Michael Apted’s 1979 film — his conjecture as to what might have happened during the 11-day disappearance in 1926 of mystery novelist Agatha Christie — is one of the overlooked gems of ’70s filmmaking. It may not be Apted’s best film, but it is almost certainly his most visually sumptuous — thanks in no small part to Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography and the gorgeous production and costume design by the late Shirley Russell (best known for her costume work on former husband Ken Russell’s films through 1978).
The film has moments of absolutely breathtaking beauty that more than make up for any of its dramatic shortcomings. Occasionally the imagery actually becomes the drama — as in the graveyard encounter between Agatha (Vanessa Redgrave) and sympathetic reporter Wally Stanton (Dustin Hoffman), or during the heartbreaking moment when Agatha sits in with a string quartet playing Jerome Kern’s “They Didn’t Believe Me.” The film’s pace is leisurely, but this somehow fits with the occasionally ingenious story line.
Hoffman offers an eccentric, weirdly stylized performance that works once you get used to it. Redgrave, on the other hand, gives one of the most moving and delicately nuanced performances of her career. The film was released on VHS and laserdisc, but has never made it to DVD, which means it has drifted further into ill-deserved obscurity. Here’s a rare chance to see it.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke