Acorn Media have released numerous Agatha Christie tales on DVD but this month they are upping the ante by releasing a box set that is like manna from Heaven for fans of Britain’s favorite mystery writer. Their six disc, 16 hour long, January 29 release contains some of the best loved stories involving both Marple and Poirot. Two super sleuths squeezed into one novel sized box.
The six Poirot tales include my personal favorite – The ABC Murders, and Christie’s best loved tale – Murder on the Orient Express. I had never seen Four and Twenty Blackbirds or The Mysterious Affair at Styles before but both were very good. The former revolved around the double murder of two elderly brothers while the latter involved the murder of an early 20th century “cougar” who may or may not have been “done in” by her toy boy. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb complete the Poirot line-up on the Agatha Christie Fan Favorites Collection.
While David Suchet has made the role of Poirot his own, Miss Marple has had almost as many faces as Doctor Who and this box set includes stories in which Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie take on the iconic role.
McEwan kicks things off in The Murder at The Vicarage. This story is second only to Poirot’s Murder on the Orient Express both in terms of popularity and this particular version of it is as good if not better than the older BBC version involving Joan Hickson. It is one of those clever tales in which the murder victim is so dislikeable that you can just enjoy the hunt for the killer without getting caught up in the horror of the crime. McEwan also stars in A Murder is Announced and At Bertam’s Hotel while Julia McKenzie tackles A Pocket Full of Rye. The last story in the box set is The Mirror Cracked from Side to Side and this was a bold choice considering that versions involving Joan Hickson and Angela Lansbury had already been made for TV. However, McKenzie is more than a match for any Marple although it doesn’t hurt when you have costars of the caliber of Joanna Lumley and Lindsay Duncan.
I have a feeling that the Agatha Christie Poirot and Marple Fan Favorites Collection is going to become a must-have item for fans of Best British TV. It costs $99 which means you get good value for money at less than $10 per story. Just for good measure, they’ve also thrown in a booklet containing a “delicious death” recipe. That could come in handy when the in-laws visit!
In case you haven’t heard of him, P G Wodehouse was a British humorist who grew up in era when the Upstairs Downstairs dynamic was very much alive in big houses all over England. He wrote prolifically for seven decades and the BBC dramatized 20 of his best loved short stories during the early 70s. The Wodehouse Playhouse featured John Alderton (Please Sir) and his real life wife Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine). Although the duo appear in almost every episode, they play a variety of different characters since the playhouse contains a number of stand-alone stories rather than an ongoing story arc. Fans of Best British TV will remember Alderton and Collins as the star crossed lovers in the original Upstairs Downstairs and its spin-off Thomas and Sarah which Acorn Media released on DVD last month. Needless to say, the duo have strong onscreen chemistry but the Wodehouse Playhouse also provides them both with a platform to showcase their versatility. Alderton – who I always think of as the mild-mannered teacher in Please Sir – plays everything from a bumbling vicar to a dastardly villain. Collins more than holds her own as a variety of different women ranging from the meek to the belligerent.
You may remember Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie’s more recent adaptation of Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster which was a big hit with the college age crowd in the 90s. This is very much in the same mold with lots of jokes and comic premises based around the social order and English eccentricity. It is like a spoof of Downton Abbey although the production has a much more intimate feel that Julian Fellowes’ drama. It’s slapstick but it’s a type of high brow slapstick. The humor stands the test of time but it also endures after several viewings and it’s something you’ll enjoy watching more than once.
The six disc DVD box set costs just $59.99 and for that low price you get no less than 628 minutes of hilarious action. As a bonus, you get a biography of Wodehouse and notes on the key characters. Additionally, the late great P G Wodehouse personally introduces and narrates several of the stories in the box set. No small feat considering he was in his 90s when he made the recording!
Acorn Media’s third and final 29 January release is based on short stories by Britain’s Queen of Crime – Agatha Christie. Partners in Crime originally aired on ITV in late 1983 and early 1984 before making a triumphant voyage across the Atlantic where it aired on PBS and chalked up an Emmy. The title characters are husband and wife crime busters Tommy and Prudence ‘Tuppence’ Beresford. The stunningly beautiful Francesca Annis plays Tuppence while James Warwick (The Onedin Line) plays her quick witted husband.
Partners in Crime wasn’t an instant hit when it was first broadcast but it aired at a time when period dramas like Poldark and Upstairs Downstairs had been put out to pasture to make way for flashier shows that could appeal to the Star Wars generation. Having watched it in it’s entirety, I am convinced it would have been a hit on both sides of the Atlantic if it had first aired at about the time Downton Abbey hit the small screen.
Like any good Christie tales, the 11 stories in this DVD set are full of twists, turns and skullduggery. The central characters are larger than life, aesthetically pleasing and moderately likable. The guest stars are many and varied and include Graham Crowden (Waiting for God) Pam St Clement and Anita Dobson (both Eastenders), and Prime Suspect creator Lynda La Plante.
I had never seen the stories on this three disc set before I did this review but I thoroughly enjoyed the 600 plus minutes of action and it is ridiculously good value for money at just $49.99.