Review: Agatha Christie’s Partners In Crime (S1 E4/6), Sunday 16th August, BBC1

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Programme Name: Partners In Crime - TX: 16/08/2015 - Episode: 4 (No. 4) - Picture Shows: Episode Four |  ‘N or M?’ The Assassin (HANNAH WADDINGHAM) - (C) Endor Productions - Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz

With Tommy and Tuppence now established as agents, the dynamic duo are called in to investigate when a secret weapon is stolen. After the farrago of the introductory three-parter, which had plot holes big enough to drive a double-decker through (we never did figure out what those mysterious leaves were meant to be), one might hope that this second three-parter, based on Agatha Christie’s familiar N or M, might pull itself together. Fat chance, given the anachronistic opening discussion of bee colony collapse, and Tommy’s mincing insistence that the couple’s business future lies in wigs, known as Beresford’s Barnets.

With Boy George conveniently packed off to scout camp, the duo go to spymaster Uncle Carter for funding (why, one might ask?) but he’s distracted, because a scientist, Worthing, has gone missing with secret designs from a military base (rather unconvincingly signposted ‘Military Base’).

Carter, worried that there’s a mole in his department, assigns Tommy to meet an agent at the opera, but the supposed contact Harrison dies, apparently of a heart attack – or was it the wrong man, and did Tuppence see the real agent being scared off by a sinister blonde?

Tommy had implausibly kept his mission concealed from Tuppence, but is caught when he contacts Carter; she insists on investigating with the help of Albert, who identifies a stain on Tommy’s shirt as cyanide (Agatha Christie’s favourite poison – though could its effects be mistaken for a heart attack?). Albert knows that Worthing worked on the Manhattan Project, the atomic bomb.

T&T attend Harrison’s funeral and work out that he had the wrong opera tickets; they were meant to meet a different Harrison. Implausibly masquerading as police, they question the ticket girl at the opera house, get a description of the other Harrison, and pick up a fancy umbrella he’d left behind.

Charmingly, they trace the brolly to James Smith & Sons in High Holborn (which is still there, fact fans), and see it collected by a fey young man who refuses to take them to Harrison, though he does take their card. Making their way home in a pea-souper fog (this is before the Clean Air Act, remember), the two get separated, and Tuppence is almost killed by the gun-toting sinister blonde.

Arriving home, the shocked Tuppence takes to her single bed (is this a class thing from the ’50s, or a misinterpreted trope from contemporary movies? Tommy and Tuppence must have had sex at least once, if George is anything to go by, but going by this, there’s no evidence they’ve tried it again. Perhaps Tommy finds it a bit yucky).

The following day Tommy wants to pack it in (the spying, not the sex), but they receive a letter (addressed to Richmond, we note), inviting them to a meeting with the real Harrison. Failing to observe the sinister blonde, who’s driving a stolen RAF lorry, they meet tall, dark, handsome Harrison, who is promptly splattered by the lorry. Before dying he mumbles something about a mole, but did he say the name started with N, or M?

The following day the two are visited by a harried Carter who explains that N is a Russian spy with contacts in British Government and Intelligence. Harrison was investigating the Cromer guest house where Worthing had stayed – was he killed for something he found there?

Tommy sets off for the Sans Souci Hotel, using the excuse of a wig convention which he says is ‘no place for a lay-dee’ – we sense at this instant that he’ll end up dressing as a woman at some point in the plot. Tuppence sets out in a huff to stay with an aunt, or so she says.

Tommy studies files on the guests before meeting them in the hotel. A married couple of psychologists, an ex-army type, a snappy Irish housekeeper, a common oik, and a saucy widow, most of them are creepy or sinister – then of course there’s Tuppence, who’s followed Tommy and booked herself in under the name Blenkensop.

As the pair try to suss out the guests, one, Major Khan (Alyy Khan), receives a letter with a Russian postmark, so Tuppence resolves to search his room while Tommy cosies up to seductive widow Mrs Sprot (Christina Cole). But Tuppence is caught, and has a gun stuck up her nose by the rightfully suspicious Khan.

Marginally more convincing than the first three-parter – though we sense that the hotel setting is leading towards a boring Christie-esque plod through the secrets and motivations of the various characters – N or M (the title apparently derived from the Book of Common Prayer) has been moved from its original wartime setting to the 1950s, so it rightly depicts the more mature Beresfords; whether they’ll carry on in the same vein or fall back into silliness probably depends on whether David Walliams can resist the temptation to dive into the dressing-up box.

Chris Jenkins

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