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Agatha Christie's Seven Dials Mystery (1981)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Agatha Christie's Seven Dials Mystery (1981)
LWT for ITV, tx. 8/3/1981
133 mins, colour
DirectorTony Wharmby
Production CompanyLWT
ProducerJack Williams
Screenplay byPat Sandys
Novel byAgatha Christie
MusicJoseph Horovitz

Cast: Cheryl Campbell (Lady Eileen 'Bundle' Brent); Harry Andrews (Superintendent Battle); Rula Lenska (Countess Radzsky); John Gielgud (Marquis Of Caterham); James Warwick (Jimmy Thesiger); Lucy Gutteridge (Lorraine Wade)

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A secret formula has been stolen, and amateur detective Lady 'Bundle' Brent sets out to solve the mystery.

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For much of its generous length, Seven Dials Mystery works quite well as a fairly standard whodunit (it is, after all, an Agatha Christie crime thriller with no pretension to credibility). The sprightly mystery - essentially an espionage yarn in which suspicion falls on a number of people who may be guilty of stealing a vital secret formula on behalf of a foreign power - has a familiar ring to it, but the mood is contrived and controlled well enough to keep the viewer engrossed.

Whatever its shortcomings (key characterisations suddenly changing in midstream), Seven Dials Mystery is never dull, thanks to the fervent pace demanded by producer-director Tony Wharmby (whose earlier work in this vein was LWT's first Christie, Why Didn't They Ask Evans?, tx. 30/3/1980). Everything is thrown into the pot, including some shameless cribs from the gothic romances of author Mary Roberts Rinehart, but the main purpose is to keep heroine Cheryl Campbell constantly moving (whether on foot or by roadster) through various potentially dangerous situations and settings, from creaky nocturnal corridors and forbidding secret chambers to more plushy locations (exterior scenes were filmed at Greenway estate, Dame Agatha's South Devon holiday retreat).

The plot development, though, is rather fragmentary, and the transition towards the end from an enthusiastic mood to one of grim intensity upsets the balance; regrettably, nobody seems to have quite agreed on the tone to be adopted. Nevertheless, the script makes clever use of the material it appears to be parodying, with breathless 'golly, gosh!' dialogue, an ocean of red herrings, and an abundant flow of energy from the wide-eyed heroine.

Cheryl Campbell makes quite a character of her youthful, nervous, appealing amateur sleuth Lady Eileen Brent, known to her friends as 'Bundle' for some unspoken reason. In the main, performances are equal to the plot's antics, with Harry Andrews' stern Superintendent Battle, gravely intoning such lines as "when I say dangerous, I mean dangerous"; John Gielgud performing with a detached dignity as Bundle's doddering father, in a part not too far removed from his batty country vicar in Why Didn't They Ask Evans?; James Warwick flowing with insouciant charm; and Leslie Sands with a practiced air of quiet menace, while there is much characteristic mugging from that well-bred chap Terence Alexander.

Adept evocation of the period, colourful characters and frantic pace give the subject a distinction that probably exceeds its deserts.

Tise Vahimagi

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Video Clips
1. Seven Dials club (4:24)
2. Secret Society meeting (4:00)
3. Creeping about (4:33)
Agatha Christie on Television