Agatha Christie’s The Queen of Crime Collection DVD Review: No Poirot, but Plenty of Madcap Amateur Sleuths in this Fun Set

Acorn Media has released Agatha Christie’s The Queen of Crime Collection, three feature-length adaptations of Agatha Christie novels. The three movies are on three DVD discs. Although they are older programs, the images, with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, look sharp on a large-scale high-definition television screen. The sound, in Dolby Digital Stereo, is also crisp and clear. SDH (English) subtitles are available. The films are all NR (Not Rated), but viewers should note that Sparkling Cyanide does contain brief nudity.

The first disc in the set, Sparkling Cyanide, originally broadcast in 2003, has updated Christie’s story to current-day London, and features a quirky husband and wife team, Colonel Reese (Oliver Ford Davies) and Dr. Catherine Kendall (Pauline Collins) as a pair of sleuths called in to investigate the death of the beautiful young wife of a wealthy businessman (Kenneth Cranham). The star-studded list of suspects include Susan Hampshire, Jonathan Firth, and James Wilby. A young Dominic Cooper also stands out as Kendall’s assistant Andy.

The fabulous John Gielgud appears in the other two movies in the set, which were originally broadcast in the early 1980s. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? also features a pair of amateur sleuths, Bobby Jones (James Warwick) and Lady Francis “Frankie” Derwent (Francesca Annis), who team up to try and solve a mystery surrounding the death of a man from a fall off a nearby cliff. They are soon embroiled in a mystery that includes drug addiction and madness among the upper classes. Annis and Warwick would go on to play husband and wife team Tuppence & Tommy Beresford in Partners in Crime, a popular series based on Agatha Christie’s many stories featuring the sleuths.

Frankie and Bobby use as the starting point for their investigation the man’s enigmatic dying words, “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” John Gielgud is Reverend Jones, Bobby’s frequently disapproving father, Eric Porter plays Dr. Nicholson, and Joan Hickson, who would later go on to play (many think the definitive version of) Miss Marple, plays the gossipy Mrs. Rivington.

The last movie in the set is The Seven Dials Mystery. What starts out as a fun weekend party at a famous country house called Chimneys takes another direction when one of the house guests turns up dead. Lady Eileen Brent (Cheryl Campbell), better known to her friends as “Bundle,” takes it upon herself to solve the crime. What may seem as great fun at first quickly changes when events take a dangerous turn. John Gielgud this time out is the Marquis of Caterhan, and James Warwick also returns, as Jimmy Thesiger. Rounding out the cast are Harry Andrews, as one of Christie’s most-loved characters, Superintendent Battle; Christopher Scoular as Bill Eversleigh; Rula Lenska as Countess Radzsky; and Joyce Redman as Lady Coote.

The Seven Dials Mystery and Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? both stay true to the late 1920s, early 1930s period setting when Agatha Christie originally wrote them. The look of the two films have that “early television” quality of studio camera work, but still look great on a large-scale high-definition television screen. All three films are of high quality in costume, setting (London and Wales), and set design. The acting, of course, is topnotch across the board. Christie was fond of madcap amateur sleuths who have names like Bundle and friends called Badger and Pongo, and these films capture that period of British upper class bonhomie — with just an appropriate dash of brutal crime to keep the locals entertained. And these films should keep Christie and British mystery fans entertained, too.

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Elizabeth Periale

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