Agatha Christie and the Truth of Murder – Review

Directed by Terry Loane

Writer: Tom Dalton

Rating: 3 out of 5.

n 1926, for eleven days history’s best-selling novelist Agatha Christie underwent her most elusive mystery as she disappeared – the events of which are still unknown. This, as one can imagine, enables a tremendously tempting narrative tool: speculation. From plotting violent revenge against her husband, to a brief nervous breakdown following an encounter with an alien wasp, what precisely happened to Christie during these days has been wildly speculated. In late 2018 the British television network Channel 5 premiered ‘Agatha Christie and the Truth of Murder’ (2018) a new take on the disappearance, revealing itself as an immersive look at the potential depressive struggles, creative blocks and disconnection Christie was experiencing.

Tom Dalton’s story plays with the metanarrative in a contrite, but appealing manner, placing Christie inside one of her mysteries to a degree. On the verge of divorce, unable to write and suffering from an emptiness, Christie enters doldrums of life where she finds little joy or creative sparks. The police unable to provide answers to the death of Florence Nightingale’s goddaughter, the deceased lover and partner Mabel Rogers requests Christie’s help.

Taking on the role of a best-seller isn’t easy, particularly one without a resolute sense of character. While Christie was a sensational writer, with an uncanny ability with problem-solving, deduction and evident intelligence, she wasn’t renowned for ‘traits’. Irish actress Ruth Bradley characterises Christie as a bold woman, confident in her standing in the male-dominated culture, but nevertheless vulnerable, especially given her husband’s relationship with another woman. Notably younger than Christie at the time of the disappearance, Bradley still carries weight, and refrains from showing the novelist as a scorned woman, or obsessive over her husband. Indeed, her lust for life, for writing and place as an equal is the motivation for helping solve the case. This, and she needs a story where no one will guess the killer before page three.

At the risk of sounding elitist – for a television-movie, ‘The True Murder’ does well for itself. Facing the facts, a feature produced for a television audience traditionally has lower production value. Nowhere is this more prevalent than the film’s aesthetics, Damien Elliott’s cinematography is structurally staged for television. Practical, the camera work and effects are nothing spectacular, they serve narrative rather than artistic purposes, chiefly drawing audiences into clues to the murder or, in the reverse, distract viewers with misdirection. Structurally, there’s a cleverness to Dalton’s writing as the evolution of Christie as an author, a wife and woman move along with the mystery. The shadiness of Florence’s murder may be the catalyst, but the film rightfully keeps Christie’s story as its focus.

A classic murder mystery is squandered without a resolute supporting cast, these are after all our suspects. ‘Agatha Christie and the Truth of Murder’ is lucky in one respect here, with a few of Britain’s talented character actors on hand from the likes of Tim McInnerny, Ralph Ineson and Blake Harrison. McInnerny and Ineson, in particular, bring a layer to their characters Randolph, the cousin of the victim and Detective Inspector Dicks. In a complementary piece to Bradley’s Christie, Ineson is has a gruff, brash and no-nonsense attitude, but performs this with a great deal of humour and conviction.

Credit is earned in the film’s depiction of Mabel and Florence’s relationship, by the simple merit of not overindulging. The pair share little screen time, though Pippa Haywood conveys agony in the loss of her partner in a sympathetic performance. Even when the film creeps into the territory of the ‘shameful’ nature of same-sex relationships of the period, McInnerny’s role as Florence’s cousin Randolph’s acceptance of the relationship is human, appropriate and refrains from a distasteful overreaction. It’s a refreshing acceptance from characters while maintaining the strains of loving another human being, which at the time was still considered criminal if they were of the same gender.

As one expects creative liberties are rife, but to a forgivable extent as Dalton’s writing has the decency to draw on semi-real events, particularly the assault details of Florence Nightingale’s goddaughter Florence. There’s a delightfully fantastical blending of history and references such as Christie’s meetings with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which make for engaging scenes as the two authors postulate over their fans.

Obsession, this is the titular ‘truth’ of murder, a theme which ripples across the film – an obsession with people, with wealth, with prestige and the past. ‘Agatha Christie and the Truth of Murder’ is a remarkably impressive experience for the medium it has been created. It relies on methodical writing, rather than cheap tactics or obnoxious romanticism. Where it may suffer from an occasional one-dimensional supporting character, it makes up with enjoyable chemistry, developing story around the mystery, and a pleasantly refreshing depiction of a gay relationship.

Review originally published for In Their Own League: https://intheirownleague.com/2020/04/30/review-agatha-christie-and-the-truth-of-murder/

Edinburgh Tradfest – Wild Mountain Thyme

With thirty-six artists spanning the globe, performing one of most popular Scottish/Irish folk songs Wild Mountain Thyme, The Edinburgh Tradfest is marking what would have been its launch day in the best possible way, bringing the heart of tradition and music into the comfort of our homes.

At noon on May 1st, the day the festival was due to launch, Edinburgh Tradfest is releasing a recording and video of the popular song via YouTube, with the link provided from social media. Coming from local and far, artists from Scotland, Ireland, England, California, Nova Scotia and Norway have recorded themselves for the project under the guiding eye of Traditional Artist in Residence Mike Vass, edited by Edinburgh video maker Ruth Barrie from Waltzer Films.

Noted artists for the recording include but are not limited to, acclaimed folk musician and original festival headliner Eliza Carthy; Fiona Hunter, Rachel Newton, James Mackintosh, Shetland fiddlers including Catriona Macdonald and Chris Stout, accordion player Phil Alexander, and Irish folk-singer Daoirí Farrell. A full list of performers can be found below.

