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.

See also…

And Then There Were None, BBC1

Philip Lombard (AIDEN TURNER), Thomas Rogers (NOAH TAYLOR), Vera Claythorne (MAEVE DERMODY), AJ Marston (DOUGLAS BOOTH), Dr Armstrong (TOBY STEPHENS), Judge Wargrave (CHARLES DANCE), William Blore (BURN GORMAN), Emily Brent (MIRANDA RICHARDSON), General Macarthur (SAM NEILL), Ethel Rogers (ANNA MAXWELL MARTIN)

Guilty looks – Aidan Turner, Noah Taylor, Maeve Dermody, Douglas Booth, Toby Stephens, Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, Burn Gorman, Sam Neill and Anna Maxwell Martin

A star-packed cast gathers for one of Agatha Christie’s best-loved mysteries

★★★½ BBC1, Boxing Day, 9pm

BASED on the Queen of Crime’s bestselling mystery of all time, And Then There Were None gets a handsome showcase and starry cast from the Beeb to ensure this three-parter is a lavish treat for the Christmas holidays.

Agatha Christie’s mystery, recently voted her best by the Crime Writers’ Association, is Christie par excellence with its isolated island setting, a motley band of victims and suspects, and a fiendishy silly denouement.

Programme Name: And Then There Were None - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: ++PURE DRAMA++ ++Publication of this image is strictly embrgoed until 18.01 hours Sunday November 8th 2015+++ Vera Claythorne (MAEVE DERMODY), Philip Lombard (AIDEN TURNER), Dr Armstrong (TOBY STEPHENS), William Blore (BURN GORMAN), Judge Wargrave (CHARLES DANCE), General Macarthur (SAM NEILL), Fred Narracott (CHRISTOPHER HATHERALL) - (C) Mammoth Screen - Photographer: Robert Viglasky

All at sea: The guests on their way to Soldier Island

But this is a beautifully produced mini-series that detracts nicely from the contrived nature of the story with stunning photography, discreet period touches and a terrific score.

For those unfamiliar with the tale, it is 1939 and ten strangers from differing backgrounds are lured to remote Soldier Island off the Devon coast for a get-together by the mysterious Mr and Mrs U N Owen. It’s not long before the guests all realise that none of them has ever met either of the Owens, who are absent from the cut-off island.

Aidan Turner as Lombard

One of the advantages of spreading the story over three episodes is that it unfolds slowly, so that tensions beneath the gentility gradually surface before the mayhem begins.

And Then There Were None - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Behind the scenes on the set of And Then There Were None. Vera Claythorne (MAEVE DERMODY), Philip Lombard (AIDEN TURNER), Judge Wargrave (CHARLES DANCE), General Macarthur (SAM NEILL), William Blore (BURN GORMAN) - (C) Mammoth Screen - Photographer: Robert Viglasky

Behind the scenes: Maeve Dermody, Aidan Turner, Charles Dance, Burn Gorman and Sam Neill filming And Then There Were None

Topping the cast is Aidan Turner, now burdened with the status of Sex God thanks to that shirtless picture of him in Poldark reprinted 40,000 times by the newspapers. He plays the brooding Irishman Lombard here.

Charles Dance is the retired judge Wargrave, Miranda Richardson the snooty, god-fearing spinster Miss Brent, and Sam Neill plays General MacArthur. The strange atmosphere is helped by the odd servants, played by Noah Taylor and Anna Maxwell Martin.

The rest of the shifty-looking characters are performed by Toby Stephens, Maeve Dermody, Douglas Booth and Burn Gorman.

All of which makes it a rich confection of a show – and perfect for Christmas.

See also: agathachristie.com

• My recent feature in the Sunday Mirror: The celebrity kidnap that inspired Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express

Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime, with David Walliams, Jessica Raine

Tommy (DAVID WALLIAMS), Tuppance (JESSICA RAINE)in BBC1's Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime

On the run – Tommy (David Walliams) and Tuppence (Jessica Raine)

Agatha Christie’s investigative husband and wife Tommy and Tuppence in a jolly decent period mystery

★★★½ BBC1, starts Sunday, 26 July, 9pm

FROM THE cosy era of crime novels comes this cosy drama, starring David Walliams and Jessica Raine as Agatha Christie’s sleuthing couple Tommy and Tuppence.

