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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Agatha Christie's Seven Dials Mystery
Agatha Christie's Seven Dials Mystery
Acorn Media // Unrated // March 30, 2004
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted March 6, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

There's nothing like a good Agatha Christie mystery to get the blood pumping and the little gray cells twitching. Ms. Christie might have been one of the most formulaic writers ever, but her formula definitely worked wonderfully. She had an eye for compelling plots that, even if many of them were constantly recycled from one story to another, generally kept the reader coming about for more. Ms. Christie had her own beat, a distinct rhythm to her writing, and if you knew the key and beat count you could probably spot every clue, red herring, and suspect right as they were dangled before you. For instance: why are the characters suddenly, for absolutely no reason that has to do with the storyline, having a discussion about ambidexterity? Why is another character bringing up the non-sequitur topic of the Anglicized derivation an Italian composer's name? Or perhaps the seemingly pointless location of a missing mole? Because they are clues? Gosh.

And if any character gets injured off screen, you know something's definitely awry there!

Yes, there's nothing like a good Agatha Christie mystery, and Agatha Christie's Seven Dials Mystery is simply nothing like a good Agatha Christie mystery. Shot for British television in 1982, Seven Dials Mystery is filled with fine performances and impressive production values, but everything else seems to suffer in contrast. The pacing is stilted, the editing incoherent and frenzied, the direction flat and lifeless, and the storyline curiously convoluted.

The movie, in short, is dreadfully dull. After a practical joke involving alarm clocks results in (what seems to be) the accidental death of their friend Gerry Wade, several frilly and somewhat bored members of the British aristocracy decide to investigate. When another friend Ronny Devereux turns up dead, indicting a secret society called "The Seven Dials", it is left to Wade's friends Jimmy Thesiger, Lady Eileen "Bundle" Brent, Rupert "Pongo" Bateman, Bill Eversleigh, and a host of other characters to determine who killed them, how the mystery involved the theft of state secrets, and who are and exactly what is "The Seven Dials" society.

I'll admit that the end of the final act was moderately entertaining, but unfortunately it was preceded by almost two hours of fairly boring material. Underneath the presentation of the material is what seemed like a fairly good mystery, but it was so lifelessly delivered and poorly directed that tedium and indifference set in long before the resolution of the storyline. Agatha Christie's Seven Dials Mystery does little to intrigue or entertain the viewer.

The DVD

Video:

Agatha Christie's Seven Dials Mystery was created expressively for British television, retaining a full frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Like many similar productions of the era, all of the exterior scenes were shot on film, while interior scenes were videotaped. Judging television material from twenty years ago usually involves a fair amount of leeway in the rating category, but subjectively speaking the overall quality of the video is pretty bad. The taped scenes are extremely noisy. There's a great deal of static and magnetic noise from the original video. Sharpness levels are flat, especially during the soft filmed scenes, while the taped scenes show a little more detail (but not much). Colors ranged from rich and lush to murky and muted. The filmed portions are especially weak, riddled with dirt, debris, and scratches on the print. Shadow detail is minimal, with characters and images disappearing murkily into dark lit scenes. There's an excessive amount of shimmering to the entire affair. In short, this is unfortunately a very weak transfer.

Audio:

The audio is presented in monaural Dolby Digital 2.0, and is mostly satisfactory. The dialog is generally acceptable, although at times I found the delivery seemed a little low. After further review, I found this was mostly due to the performances themselves, and not a fault of the audio presentation. While the soundtrack is primarily a center channel production, the orchestrations sound solid with notable depth and fullness.

Extras:

The extras on this DVD include a text biography for Agatha Christie and a host of Cast Filmographies.

Final Thoughts

If you want to watch some good Agatha Christie on film, take a gander at Murder on the Orient Express, Evil Under The Sun, Ten Little Indians, or Death on the Nile. Any of these films will offer a richer and more satisfying experience than Agatha Christie's The Seven Dials Mystery. As a DVD, this edition does little to impress. There are no extras of value, and the transfer is shoddy. If the movie itself were entertaining, there would be at least something to recommend, but as it stands I advise that you skip the proceedings entirely.
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