatha and the Truth of Murder is a decidedly middle-brow entertainment, not that there’s anything wrong with that. . .to steal a Seinfeld reference. It’s a fairly straightforward whodunit with an intriguing premise: to imagine the most famous murder mystery writer of all time personally engaged in the business of crime-solving, tested in a new way rather than sitting comfortably behind a desk re-arranging flashcards to move her character about in a plot sprung from her own mind. People are irrational and unpredictable animals, the film seems to be telling us. It’s also entertaining to imagine all this taking place while the world conjures up its own assortment of conspiracy theories as to her whereabouts.

The movie also treats the subject of Mabel’s and Florence’s relationship with a sensitivity probably lacking in 1920s England, although for modern audiences, this frank acknowledgment of their love story should come as no shock. Indeed, the major theme of the picture, as verbalized by Mrs. Christie in voiceover, speaks to the nature of love as an expression of obsession. . . but obsession in terms of devotion, and the supreme exclusion of everyone else in one’s life. One can’t help but conclude that if there’s a moral to the story, it’s that. The heart wants what the heart wants. And the object of that affection is to be prized above all others. Some marriages simply don’t measure up, and our dear Mrs. Christie must accept that some plot lines take on their own agency, after all.

Agatha and the Truth of Murder is presently streaming on Netflix.

YouTube Trailer

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