PBS Delves Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie

AGATHA CHRISTIE (1890-1976) published 66 murder mysteries featuring such iconic sleuths as Jane Marple and Hercule Poiret, numerous short stories and plays, including the longest-running play ever to hit the boards. Photo courtesy Christie Archive Trust.

AGATHA CHRISTIE (1890-1976) published 66 murder mysteries featuring such iconic sleuths as Jane Marple and Hercule Poiret, numerous short stories and plays, including the longest-running play ever to hit the boards. Photo courtesy Christie Archive Trust.

“She saw blood, she saw gore, she saw death, and she wasn’t afraid to use it.”

I confess… I haven’t cracked open an Agatha Christie novel in decades.  Although I never miss film or TV adaptations of her work, especially those featuring eccentric super sleuths Hercule Poirot or Miss Jane Marple. But after previewing two beguiling British TV imports that explore Christie’s mindset and milieu, I’m more than anxious to revisit Agatha Christie’s work on the printed page.

It turns out that the “Queen of Crime”–deemed the best-selling novelist of all time, whose book sales are only surpassed by Shakespeare and the Bible–was a fascinating woman in her own right. Her life story is flush with clues that fueled her self-described “sideline” as the prolific author of 66 novels, numerous short stories and plays that dissected the flawed art and heart of murder and murderers.

Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie premieres on PBS tonight, Sunday, January 17, 2021, 10:00 – 11:00 p.m. ET. Agatha Christie’s England premieres on PBS, Sunday, January 24, 2021, 10:00 – 11:00 p.m. ET. Check local listings for air times in your region (more details below).

Rare childhood photos, as seen on PBS in INSIDE THE MIND OF AGATHA CHRISTIE and AGATHA CHRISTIE'S ENGLAND, capture Christie's startling ethereal beauty.

Rare childhood photos, as seen on PBS in INSIDE THE MIND OF AGATHA CHRISTIE and AGATHA CHRISTIE’S ENGLAND, capture Christie’s startling ethereal beauty.

Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie follows Christie from her isolated “chocolate box” childhood in bucolic Devon, England, through her pivotal nursing career during two World Wars; her mysterious 11-day disappearance triggered by one bad marriage and the wanderlust that precipitated her happy second marriage; her Middle Eastern adventures on archaeological digs and the Orient Express; her discomfort in the media spotlight and her twilight years as a beloved family matriarch.

Nothing, not even advancing age, slowed Agatha Christie down.  She was 62 when her murder mystery, The Mousetrap, opened in London’s West End in October 1952. The play would run continuously until March 16, 2020, when stage performances were sidelined by COVID, holding the record as longest running play ever to grace the boards.

Agatha Christie with her first husband, Archie Christie. Following the breakdown of their marriage, Christie mysteriously disappeared for 11 days, which became a national news story. Photo courtesy Christie Archive Trust.

Agatha Christie with her first husband, Archie Christie. Following the breakdown of their marriage, Christie mysteriously disappeared for 11 days, which became a national news story. Photo courtesy Christie Archive Trust.

From 1961 until 1973, three years before her death, she published one book a year. Although she passed away in 1976, at the age of 85, Christie’s voice and visage are ever present throughout the film in absolutely glorious clips from rare audiotapes, as well as her letters, family photos, the film footage that she shot in the Middle East, and through revelations from her 73 secret notebooks.  Her notebooks are crammed with scribbled daily musings, to-do lists, and plot and character fragments that she wove into subsequent novels.

Christie biographer Laura Thompson, archivist Dr. John Curran, and Sarah Phelps, who has adapted five Christie novels into screenplays, decry the myth that Christie peddled “cozy” fiction. They point to her lifelong obsession with subtle, complex details, a facility she fine-tuned in her youth and incorporated into her crime novels. Christie’s knowledge of poisons, wounds and weaponry is neatly tied to her wartime experiences as a nurse and certified medicinal dispensor and her fascination with forensic science.

Warm anecdotes from Christie’s grandson Mathew Prichard and great grandson James Prichard provide insight into her strengths as an avid listener and observer, her life as a shy homebody and loving grandmother holding court in stately family homes.