Tommy (DAVID WALLIAMS), Tuppance (JESSICA RAINE)

Detective novels for Tuppence, the newspaper for Tommy

It’s a polished Sunday-night, 1950s piece, with lovely costumes, twee villages full of Morris Minors and a dog called Tiffin. With ITV having mined the Poirot/Marple library to exhaustion, the Beeb must be delighted to get its hands on the Agatha Christie jewels at last.

As David Walliams says: ‘In bringing these thrilling stories to the screen, it is our ambition for Tommy and Tuppence to finally take their rightful place alongside Poirot and Marple as iconic Agatha Christie characters.’

David Walliams and Jessica Raine well cast

The most popular author of all time wrote the first Tommy and Tuppence mystery in 1922, and this new screen incarnation does a good job of breathing life into the duo for a modern audience. Walliams and Raine are certainly well cast as the cack-handed Tommy – ‘pipe-and-slippers man’, according to his uncle – and the have-a-go Tuppence.

Robert Whitelock (as Conrad) and David Walliams (as Tommy Beresford) Episode One: ‘The Secret Adversary’

Rough stuff – Tommy in a tight spot

David Walliams can play ineffectual fastidiousness in his sleep, while Jessica Raine is very good as the wife who wears the trousers. Award-winning author Zinnie Harris’s adaptation has fun with the pair, giving the stories a modern feel with some delicate fruity banter between the couple, such as Tuppence in a blonde-wig disguise pricking Tommy’s buttoned-up ardour.

The Secret Adversary is the first of two three-part tales. It begins with T&T encountering a lady who vanishes on a train. They’re travelling from Paris to London when Jane Finn disappears and the passengers are ordered to change trains. [Read more…]

BBC is the new home of Agatha Christie

THE BBC has announced new dramas based on Agatha Christie’s books, including David Walliams starring in the six-parter Partners in Crime, a 1950s-set series based on the stories of married sleuths Tommy and Tuppence.

There will also be a three-part adaptation of And Then There Were None, the author’s most successful novel, which has shifted more than 100m copies.

Case closed for ITV’s Marple and Poirot

At the same time, ITV has said it has no more plans for Poirot (no surprise there, having just finished filming the whole oeuvre) or Marple.

The Beeb has probably been eyeing ITV’s success with Poirot and Marple for two decades, and have now seized the chance to get in there as the 125th anniversary of Christie’s birth approaches in 2015. Fingers are no doubt crossed that Tommy and Tuppence can soon stand tall next to the spinster and the Belgian.

Crime-writing phenomenon Agatha Christie at work

There was much talk from Ben Stephenson, BBC drama honcho, and BBC1 controller Charlotte Moore in last Thursday’s press announcement about ‘raising our game’ and drama output being more ambitious.

And what have they come up with? More costume dramas based on Agatha Christie’s books. And they’re bringing back Poldark. And they’re doing another version of Mapp and Lucia. And the dull Death in Paradise is returning yet again.

Costume drama fluff rules

Even with the inclusion of the cancer story starring Sheridan Smith, The C Word, and Lenny Henry’s dramatised memoir of his teenage years in Dudley, this hardly smacks of a bold new era for BBC drama.

It’s more like saying you’re going to going to raise the game of popular music by bringing out a K-Tel album of cover versions.

Had the BBC drama chiefs said they had had enough of vapid, chocolate-box costume dramas and were going for punchy modern stories, that would have been a much beefier story.

True Detective is a genuine game-raiser

My problem with most British costume yarns on telly is that they are nearly all twee, prettified versions of the past that rarely inform the drama or seriously reveal anything provocative or challenging about the period at all. The period is just window-dressing.

A drama that is raising the drama game and shows plenty of ambition is True Detective on Sky Atlantic. Of course, this powerful series starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson may not suit a primetime audience, but until the BBC can resist the kneejerk lurch for corsets, trilbies and ‘classic’ adaptations, perhaps it should save the ‘raising our game’ speech for another day.