Selected for its uplifting ability with the Scottish people, Wild Mountain Thyme is likely to bring comfort to those music fans and traditional enthusiast across the world during these trying times, where often tradition is a solace to those whose families are separated. While no easy task in formulating this recording, the team has come together to craft something they are no-doubt proud of and fittingly mark the occasion. 

Notably, the recording also signals the start of the festival’s fundraising campaign for their 2021 season, already brimming with ideas to showcase the best in traditional arts: https://www.givey.com/edinburghtradfest2021

Released on YouTube, make sure you’re following Edinburgh Tradfest online to find out more:

edinburghtradfest.com, Twitter.com/@EdinTradfest, Facebook.com/tradfestedinburgh, Instagram.com/@EdinTradfest

Full Performance listing:

Lead vocals: Eliza Carthy, Fiona Hunter (Malinky), Steve Byrne (Malinky), Mike Vass (Malinky), Daoirí Farrell, Nuala Kennedy, A.J Roach, Olivia Ross (The Shee), Kaela Rowan (Shooglenifty), J.P Cormier, Ciorstaidh Chaimbeul (Fèis Rois Ceilidh Trail)

Fiddles: Holli Scott (Fèis Rois Ceilidh Trail), Fiona MacAskill (Kinnaris Quintet), Aileen Reid (Kinnaris Quintet), Laura Wilkie (Kinnaris Quintet), Eilidh Shaw (Shooglenifty), Sam Sweeney, Catriona Macdonald (Shetland Springs), Chris Stout (Shetland Springs), Kevin Henderson (Shetland Springs), Ross Couper (Shetland Springs), Margaret Robertson (Shetland Springs), Mike Vass (Malinky)

Accordion: Phil Alexander (Moishe’s Bagel)

Clarsàch: Rachel Newton (The Shee)

Whistle/flute: Ali Hutton (Old Blind Dogs), Mark Dunlop (Malinky)

Pipes: Malin Lewis 

Mandolin: Laura-Beth Salter (Kinnaris Quintet)

Guitar: Kaela Rowan (Shooglenifty), Jenn Butterworth (Kinnaris Quintet)

Pedal steel: Ross Martin (Dàimh)

Banjo: Evie Ladin

Bass: Keith Terry

Cittern: Aaron Jones (Old Blind Dogs)

Bouzouki: Steve Byrne

Drums/percussion: James Mackintosh (Shooglenifty), Donald Hay (Old Blind Dogs), Signy Jakobsdóttir (The Shee)

Ghost Stories – Netflix

Directed by Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar & Anurag Kashyap

Written by Various

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Prospects begin highly with a creative, richly designed title sequence from Studio Kokaachi, the team behind Netflix’s Lust Storiesscored to a notably foreboding composition by Benedict Taylor. This time, they’re attempting to make the heart stop, rather than pump, with a quintet of Ghost Stories. Endeavouring to infuse Hindi culture into a variety of narratives, themes, and locations – it’s advisable to watch in Ghost Storie’s native language. If not only due to the English dub being excruciatingly awkward and, on occasion, half-arsed in delivery.

Ghost Stories divvies itself into four shorts, roughly twenty-five minutes or so each. All individually performed, directed, and written, there’s an absolute failure in arcing the storytelling. An anthology can indeed contain a selection of seemingly random short films, but notable feature presentations tie together their choices with an overarching structure. Deceptively long at two and a half hours, by the third story Ghost Stories feels like an unsuccessful television pilot of singular episodes. So, what spine-tingling frights await?

Firstly, if you’re able to recognise anything through Tanay Satam’s shockingly lit cinematography, Zoya Akhtar’s opening segment addresses the imbalanced respect developing between younger generations in India and their elders. Was there potential for Vijay Maurya & Ensia Mirza’s screenplay? Plenty. It’s an engaging concept which does echo cultural concerns, not only in India. As with the cinematography and direction, this first segment misses most of the marks it sets out on. It intends to offer a slow-building dread, as a young carer (Janhvi Kapoor) lives in with an ailing woman, who seems to think her son is still sleeping next door, despite being entirely alone. What culminates is a rushed, confusing ending which puts what little atmosphere had been building to squander.

Segments two and four (as none are given individual titles) are afflicted with similar issues. Upsettingly, they also share the largest waste of potential. Both contain a competent cast with an intriguing premise, with Karan Johar’s final tale the only actual ‘ghost’ story among the lot. Johar’s tale takes a contemporary approach, as newly-weds move into the family home only for the husband to talk to his deceased grandmother, including during sex. Attempts at discomfort though are dashed with the forced humour, which is completely out of place in the story. It isn’t providing levity, as the story isn’t that off-putting, and simply cheapens the potential.

So, is anything worth a watch? It’s worth a fast forward. Dibakar Banerjee’s untitled third story is a glimmering gem which deserves a far superior platform. Concise, the narrative allows for steady pacing and the only authentic chills the film produces. Arriving in a small, rural town, a man (Sukant Goel) finds the town deserted and distressed. Two young children emerge, crying for his help from the hidden villagers who remain, now zombies, but also something more. It takes it’s time and has comprehensive performances. The fear is tangible, and the zombies are just eerie enough to be off-putting without stretching into fantasy territory. The climax takes a clever, if a little on the nose turn, as the man awakens to find not everything was as it seems, but that the reality he faces may be worse.

Where horror should reflect a political or cultural climate of the day or hell, merely ensure you sleep with the lights on – Ghost Stories fails to rumble in the night and if anything, will ensure a good night’s sleep. Save for Dibakar Banerjee’s third story, which secures the film’s only worthiness, this anthology of spooky tales fails to capture the audience’s attention and perhaps more insultingly inspires little imagination.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/ghost-stories-2/

Ghost Stories is available to stream on Netflix now