Agatha & the Truth of Murder

Channel 5

Do you know the biggest problem with Agatha & the Truth of Murder? The fact it was broadcast at 9pm, Sunday the 23rd of December, and not a week earlier.

If it had aired the previous Sunday, I’d have been able to publish this review a few tantalising days before Christmas.

Meaning I could have written the following: ‘Agatha & the Truth of Murder… it’s a real Christmas turkey.’

At which point, thousands of delighted Herald readers would have sighed in unison, then muttered to themselves: “Now that’s what I call quality journalism. An appropriately festive metaphor, cunningly weaponised to disparage a cheap and shoddy TV film.”

Alas, Christmas has vanished, leaving me with no topical allusion to explain how awful Agatha was.

Let me, instead, describe the debacle in dubious detail…

First, though, I’ll concede Agatha had an excellent premise. Though, regrettably, not an original one.

The story’s based on a curious event in Agatha Christie’s life, when she went missing for ten days in 1926. The mystery of where she went – and why – has never been solved.

A sound starting point for a story. Which is exactly what Dustin Hoffman and Vanessa Redgrave thought, back in 1979, when they agreed to star in Agatha, a movie about the incident.

Both actors were at the height of their fame, so the film didn’t exactly slip under the radar.

Yet here comes Channel 5, decades later, hobbling in the wake of Hollywood’s elegant footsteps.

To be fair, this version has an added twist, connecting Christie’s disappearance with another real-life mystery, the murder of Florence Nightingale’s niece. (Also called Florence.)

In this story, the writer (played by Ruth Bradley) disappears in order to solve the crime.

Her method of doing so is preposterous. Like Clark Kent, she disguises her true identity by the crafty application of a pair of spectacles. Then she rounds up a bunch of suspects in a country house (cos, that’s what they do in Christie novels, yeah?) and sets about unearthing the villain.

None of this works, even as gentle escapism on a slumberous Sunday evening.

The mystery has none of the intricate plotting that made Christie’s fiction popular, and the dialogue is clunky, clumsy and inauthentic.

We’re meant to be in the early years of the 20th century, yet Agatha talks about ‘fans’ of her novels.

YouTubers have fans. Genteel crime-writers of the 1920s had a readership.

At one point, Christie’s husband says something is “bollocks”.

I half expected him to leap on a skateboard and yell to his wife: “Laters, homey.”

Arthur Conan Doyle turns up, too, with a propensity for cheating at golf.

Oscar Slater’s saviour? Louche on the links? As if.

All of which leaves one mystery left unsolved.

The mystery of why Channel 5 believed Agatha was ever fit for broadcast.

By Lorne Jackson