The truth about the new Netflix movie, Agatha and the Truth of Murder, is that it’s a plot based on inconsistencies and a long list of modern movie cliches that assume a liberal worldview.
[Warning: Spoiler Alert. It was impossible to write this article without spoilers. Skip it if you would prefer to watch the Netflix movie first, then return after and read my thoughts.]
Agatha and the Truth of Murder, set in 1926 England, portrays the fictional 9-day disappearance of famous mystery writer Agatha Christie. To those who do not know the backstory, the actual author did disappear for 9 days in 1926. Her husband, Archie, asked her for a divorce, which Agatha refused. He left to pout with his mistress while she left for parts unknown. The disappearance erupted in a media firestorm and subsequent search for the author. She turned up in a hospital and doctors diagnosed her with a fugue state. Her disappearance remained unexplained. She skipped it in her biographical accounts and later biographers speculated ad nauseum about it.
My own guess is that she did what my father would have called “taken a powder.” In other words, she thought, screw you, Archie, screw your mistress Nancy and go to hell. I’m leaving you before you leave me. Then, when the media erupted and everyone including the army ended up searching for her, she realized uh-oh, I’ve really done it now and pretended not to remember what happened.
But this is pure speculation, the same as Agatha and the Truth of Murder. The movie finds Ruth Bradley acting as an engaging Agatha Christie and a supporting cast who also does an adequate job with their roles. I especially liked the portrayal of Mabel, the nurse who demands justice for her murdered friend, and the young actress who played Rosalind.
I have no gripe with the actors, who were all very good at their jobs. It’s the plot I have trouble with, along with the subtle and not-so-subtle liberal attitudes towards everything from crime and punishment to homosexuality layered onto what could have been a decent drama. I could overlook some of the tropes trotted out to fill in the plot, but the big reveal at the end relies upon lies for the sake of justice. And that, I can never accept.
Agatha and the Truth of Murder: The Story
Florence, a former World War I nurse and a relative of the famous Florence Nightingale, sits on a train chugging for parts unknown. Her carriage companion, a young man, quietly starts singing a hymn, which changes rapidly into a soldier’s blue-language ditty. He pauses on the last phrase, to which Florence smiles, edges closer, and says something like, “Oh, don’t worry. I’ve heard worse. In the trenches, you know.”
We understand from this brief bit of dialogue that she must have served as a nurse in World War I. Quickly, the unseen man bludgeons her, striking her in the temple.
The scene switches to Agatha Christie and her dilemma: she has a horrible case of writer’s block. Her husband has also demanded a divorce to marry his mistress. Agatha seeks consolation and advice from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who, inexplicably, counsels her to design a golf course. If it cured him of his writer’s block, it can cure her, his absurd reasoning goes.
Either he’s a blithering idiot or a genius at psychoanalysis. The irony is that we later learn that Archie the unfaithful consummated his affair with Nancy on a golf course. Perhaps by building her own golf course, she obtains control over the situation that we assume causes her writer’s block?
Agatha builds a scale model of a golf course after a witty put-down of an insufferable bore who believes women lack the brain power for engineering. During this time, she meets Florence’s lover, Mabel, a fellow nurse who is obsessed with solving the murder of her beloved.
At first, we do not know that Florence and Mabel are lovers. I assumed they were long-time companions with deep bonds of friendship forged in the trenches of France.
The screenwriter doesn’t just stop with the announcement by Mabel of her relationship with Florence, something I doubt an actual middle-aged woman in 1926 England would have done to a complete stranger. No, they are not just lovers, but they are shunned for their love. Isn’t that awful? the movie seems to demand of the viewer regardless of what 1926 moral attitudes might have been.
Mabel angrily denounces Florence’s family for not recognizing her as Florence’s life partner. I don’t know about you, but I believe that in 1926, that would probably have been difficult for Florence’s family to accept, never mind recognize publicly. It pushed me out of the movie and made me realize I was watching a movie because it struck a false note.
Agatha comes up with a crazy scheme worthy of an “I Love Lucy” episode. She plans an elaborate deception, renting a mansion for a week and sending invitations out to the suspects. Pretending to be a solicitor’s clerk, Agatha, disguised in a boxy brown suit and enormous tortoiseshell glasses, tells each suspect they may inherit wealth from Florence’s estate but she must question them first.
She settles on a Wade as Florence’s murderer, a brutish fat man with pornography in his suitcase, an almost caricature of a white male lout. He stood to gain an inheritance from Florence’s estate. Despite his enormous wealth, he wants more, more, MORE!
He’s not only portrayed as a perjurer, greedy capitalist, and porn purveyor, he beats his wife AND his daughter. My goodness, can we pack any more clichés into one role? I wanted to ask the screenwriter, “So, are you done expressing your hatred for the white businessman yet or do you have more up your sleeve? Perhaps he beats his dog, too?”
The plan is, of course, worthy of Miss Christie, and echoes And Then There Were None. All goes horribly awry when Wade is shot inside his bedroom, in front of his daughter Daphne, AND pushed out of a window. Talk about overkill.
From there, the police get involved, and we find ourselves facing yet another cliché: the incompetent and brutish police detective. Detective Inspector Dicks, played by Ralph Ineson and reminiscent of Leland Stottlemeyer on Monk, blunders in, shouts, bullies, and pushes around the suspects. I started counting how many of their basic rights he trampled on then gave up as the screenwriter clearly didn’t care to understand anything about police procedure. Everyone was pushed into their bedrooms, bullied, and treated like criminals.