The BBC press release

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Poirot, Curtain, the final episode

AIDAN MCARDLE as Stephen Norton, HELEN BAXENDALE as Elizabeth Cole, JOHN STANDING as Col. Toby Luttrell, ANNE REID as Daisy Luttrell, SHAUN DINGWALL as Dr Franklin, DAVID SUCHET as Hercule Poirot, HUGH FRASER as Captain Hastings, PHILIP GLENISTER as Sir William Boyd Carrington, ANNA MADELEY as Barbara Franklin, MATTHEW MCNULTY as Major Allerton and ALICE ORR-EWING as Judith
Gathering round Hercule’s last case. Pics: ITV
David Suchet with make-up artist as he prepares for the last day of filming the iconic series, Agatha Christie's Poirot
Behind the scenes

Curtain: Poirot’s Final Case brings an end tonight to an epic endeavour by ITV and David Suchet to film all of Agatha Christie’s mysteries with the Belgian sleuth. After 24 years in the role, the actor – who has been directed on stage by Harold Pinter and conquered Broadway as Salieri in Amadeus, among other acclaimed portrayals – found filming Poirot’s final scenes the hardest day’s filming of his career. So, tonight fans will have to be ready to see their hero in a wheelchair, not quite as sparkling and precise as he once was, as he returns with Captain ‘Astings to Styles – the scene of his first investigation 30 years previously – to try to unravel a series of apparently perfect crimes. The episode goes out on ITV at 8pm, and later the channel is also showing Being Poirot at 10.35pm, with Suchet exploring the character, his roots and worldwide appeal (the series has been shown in 200 countries). It should be some adieu…

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Poirot – Elephants Can Remember, ITV, with David Suchet, Greta Scacchi PREVIEW

ZOE WANAMAKER as Mrs oliver, DAVID SUCHET as Hercule Poirot and GRETA SCACCHI as Mrs Burton-Cox.  Poirot: Elephants Can Remember Copyright ITV.
Zoë Wanamaker, David Suchet and Greta Scacchi. Pics ITV

Rating: ★★★½

ITV: Sunday, 9 June, 8pm

Story: While Poirot is pre-occupied with investigating the strange and gruesome murder of an elderly psychiatrist, his old friend, the crime writer Ariadne Oliver, has a case of her own to solve.

MES AMIS, it is almost time for a last au revoir. Having first played Hercule Poirot 1988, David Suchet is stepping into the spats for the last few times as ITV starts showing the final five remaining Agatha Christie adaptations of the Belgian sleuth’s mysteries.

Elephants Can Remember is a suitably lavish and star-studded production, featuring the return of Zoë Wanamaker as Poirot’s old chum Mrs Ariadne Oliver, along with Greta Scacchi – rather shockingly the former screen siren turns up as an old battleaxe – Iain Glen, Vincent Regan and Vanessa Kirby.

Who shot who?

It’s a tale of two investigations. Ariadne is cornered at a crime writers’ convention by a domineering old

VINCENT REGAN as Chief Sup. Beale, ANNABEL MULLION as Lady Ravenscroft and FERDINAND KINGSLEY as Desmond.  Poirot: Elephants Can Remember Copyright ITV
Vincent Regan, Annabel Mullion and Ferdinand Kingsley

boot, Mrs Burton-Cox (Greta Scacchi), who insists she look into two 10-year-old unsolved murders. Did General Ravenscroft shoot his wife, Margaret, Ariadne’s old school chum, or did Margaret shoot the general?

Ariadne requests Poirot’s assistance, but the buttoned-up detective is already fully engaged in the case of a psychiatrist who has been murdered in one of his old treatment baths, a rather cruel looking contraption.

It would be interesting to compare this latest Poirot with one of ITV’s productions from the early years. Surely those originals come nowhere near today’s almost fetishistic recreation of the 1920s, with its luxurious settings and beautiful furnishings, clothes and wirelesses, right down to the tea sets. If you like period setttings, this is a feast.

