In 1982, a few Agatha Christie stories found their way onto televisions everywhere thanks to Thames Television, but there was something different about these tales. First, they were based on Christie’s short stories, not her full-length novels, and second, the stories were free of many of the usual Christie hallmarks, like murder and violence. Instead, the stories were based on some misunderstanding or struggle that occurred within the context of a relationship that led to something problematic for the leading characters, who are sometimes actors you’ve known before (or rather, since) like John Nettles or James Grout. And now, at the hands of Acorn Media, you can see five of the ten short stories on DVD in Set 1 of the series.
While these stories weren’t as wild and entertaining as a Poirot yarn in my estimation, they did show off various elements of Christie’s skill that are sometimes harder to find in her murder mysteries. These are more energetic in their quickened delivery, with more than a tell-tale sign of humor and comedy, and quite a bit of romance for those who into that sort of thing. But regardless of your leanings, these are different from the sort of stories you’re used to at the hands of Christie.
In “The Case of the Middle-Aged Wife,” a woman hires a sort of “love doctor,” Parker Pyne (Maurice Denham) to solve her relational problems when she figures that her husband is having an affair. In a striking changeabout, the good meddler sets about collecting the husband’s attention, but the audience is left to decide whether his methods are righteous or not. That story is followed up by the mysterious vision found “In A Glass Darkly” when a World War I officer sees a woman’s fate and goes about trying to set it right, while falling for her on the same note. The first disc ends with a bit of a farce about a man who falls for a blonde bombshell on the train and gets caught up in conspiracy thanks to this “Girl on the Train.”
John Nettles stars in the next episode as a man recounting a strange tale to three men on yet another train in “The Fourth Man” before another hapless soul finds his way into the wiles of Parker Pyne again in “The Case of the Discontented Soldier.” Let’s just say that it’s funny seeing Nettles twenty years ago given that he’s the solid police detective from Midsomer in most of the audience’s mind, but his story of strangeness is more “mysterious” than many of the others. And there’s also a biography of Christie and a look at Pyne (before his Poirot days) to spark the interest of Christie fans looking for a few more goodies.
Overall, this one wasn’t my favorite but it was interesting to see a different side of Christie, and to consider the decisions we make (is it fate? free will? divine providence?) and how they impact those around us. From the least to the greatest, this set of Christie’s certainly highlights the responsibility that we have to each other.