Sunday, September 08, 2013

"Vanessa Redgrave's Agatha lopes nervously through all this fusty glamor like a giraffe who feels conspicuous among the zebras...."   -- Stephen Schiff

Sunday, April 10, 2005

David Denby

“Vanessa Redgrave's conception of Agatha Christie is altogether singular. Boldly decisive at her writing desk, her Agatha is absolutely inarticulate, crushed, and helpless in social and personal situations. A large, awkward woman, miserably self-conscious, she hides under a black cloche (worn like a medieval visor) and stares in terror at the immense, appreciative public that acclaims her on every side. Pathetically, without hope, she clings to her bored upper-class bounder of a husband, Colonel Archibald Christie (Timothy Dalton), making herself so wretchedly unappealing that he demands a divorce and the freedom to marry his mistress (Celia Gregory), a self-confident modern girl. Redgrave, who is built to play heroines, uses her size for all its eloquent gawkiness, ducks her head timidly, smiles, and then apologetically withdraws the smile. Her Agatha is a lioness with the self-confidence of a mouse [true!], and Redgrave achieves an almost Garbo-like pathos in her painful adoration of this handsome but patently unworthy husband….

“Behind Stanton's facade there is a tender and scrupulous heart, and we are treated to his delicate, sexless, but rather touching pursuit of Agatha, in which her attempted incognito and desperate schemes finda sympathetic witness in his con man's soul. They are brother-and-sister conspirators, coyly pretending not to be wise to each other. Awkwardly flirting in the dim corners of the grand hotel, Redgrave and Hoffman are gravely funny together. Since she is a full head taller, she must bend at the neck when she consents to kiss him and the effect is of a clumsy goddess yearning to join herself to common flesh; looking upward, he receives her kiss as a benediction.”

David Denby
New York, February 19, 1979

Stephen Schiff

“….Vanessa Redgrave's Agatha lopes nervously through all this fusty glamor [sic] like a giraffe who feels conspicuous among the zebras. Dressed in flapper-style beads and hats and '20s clothes that gleam, she's never looked taller or more fagile, and you're always afraid that if someone startles her, she'll emit a loud crack and topple over. With her red hair frizzed out to the sides and her eyes a big and blue as robins' eggs, she's not the same color as everyone else, and she seems touchingly vulnerable.
But vulnerability is just about all there it to her. In the London scenes, we see her suffer stage fright at a luncheon held in her honor; we see her desperately throwing herself at ther heartless, irritated husband (played with splendid hauteur by Timothy Dalton) after he demands a divorce; and when the setting changes, we find her drifting through the health spa, still wide-eyed and tremulous. Could this bundle of nerves really sit down and write a good mystery? Redgrave's Agatha is little more than a cipher. It isn't love or sudden fame that's thrown her for a loop; she's loopy to begin with….

“… I could dismiss Agatha as a good-looking mess were it not for the bizarre romance between Redgrave's Agatha and Dustin Hoffman's energetic … Wally Stanton…. [T]hrough the subtlest of signals … Hoffman lets us know that Stanton is a bit of a sham…. In Agatha Christie, he recognizes a sensitivity, a talent, an aristocracy he can only pretend to, and feminists of every stripe will enjoy watching this self-satisfied man-about-town humble himself before the awkward, retiring housewife he considers his intellectual superior … [T]heir solemn, unerotic liaison turns the film into a touching comedy of manners. Both have assumed false identities … [T]heir tender exchange of lies makes for a sweet, courtly pas de deux, a minuet to the music of the Charleston. Stanton's fibs appear scientifically planned; Agatha's sound spontaneous and macabre. In one witty, revealing duet, they both make up stories about their dead spouses; his, he claims, perished of a perforated ulcer; hers, she blurts, was cleaning a rifle and accidentally blew his head off. But the romance's crowning touch is, of course, the difference in their heights. Hoffman is always gazing reverently up at Redgrave; she, in turn, seems clamly aware that his head is less apt to be lost in the clouds. When she finally bestows a kiss upon him, her long neck rolls and cranes downward while Hoffman fairly quivers with anticipation. It's a magical moment. We feel almost as if we were privy to an arcane mating ritual in the peaceable kingdom: the flamingo stretches to kiss the eager seal. The actors may not be able to give Agatha's plot the momentum it sorely needs, but the romantic chemistry they brew out of disparities and oppositions takes your breath away.”