Ariadne and Poirot

Another trademark is the gentle humour in the scenes between Ariadne and Poirot, who’s often perplexed by his friend, and during Ariadne’s questioning of several forgetful old biddies in her quest for a solution to the Ravenscroft case.

Of course Poirot and his stablemate Miss Marple are hardly cutting-edge television. Poirot is a pretty

VINCENT REGAN as Chief Insp Beale and DAVID SUCHET as Hercules Poirot.  Elephants Can Remember Copyright ITV
Chief Insp Beale and Hercules Poirot confer

dull character (Ariadne is more fun), and much of the dialogue is dreary exposition – ‘Awful business… they left the house for a walk… didn’t come back… somebody or other found them dead… the revolver was lying by their bodies… bloody hard on the dog…’

But there has long been a big audience for period whodunits, and as Poirot comes to an end, ITV has fairly perfected the recreation of Agatha Christie’s world.

This thirteenth series still has The Big Four, Dead Man’s Folly (still to be filmed), The Labours of Hercules and Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case to come. Poirot and the whole cosy drawing-room whodunit game feels dull and bland to many of us, but there is no doubt that a swathe of fans will miss him in their millions. Man alive, the thing airs on over 200 broadcasters worldwide including: USA (WGBH), Australia (ABC), Brazil (Globosat), France (France Televisions), Italy (Mediaset), Japan (NHK) and Russia (TV Center).

So, perhaps a homburg should be raised to ITV for lavishing so much care on the detective for 25 years. They’ve done him justice.

Cast: David Suchet Hercule Poirot, Zoë Wanamaker Mrs Ariadne Oliver, Greta Scacchi Mrs Burton-Cox, Vanessa Kirby Celia, Adrian Lukis General Ravenscroft, Annabel Mullion Lady Ravenscroft, Ferdinand Kingsley Desmond, Iain Glen Dr Willoughby, Jo-Anne Stockham Mrs Willoughby, Vincent Regan Detective Inspector Beale, Alexandra Dowling Marie, Danny Webb Superintendent Garroway, Elsa Mollien Zelie, Claire Cox Dorothea, Caroline Blakiston Julia Carstairs, Hazel Douglas Mrs Matcham, Maxine Evans Mrs Buckle, Ruth Sheen Madame Rosentelle
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David Suchet on Agatha Christie, Arne Dahl’s Intercrime series on BBC4, and Point Blank at the BFI

David Suchet and Agatha Christie biographer Laura Thompson against the backdrop of Blackpool Sands, one of Agatha Christie's favourite beauty spots. ITV
David Suchet with Agatha Christie biographer Laura Thompson. Pic: ITV

• Whether you like Agatha Christie’s implausible novels or not, there is no denying her worldwide popularity. A new strand of the Perspectives documentaries begins with David Suchet, who has made the role of Poirot is own on ITV, investigating her appeal. As he prepares to don the spats one last time as Christie’s Belgian sleuth, Suchet sets out to learn more about his character’s creator, the woman whose books are only outsold by Shakespeare and The Bible. The doc goes out on ITV on Sunday, 17 March, at 10pm. Watch out too for Jonathan Ross on Hitchcock in coming weeks.

• BBC4’s excellent scheduling of European crime dramas will soon be including a new Swedish season of five two-part adaptations of Arne Dahl‘s novels from his Intercrime series. Dahl is the pseudonym of Jan Arnold, whose stories to be screened this spring on Saturday nights will include The Blinded Man, Bad BloodMany Waters, Europa Blues and To the Top of the Mountain. The tales focus on a team of older detectives. Further good news is that there will be four new Montalbano films in the autumn, along with a spin-off about Young Montalbano.

• The BFI in London is keen for us to flag up its forthcoming screenings of a new print of John Boorman’s classic crime movie Point Blank. Tickets go on sale today for the screenings of this power-packed revenge tale, starring Lee Marvin, who was perfect as the bruising brute Walker, and Angie Dickinson. The direction is startling at times and the action unfolds in a fragmentary style, creating a fresh and exhilarating thriller that grips from start to finish. It was a bravura US debut from the British director.

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Third Degree – crime author Laura Wilson

Crime author Laura WilsonHauled in for questioning today is British crime writer and Guardian reviewer Laura Wilson, who is currently working on her 10th novel. Laura, whose books include the DI Stratton series among other mysteries set in the recent past, talks about her TV and reading habits, from Cagney & Lacey to Agatha Christie…

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?
I feel a bit of a fraud answering these questions as my television viewing is completely random – I can never manage to commit to a series, crime or otherwise. I have only the haziest idea about what’s on when (and no idea at all of how to record stuff) so I tend to find myself looking at whatever anyone else happens to be watching at the point when I collapse onto the sofa. I did enjoy Cracker, though, and I liked Morse, although I never really managed to figure out what was going on (beyond the fact that if Morse fancied someone, she was bound to turn out to be the killer). I also quite enjoy Midsomer Murders because it’s so completely implausible, and I love the fact that you can always work out who the killer is before Barnaby does because he/she will be played by the most famous actor in the cast whose character hasn’t already snuffed it. Poirot and Marple are good too, although I don’t think anyone’s been a patch on Joan Hickson.

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV?
Cagney & Lacey was brilliant and I used to like Hill Street Blues as well. As to the rest… I haven’t even got round to watching The Sopranos, never mind The Wire.

Top TV cop?
Columbo, because he’s so splendidly crumpled – and he has a basset hound, which makes him just about perfect.  


Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?
I wish somebody would make a decent TV drama of Patrick Hamilton’s Gorse trilogy. Years ago, there was a terrible version of the second book in the series, Mr Stimpson & Mr Gorse, starring Nigel Havers, but I’m sure it could be done really well (the 2005 TV version of the 20,000 Streets Under the Sky trilogy was marvellous).

If one of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero?
That’s tricky. The people I can imagine playing DI Stratton (Albert Finney, Alan Bates, etc) are either too old or no longer with us – I’m sure that there are plenty of others who’d be suitable (and the right sort of age) but nobody springs to mind.

What do you watch with a guilty conscience (or what’s your guilty pleasure)?

I watch all TV with a guilty conscience, because there’s always something else I ought to be doing…  Watching New Tricks makes me feel particularly guilty. I’m not entirely sure why (probably something to do with the execrable theme tune and the fact that somewhere about the halfway mark I always feel sure I’ve seen the episode before, although – given my sporadic viewing habits – this can’t, 99% of the time, actually be the case). I do enjoy it, though, mainly because of the way Amanda Redman’s character bosses the others about all the time.
 
Least favourite cop show/thriller?
Not sure I’m discriminating enough to answer this question!
 
Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes?

Probably Poirot, although I enjoyed watching Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes (I can see that Jeremy Brett is probably better, but he always looks as if someone on the set has just farted).

Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?

Oh, dear. I haven’t watched either – the ‘gloom factor’ put me off…

US or British television crime dramas?

British ones (but this is probably due to my inertia).

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?
Agatha Christie, Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, David Peace, Horace McCoy, Eoin McNamee, James Ellory (pre-The Cold Six Thousand), Andrew Taylor… and many, many more.

Which crime novel have you read recently that really knocked you out?

Recently, I’ve loved Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer, Hard Twisted by C. Joseph Greaves and A Stranger in My Grave by Margaret Millar.  

A Willing Victim by Laura WilsonFavourite non-crime/thriller author?Lots – particularly Evelyn Waugh, J.G. Farrell, Graham Greene, Patrick Hamilton, Charles Dickens and Daphne du Maurier.

Favourite crime movie or thriller? The Italian Job (original version), Rififi, The League of Gentlemen, Les Diaboliques and Twelve Angry Men.

You’ve been framed for murder. Which fictional detective/sleuth would you want to call up?Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes (I’d have to toss a coin).

Laura Wilson‘s latest novel is A Willing Victim, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Ellis Peters Award for Best Historical Crime Novel. This powerful and disturbing story begins on a dank November day in 1956, when DI Ted Stratton is called to a murder scene – a loner has been stabbed in his Soho lodgings.

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