sat 25/01/2020

Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar, Channel 5 review - a diverting melding of fact and fiction | reviews, news & interviews

Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar, Channel 5 review - a diverting melding of fact and fiction

Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar, Channel 5 review - a diverting melding of fact and fiction

Some clunking exposition but it looked lovely

Jonah Hauer-King as Max Mallowan and Lyndsey Marshal as Agatha Christie

Christmas and Agatha Christie are a very good fit – how better to spend time with your loved ones than sitting down to watch some murder and intrigue together? So Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar was an early festive treat, another enjoyable melding of fact and fiction (mostly fiction, it should be said) from husband-and-wife producer team Tom and Emily Dalton, whose Agatha and the Truth of Murder was a hit for Channel 5 last year.

We were in Ur, southern Iraq in 1928 where a team of British archaeologists led by Leonard Woolley (Jack Deam) and his assistants Max (Jonah Hauer-King) and Pearl (Crystal Clarke) were uncovering a site in the desert, which contained an abundance of ancient Babylonian artefacts, including a tablet with the curse of Ishtar etched on it. Enter Agatha Christie (Lyndsey Marshal), recently divorced and lonely, and looking for inspiration as she started to write romances, having decided to move away from the detective novels that brought her fame and fortune.

What do you know, but within a few minutes of setting foot on the site, she was involved in a mystery involving a few deaths – although the closest Christie came to gruesome endings in real life was her invention of detectives Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Here, she turned super-sleuth herself in a tale of murders, international art theft, extra-marital affairs and betrayal.

Waj Ali and Stanley Townsend in Agatha & the Curse of IshtarKeen Christie fans will have enjoyed how writer Tom Dalton introduced a classic of the Christie genre – the country house – as all the protagonists stayed at a mansion rented by Marmaduke (Rory Fleck Byrne), the obnoxious American who was funding the dig. Rounding out the cast was Marmaduke’s security chief Ezekial (Waj Ali), the British ambassador Sir Constance (Stanley Townsend, both pictured above) and his wife, Lucy (Bronagh Waugh), also part of the dig team.

Each one of them looked guilty – except the lovely Max, whom Christie fell for (Christie and Max Mallowan later married in real life). Was it the unhappily married Lucy, who was having an affair with someone on the dig, or Pearl, frustrated that she had been overtaken by Max? Maybe it was the decadent Katharine (Katherine Kingsley), Woolley’s wife, a woman dedicated to having fun and noisy sex, or Ezekiel, angry that his country was being looted?

Or maybe they all did it – but whoever done it, they chose the wrong method of despatch. As Christie said: “Strychnine is a very poor choice as a murder weapon. It's unsubtle and easy to detect.” Good to know.

Christie’s biographer Laura Thompson has roundly debunked the notion that any of this happened, and no viewer should take the story seriously as a work of biography. When Dalton shoehorned some very modern mores into the story – a very good joke about semen and Christie having sex with Max within a couple of days of meeting him – they just came over as preposterous, and underlined the lack of subtlety in the drama's moral message about Britain’s cultural appropriation and how Iraq was plundered for oil as well as it artefacts. But clunky exposition and occasional dodgy overacting aside, with its beautifully photographed desert landscapes, lovely costumes and some sly humour, this was diverting fun.



Comments

Absolutely dead boring and utterly preposterous. SO dead slow up to second lot of adverts. Agatha just dumb literally when having a conversation - long uncomfortable pauses with who ever she was speaking to. Sitting in a bed saying nothing. An disgusting conversation with the yiung Max when she’d on,y know him a few hours. Then in 3 days they’re in bed! Ok she’d fall fir a toy ‘Agatha’ looked SO old in the dreadful 1928 fashion and hair style. I see nothing in her to attract Max to her in such a short time as she had no personality and conversation was virtually zero. And to msg guest she’d solved all the mysteries and murder just by a knowledge of strychnine was idiotic. I hated the whole thing. Dreadfully scripted and dreadfully acted. The set pieces of all characters standing in a half circle, camera at knee height looking up at them as if a still photo, was also ludicrous, An appalling and tedious very bad drama indeed.

yes totally agree with the comment already added. Theartsdesk reviews are nearly always reliable and enlightening.But this was a really lame drama I'm afraid. Although to be fair we didn't see beyond the first 50 minutes as we exited at that point. Don't even agree that it looked good. Static camera work. No feel of the country. Sorry, but not good.

Was there a British embassy in Iraq in 1928?

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters