|as a charming Agatha Christie adaptation, whose sprightly young leads largely overcome a not-always convincing narrative and some heavy-handed directing.
|Lucy Boynton, Will Poulter, Alistair Petrie, Amy Nuttall, Benedict Wolf, Carlie Enoch, Conleth Hill, Daniel Ings, Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, Jonathan Jules, Joshua James, Leon Ockenden, Maeve Dermody, Miles Jupp, Morwenna Banks, Nia Trussler Jones, Nicholas Asbury, Paul Whitehouse, Richard Dixon
|Hugh Laurie, Claire Jones, Agatha Christie
|9th April 2023
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
In the small Welsh coastal town of Marchbolt, the vicar’s son Bobby Jones (Will Poulter) is working as a caddy on a cliff-top golf-course when he hears someone fall to his death – well, not quite.
When Bobby gets to the foot of the cliff, the victim has just enough breath left in him to utter his final words, “Why didn’t they ask Evans?”
After a chance encounter between Bobby and an old schoolfriend, Frankie (Lucy Boynton), the pair decide to try to find out who Evans is and who didn’t ask them what.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Adapted from Agatha Christie’s novel into a three-part drama by the actor – and now director – Hugh Laurie, this detective tale is full all of the mystery, murders, deception and red herrings that you’d expect.
But the complex narrative differs from many of Christie’s other novels in that rather than it being seasoned detectives – such as Poirot or Miss Marple – who unravel the intricate web of deceit, it’s a couple of amateurs with no skin in the game.
It’s a bit unevenly paced, stretched over three hours, with not enough happening in the opening episode and most of the plot being concentrated in the closer.
With a background in comedy, pacing aside, Hugh Laurie’s writing is – perhaps unsurprisingly – tighter than his directing. The script is bursting with sharp one-liners, deftly delivered by the sprightly leads – Lucy Boynton’s perfectly portrays an upper-class 1930s wit and Will Poulter has developed into a strong and empathetic leading man.
The direction, though, is a little flabby and heavy-handed – Laurie focuses too much on irrelevant details, and not to try to mislead us, just because he thinks it looks nice. He often jumps – for no particular reason – to a long-shot midway through a conversation – and cuts too often between characters during dialogue, almost as if he doesn’t trust his own actors – or perhaps he feels obliged, as an actor himself, to show almost every line of dialogue or reaction.
Something that can’t be blamed on Laurie, but on Christie herself, is the fact that rather too much of the narrative momentum relies on luck – people happen to be in the right place at the right time for something to happen or to find something out and characters are often required to respond in unlikely ways in order for the plot to unfurl – rather than deduction, and some of the deduction that does occur doesn’t feel believable from two random twenty-somethings with little experience of dealing with the dastardly ways of super-villains.
There is an authenticity to the period and the emotional tension between the leads plays out effectively as their detective personae require them to take on roles that emphasise their differing social status.
Of course, while it’s clear from the outset that some characters can or can’t be trusted, the twists and turns mean that others flip-flop, some more convincingly than others. Daniel Ings – while always entertaining – seems oddly charming and likeable, regardless of what he’s up to, which makes it harder to accept his role.
Previously available on the Britbox subscription service, it’s perhaps a mini-series more worth your attention now that it’s available free of charge on ITV and its ITVX streaming platform.