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Agatha Christie's The Last Seance (1986)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Agatha Christie's The Last Seance (1986)
Granada for ITV, tx. 27/9/1986, 53 mins, colour
DirectorJune Wyndham-Davies
Production CompanyGranada Television
ProducerJune Wyndham-Davies
AdaptationAlfred Shaughnessy
Original StoryAgatha Christie

Cast: Jeanne Moreau (Madame Exe); Anthony Higgins (Raoul Daubreuil); Annie Leon (Elise); Amanda Walker (Madame Paillot); Annette Wilkie-Millar (Amelie); Norma West (Simone)

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Madame Exe claims a final consultation with world-famous medium Madame Simone.

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A genuine Agatha Christie television curiosity. The story, in outline, seems melodramatic and contrived, but an imaginative screenplay, sensitive and crisp direction, and an authoritative performance by Jeanne Moreau make this an absorbing hour-long TV film.

The studiously meaningful script (adapted by Alfred Shaughnessy from Christie's The Hound of Death collection, published in 1933 and reflecting Christie's interest in spiritualism) harks back to all those expressionistic dramas of the 1930s which solemnly debated this life and the next, and is laden with portentous dialogue to make sure that no one misses the point (much talk of souls, and lines like "It is not natural... it's trafficking in the Devil").

There are especially satisfying moments when producer June Wyndham-Davies' direction demonstrates a weird, offbeat flair, often achieving a genuinely surrealistic flavour (gauzy shots of the entranced Simone as ectoplasm emits slowly from her mouth like frozen breath), and drawing a kind of awkward honesty out of the actors, so that one is in two minds as to whether they are excellent or simply melodramatic.

Set in what is, for the most part, a somewhat subdued, grey Paris of 1933, observed by its bleak cobbled streets and long stone-block stairways (lent solidity by distanced, high angle shooting), the engaging storyline too soon telegraphs its unfortunate intentions, but the journey to its inevitable conclusion is undertaken in quite a skilfully choreographed sequence eliciting all the mood and atmosphere of impending horror.

The keynote of the film, of course, is Moreau's performance as the seemingly vulnerable but determined Madame Exe in search of her dead child, which she handles with ruthless calm (all cold stares mingling with old European courtesy). The polished playing of Anthony Higgins, as the medium's ambitious fiancé, Raoul, and the wispish presence of Norma West's doomed Simone help to disguise the fact that the characters and their dilemmas are in themselves often conventional and sometimes novelettish. But once the intrigues take hold, and Moreau's imperious Madame glooms inexorably towards madness, the film develops into a joltingly effective experience, not easily forgotten.

'The Last Séance' was produced as a part of Granada TV's supernatural anthology Shades of Darkness (ITV), first shown as a series of seven hour-long stories in 1983, with a further two episodes, including this one, filmed in 1984 but shown some two years later.

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Video Clips
1. Reassurance (4:06)
2. The first seance (5:15)
3. Final seance (2:00)
Seance On A Wet Afternoon (1964)
Agatha Christie on Television