It becomes clear that the brutalized Daphne shot her own father. She admits as much and even plants the gun in Mabel’s room. What’s unclear, of course, is who else is involved. I guessed fairly early on into the lumbering plot that Travis, the clearly crazy former priest and soldier is the murderer.
In the end, the denouement is made by Travis’ mother, and Travis attempts to strangle Agatha. The detective, who has already unmasked privately Agatha’s disguise, bursts into the room proclaiming he heard the whole thing. The walls are thin. At least we’ve had some foreshadowing of the thin walls through some previous dialogue.
What comes across as ludicrous is Travis’ mother’s haughty proclamation that her confession and her son’s – even though he has been caught with his hands literally around Agatha’s neck choking the life out of her– is inadmissible in court. Oh true, he might be arrested for attempted murder of Agatha, but she is innocent! No proof (despite her admission of guilt.)
Characters then proceed to enter the room and lie about what they saw on the day Daphne’s father was murdered. Instead of recognizing that battered Daphne killed her own father, they pin the blame on Travis and his mother, one by one lying blatantly in order to tighten the noose around Travis and his mother.
The end of the movie finds Agatha, Mabel, and Detective Dicks sitting around a train station discussing justice and why their resolution feels hollow.
Not once does anyone think, “Hmm, maybe our justice feels hollow because it’s based on a lie? Everyone lied to frame that woman even though we knew she was guilty because we all assume, she’s right and she could get off scot-free?”
Of course not. That’s not why they feel like justice wasn’t served. They compare their version of justice to the noble Florence, who was killed because she refused to ignore an injured prisoner of war who had killed Travis’ brother in some unspeakable horrible way we are never told. That, apparently, is noble, even though Florence does not follow orders. She risked her career! She cared for the downtrodden!
Lying to frame the woman responsible for her murder? Absolutely acceptable in this movie. Not once is that questioned.
What’s the Final Score?
So let’s take a final look at the list of liberal clichés trotted out in the script.
- The noble, beleaguered lesbian couple, shunned by their family (Mabel and Florence).
- The noble, selfless nurse who Does the Right Thing despite the evil System (men) telling her not to do it (Florence, by nursing the German.)
- The evil ex-priest who is utterly corrupt, crazy, and a murderer. (Travis)
- War is bad and desertion good (Travis, who admits he was a deserter).
- The shunned virtuous honorable mixed race guy (I can’t find the character’s online. He was played by Luke Pierre).
- The mean bully of a detective who is so incompetent he couldn’t find a marshmallow in his Lucky Charms (Detective Dicks)
- White men are evil with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. (Wade)
- Women who kill their abusers are totally exempt from the criminal justice system, even though they commit the same crime (murder) as the murder in the story. (Daphne)
- It’s okay to lie, it’s even virtuous to lie, to protect the victim of domestic abuse. (Everyone).
- But it’s not okay to lie to protect your own child who commits the exact same crime (Travis’ mother).
My head hurts just thinking about all the contradictions and liberal ideology used to justify a rambling, incoherent mystery.
Why? Just WHY?
The writer in me cries out WHY oh WHY write it this way?
Why make Florence and Mabel lovers? Why go that route? To get that angle into the story, of course. I liked the characters of both Mabel and Florence. It would have been equally as believable to portray them as sisters, deep friends, or yes, lovers. But why choose the latter? It seemed out of place in a movie set in 1926 for this to be spoken about so openly. That’s modern life. I do not feel it was right for the 1920s even though homosexuality in England was more ‘out’ in this time period than in the 1950s and 1960s, for example. It just felt out of place and gratuitous to make this an important plot point.
Why make everyone lie about seeing Travis and his mother kill Wade? Why not just admit Daphne did it and let the courts judge her? Because that of course would admit that murder is a sin, even under extenuating circumstances, and requires punishment. Daphne could have left. But of course, to our liberal friends in the movie industry, women are victims. Victims must be protected even if they have committed the exact same transgression as the villain.
Why make Travis both an ex-priest and an ex-soldier? Why throw in the priesthood? Oh, right, to liberal movie makers organized religion is evil, priests are always villains, and of course, believing in that mumbo jumbo makes you CRA-ZY. There is absolutely no reason for throwing this bit of his past history into the movie EXCEPT to vilify priests.
Lastly, why doesn’t Agatha tell Archie the adulterer to shove off and leave her alone? I understand her not wanting to get a divorce. She clearly loves her beautiful daughter, Rosalind, and wants her daughter to have a stable home. She wants to save her marriage. She seems to love Archie. I get it. But Archie is openly out with his mistress. There isn’t room for three in a marriage. Agatha has the money. Her books by 1926 were best sellers. She can give Archie his walking papers and request him to move out. Why the whole subplot about obsession? We are lectured about Mabel’s obsession with Florence’s murder, which is understandable: she loves Florence and desperately seeks to solve the case. But Agatha’s obsession with Archie has no basis. There is no explanation of why she puts up with his philandering ways, his affair conducted openly before her very eyes.
Agatha and the Truth of Murder began with an interesting premise of writer’s block, shattered marriages and the murder of a middle-aged woman on a train. All of this could have led to an interesting murder mystery springboarding off of the real-life disappearance of Agatha Christie.
Instead, the movie was used to subtly and openly push modern liberal doctrine on the viewer.
I actually found the Dr. Who episode which explained her disappearance, The Unicorn and the Wasp, more believable than Agatha and the Truth of Murder. A shape-shifting giant wasp disguised as a dinner guest at a 1926 manor house party is no more unbelievable than an evil former priest soldier bent on murder because a lesbian nurse saved the life of a German soldier who killed his brother in battle.