The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax (TV Movie 1999) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • When her doctor recommends that a widow pursue her unfulfilled life ambitions, he doesn't realize that she has always wanted to be a spy. Sending a letter to her Representative gets her an interview with the C.I.A. and accidentally gets her an assignment to Morocco for a supposedly easy task of picking up an encrypted code book. When the agency realizes their mistake, they send a super-agent to watch over her. Both are taken prisoner and the real agent is injured, leaving Mrs. Emily Pollifax (Dame Angela Lansbury) to use her considerable wits to help them escape and to save the day.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • This made-for-television movie, based on the novels by , is about Emily Pollifax (), a mild-mannered New Jersey widow who, through a series of misunderstandings, joins the CIA and becomes an international spy. The film opens on the one-year anniversary of her husband Virgil's death, and she visits his grave, continue to talk to him for comfort. Her doctor asks about her hobbies, and she confesses her childhood dream of being a secret agent. She calls the CIA and asks for an appointment, procuring a letter of recommendation from her congressman without trouble, and when she shows up for her meeting with an Agent Mason (), he is told to "make nice" with her and then send her away. At the same time, however, Mason's superior Carstairs () is looking for a "tourist" for an undercover operation, and mistaking Emily for a well-disguised retired agent, gives her an assignment to travel to Marrakesh and recover some important transcripts. As she heads off to Europe, Carstairs realizes his error, but his associate Bishop () shrugs off the simple assignment as a "milk run" and they decide not to expose her, believing that she can handle herself. As Emily makes friends and explores the city, she notices a man following her and calls Carstairs about him, and though he assures her that she is imagining things, he remarks to Bishop that she is more observant than he guessed. When she notices the man again, she runs into the bookshop in which she is to have her rendezvous in two days' time and does not notice her shadow being shot. She chats with the proprietor, Deluc, and he teaches her to play solitaire and gives her his deck of cards. When she returns the next day to perform her scripted exchange, however, another man is there, claiming to be Deluc's cousin. He offers her some tea, which she soon realizes is drugged.

    Back in the U.S., Carstairs and Bishop hear that Emily and her backup are both missing, and they hurry off to Morocco. Emily wakes up in a plane with the man who was shot while tailing her, Farrell (), who says he is a friend. They land in what he guesses to be Albania and he urges her to deny knowing him and to maintain a sense of "outraged innocence." A man, Yagoda (), questions Emily, and she denies knowing about any transcripts and protests her imprisonment, also demanding supplies to treat Farrell's infected gunshot wound. Farrell then tells her that Yagoda was the former head of the secret police and was recruited to their side, making his motives all the more unclear. Elsewhere, Carstairs finds the original Deluc's body and continues searching for his agents. Emily gathers herbs, carefully guarded by Yagoda's men, and makes a healing tea for Farrell, making note of the native plants and birds. They bond as she talks about her late husband, but Farrell is distressed to learn that a Colonel Friedman has arrived, telling Emily she must escape and save herself. Freedman, who turns out to be an Alice (), plans to "interrogate" Emily, and Yagoda smuggles the two of them out to safety in a truck. They manage to escape and realize that they are in Paris, and Farrell is treated at the embassy infirmary and thanks Emily for caring for him. Emily seeks answers from Carstairs, but he merely gives her a passport and a $10,000 bribe not to discuss the incident and tries to send her home, but when she spots Friedman in the street and Carstairs dismisses her worries, she decides to follow the woman herself.

    Emily tails Friedman to a lavish hotel in Geneva, and Farrell is upset to learn that Carstairs has lost track of her. She questions Friedman's cab driver about "the Contessa" and checks in the hotel, which proves to be extremely expensive, using her CIA money to pay the bill. The others discover that Yagoda is dead, having been killed by Friedman because of his affiliation with the U.S. government. At the hotel, Emily meets the chatty young Robin Hughes-Wright (), who reveals that the "mystery" Contessa is in room 43. Farrell calls him Carstairs for not informing him of Yagoda's allegiance, but Carstairs then informs him that Friedman has two KGB nuclear devices which she intends to auction off, suspecting Emily of being a double agent. Dressed as a maid, Emily sneaks into Friedman's hotel room, narrowly escaping through the window. She is saved by Robin, who is in her room and confesses to being "sort of a jewel thief," and as they take a steam, she cautions him against trifling with "the Contessa," as she is dangerous. Friedman then pays for several guests to be moved off of her floor and, spotting Emily, orders her to be killed. Farrell is angry to learn that Carstairs has sent Haggarty (), a known hit man, to recover Emily, but he states that he means her no harm. Bishop mishears him, however, and when Carstairs instructs him to "take care" of Emily, he thinks she is to be killed.

    Farrell is relieved to receive a phone call from Emily, who admits that she is out of money. As Friedman prepares her auction, Emily is upset to find Robin dead, though she denies knowing his whereabouts when the concierge asks about him. A woman, Alexandra (), seems overly interested in him, making Emily suspicious. Carstairs finds out about Bishop's mistake and realizes that they cannot call Haggarty off. Farrell warns her about the assassin and she seems him watching her at the hotel, but when she returns to her hotel room, he is already theredead, having been killed by Farrell himself. He helps her hide the body and then explains that Robin was really a Mossad agent and that the auction will take place the following day in the sauna, meaning that the nukes are already in the hotel. Emily uses a scanner device to find the nukes in a car and disables one of the tires. She then infiltrates the auction, first bidding outrageously high sums and then revealing herself as a CIA agent, causing the criminals to scatter. Officers arrest most of the bidders, but Friedman grabs Emily as a hostage and demands a car, and Emily bravely tells them to refuse her. Friedman is then shot from above by Alexandra, however, who turns out to be a Russian agent. Carstairs arrives, and Emily and Farrell quickly pin Robin and Haggarty's deaths on Friedman's escaped associate, Franz (). Farrell expresses doubts about Carstairs' true allegiance, and Emily has an epiphany and realizes that the transcripts in question are embedded in microdots on the playing cards from Morocco. Back home, she tells Virgil all about her adventures at his grave and seems not to notice Franz tailing her, but when he breaks into her home, she lays him out with a potted plant. Farrell arrives and greets her happily, telling her that Carstairs has put an end to her CIA career, but she takes him to lunch with her congressman friend, looking forward to her next assignment.

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