The Witness for the Prosecution, BBC1

Programme Name: The Witness for the Prosecution - TX: n/a - Episode: Witness For The Prosecution (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: *** This image is under strict embargo until Mon 28th November 2016 00.01 *** L - R Emily French (KIM CATTRALL), Romaine Heilger (ANDREA RISEBOROUGH), John Mayhew (TOBY JONES), Leonard (BILLY HOWLE), Janet McIntyre (MONICA DOLAN) - (C) Mammoth Screen - Photographer: Todd Antony & Robert Viglasky

Rough justice: Kim Cattrall, Andrea Riseborough, Toby Jones, Billy Howle, Monica Dolan

Gripping, dark adaptation of Agatha Christie’s courtroom mystery

★★★★ BBC1, Boxing Day 9pm

I MUST COME CLEAN and confess all. I’m not an Agatha Christie fan. I admire her craft and ingenuity, but the stories’ often laughably convoluted solutions irritate me and the characters leave me cold.

So, this two-part production of The Witness for the Prosecution wrongfooted me – absolutely gripping, unsettling and tinged with sadness, it packed a far bigger emotional wallop than these costume pantomimes usually have.

The Witness for the Prosecution - TX: n/a - Episode: Witness For The Prosecution (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: ** THIS IMAGE IS UNDER STRICT EMBARGO OF 24th NOV 2016 ** Janet McIntyre (MONICA DOLAN) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Milk

Service without a smile: Janet McIntyre (Monica Dolan)

Toby Jones is particularly affecting as the poor solicitor John Mayhew, who takes on the seemingly unwinnable defence of Leonard Vole, played by Billy Howle. Vole is accused of bludgeoning his sugar mummy Emily French, former Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall.

Kim Cattrall’s plaything

On the prowl for company, Emily sees Leonard getting fired from his job as a waiter, taking him home and paying him to be her plaything.

All this is watched by Emily’s rather insubordinate maid, a performance veering between unhinged and sinister by Monica Dolan. When the maid finds her employer in a bloody pool on the carpet, she points the finger at Leonard.

Crime author Sophie Hannah is an Agatha Christie champion and often speaks of the Queen of Crime’s psychological depth. This has always eluded me, but The Witness for the Prosecution again breaks the pattern, as the twisted, tortured characters are truly absorbing.

The Witness for the Prosecution - TX: n/a - Episode: Witness For The Prosecution (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: This image is under strict embargo 3rd December 2016 00.01 Romaine Heilger (ANDREA RISEBOROUGH) - (C) Mammoth Screen - Photographer: Robert Viglasky

Swinging star: Romaine Heilger (Andrea Riseborough)

Andrea Riseborogh as Romaine

Andrea Riseborough as Leonard’s doe-eyed but hyena-hearted girlfriend Romaine is scary, while Mayhew, haunted by the loss of his son, is the story’s tragic hero.

Writer Sarah Phelps, who also adapted last Christmas’s BBC hit And Then There Were None, has done a great job in injecting emotion and passion – particularly in the bedroom.

And for once the period is not just nostalgic window dressing. The atmosphere is foggy and threatening, and you get an appreciation of what it was like in pre-war Britain to have no means or status.

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