“Married woman was my occupation,” asserts Agatha Christie firmly, in voice over.  The Prichards clearly enjoy the irony of her self-proclaimed “occupation” as it flourished comfortably side-by-side with her prolific writing career that spanned the darkest periods of the 20th century and focused on the grizzly topic of how best to commit a murder.

Clips from several recent film and TV adaptations of Christie’s work and a stage performance of Witness for the Prosecution round out filmmaker Matt Cottingham’s delightful Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie.

In contrast, Agatha Christie’s England is a literary travelogue of sorts, produced and directed by Toby Roebuck. The film specifically examines the impact of class and tradition on Christie’s writing. Roebuck retraces her roots in the beautiful land and seascapes of Devon and the favorite homes and communities she tapped for artistic inspiration throughout her career.

Highlighted by vintage footage, photos and home movies of exquisitely manicured and appointed manor houses, turn-of-the-century beach resorts, and posh hotels frequented by privileged society reminiscent of the denizens of Downtown Abbey, Agatha Christie’s England explores Christie’s privileged childhood that notably bridged the Victorian and Edwardian eras and details the surprising origins of her beloved sleuths, Miss Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot.

Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie premieres on PBS tonight, Sunday, January 17, 2021, 10:00 – 11:00 p.m. ET. Agatha Christie’s England premieres on PBS, Sunday, January 24, 2021, 10:00 – 11:00 p.m. ET.  Check local listings for air times in your region, http://pbs.org  and the PBS Video app for streaming info, and http://ShopPBS.org for DVD availability.

Whether viewed back-to-back or individually, Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie and Agatha Christie’s England provide a welcome introduction to Agatha Christie’s life and work. –Judith Trojan

About Judith Trojan

Judith Trojan is an Award-winning journalist who has written and edited more than 1,000 film and TV reviews and celebrity profiles.
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11 Responses to PBS Delves Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie

  1. Carol Eaton says:

    Who was the narrator on both of these? Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Judith Trojan says:

      Actress Samantha Bond narrated both “Agatha Christie” documentaries. If you’re a fan of “Downton Abbey,” she played Lady Rosamund Painswick, sister of Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham.

      Like

  2. Donna Bordo says:

    Judy, did watch PBS-TV’s Inside the Mind of Agatha Christie! Particularly enjoyed her
    11 day disappearance. Thanks again for your summation of her life!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Janice says:

    Enjoyed the Codebreaker story. Am sure we will enjoy Agatha, love her books. Janice

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Peter says:

    Thank you for alerting your loyal followers to this upcoming PBS program on Agatha Christie! I look forward to watching it this week. (Thank goodness for DVRs.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Judith Trojan says:

      I hope you’ll watch and enjoy both documentaries, Peter!

      Like

      • Peter says:

        Both? I saw the initial one….. was very good. Learned things I wasn’t aware of in Ms C’s life.

        Another one? I musta missed something 😦

        Liked by 1 person

      • Judith Trojan says:

        Hey, Peter! Yes there are two PBS Agatha Christie documentaries. The first, INSIDE THE MIND OF AGATHA CHRISTIE, premiered last week. AGATHA CHRISTIE’S ENGLAND debuts tonight at 10 p.m. ET. Check out the end of my review for info about BOTH films. Enjoy!

        Like

      • Peter says:

        You have brought light to my cold and dark winter night…..

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Peggy Baggaley says:

    I enjoyed reading your article about the Agatha Christie documentaries – how interesting that Agatha Christe is undergoing a sort of revival with these 2 documentaries. As it happens, I had bought the complete Joan Hixon version of the Miss Marple stories as a family Christmas present and we are in the middle of watching them – just as satisfying as when we first saw them in the 80’s! To our mind, Joan Hixon is the perfect Miss Marple as she was written and I remember reading recently that Agatha Christie always hoped that Joan Hixon would play her in some creative format.

    I remember reading my first Agatha Christie when I was about 10 – she was a favorite author of my mom’s and I remember being fascinated by the covers of the books. I probably read most of her books in my time and remember seeing The Mousetrap in London on our honeymoon – but like you, haven’t read any of her books in years! Well, maybe it is time for a re-read? In the meantime, we will tune into the 2 new programs and thank you for alerting us to their content. We will enjoy the Sunday night line up….
    Peggy Baggaley

    Liked by 1 person

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