Stephen Schiff
Boston Phoenix, date ?

Pauline Kael

“Vanessa Redgrave has a luminously loony quality in Agatha; she's playing a distraught Agatha Christie, and when the goddess-tall Vanessa is distraught there's all that wavering height--she seems more fragile than ordinary people, more exposed to the elements. Dressed in clinging twenties shifts [?], with jewel-like Art Nouveau embroidery at the neck, she looks so eerily sensitive that your mind may easily drift to the terrible (true) accounts of how people on the street sometimes laughed at Virginia Woolf-she looked so odd to them. Vanessa Redgrave endows Agatha Christie with the oddness of genius. But the people who made Agatha--Kathleen Tynan…; Michael Apted…; and a slew of producers and additional writers--haven't come up with enough for their sorrowful, swanlike lady to do.

“…. The movie attempts--very tentatively--to treat Agatha Christie as one of her own characters, and to invent a plot in the manner of one of her detecitive novels. But the situation is locked in: except for those "lost" days, her life is fully accounted for. So this fictional Agatha can't kill anybody or commit suicide; she can't even embark on a lasting love affair….

“This is the rare movie that is too fluid…. Some sequences suggest a series of orange-toned pre-Raphaelite paintings of the golden-red-haired Agatha floating by; she's always caught on the wing, trembling. She's a transcendently lovely swirling object--a living Burne-Jones and a poetic essay in neurasthenia--but where is her core of sanity? Where is the Agatha Christie who wrote the hundred and five books and plays--the woman who entertained herself and the world by devising complicated riddles? In the film, we see Agatha only when she isn't herself. The movie, too, lacks a core….

“…. There's also a performer in a small part who makes you wish she could take over the movie--Helen Morse, as Evelyn … Morse is such a vivid dimpled charmer that she makes you aware of how muted the film is….

“…. Yet the unattached bravura of Apted's directing has a gentle pull to it….”

Pauline Kael
New Yorker, February 26, 1979
When the Lights Go Down, 551-4
[Get little more?]

David Ansen

“…. It's a slight idea for a movie, but it has been invested with such a beguiling, eccentric sensibility that style triumphs over the basic thinness of the material.

“Vanessa Redgrave is the tall, painfully shy mystery writer, Dustin Hoffman the short, self-confident Stanton, and a large portion of the film's charm lies in their incongruous but disarming chemistry. Hysterically attached to a husband (Timothy Dalton) who is demanding a divorce so he can marry his secretary, Redgrave's Agatha is a touching study in tormented English respectability, her instinctive diffidence betrayed only by the romantic lunacy that shines from her enormous, inquisitive eyes. Prowling around a public bath . . ., you know she's cooking up trouble--but is it for a novel, or for real?

“…. [T]hese two incognito eccentrics [Agatha and Stanton] circle and court each other with the delicate ardor--and the breathtaking timing--with which the great stars of the '30s conducted their ritualized, epigrammatic courtships.

“…. [T]he mystery is no great shakes. But the movie's mysteriousness casts a spell: it may be fagile, but there's real magic here.

David Ansen
Newsweek, February 19, 1979

Stephen Farber

“…. [Stanton's] growing love for Agatha becomes the heart of the film. We know they can never get together; if nothing else, Vanessa Redgrave is much too tall for Dustin Hoffman. [?] But the spectacle of this mismatched couple is oddly moving….

“[I]n matters of characterization the film falls short….

“The main characters are only slightly more full-blooded. The script dramatizes Agatha's shyness and her methodical intelligence. But once those few points have been established, the film doesn't deepen its portrait of Agatha. [Redgrave does, though; see her at end, folding Wally's shirts.] She never comes alive as a richly faceted, mysterious character, though surely she must have an extraordinarily complex woman. This sketchiness is no fault of the star. Vanessa Redgrave does a superb job of conveying the painful awkwardness of this sheltered woman, her discomfort with success and her insecurity with men. Redgrave works with great subtlety, but the script doesn't support her.

“…. [Dustin Hoffman's] customary vitality is muted here.

It is tempting to label Agatha a "woman's picture," partly because many women will sympathize with Agatha's masochistic obsession with her husband and her struggle to free herself of her dependency. But that label is also a sign of the film's defects; it doesn't transcend soap opera. Thin, wan, slightly bloodless, Agatha refuses to plumb its characters' anguish with any real passion.

Stephen Farber
New West, March 12, 1979