Sarah Phelps’ Agatha Christie adaptations have been a real Christmas treat for the past couple of years, so it was with great disappointment that we read that her latest – Ordeal By Innocence – had been shelved because of accusations against one of its stars, Ed Westwick. Now there’s good news – all is not lost.
The BBC’s Ordeal by Innocence was supposed to be the third BBC adaptation of a classic Agatha Christie novel in succession. The past two Christmases have seen And Then There Were None and last year’s The Witness For The Prosecution, both of which were brilliantly adapted by Sarah Phelps, and this year’s seasonal Christie treat was another Phelps adaptation. It was to be one of the jewels in the BBC’s Christmas line-up, but today the corporation announced that it had postponed the three-part series.
The past two Christmasses have seen new Agatha Christie adaptations from Sarah Phelps. They’ve been sensational, not only refreshing the Christie brand for a new generation (while keeping the period stylings and Christie twists and turns), but also marking Phelps out as one of our very best screenwriters. And The There Were None and Witness For The Prosecution were must-watch television events. We knew that this year’s Christie adaptation – also from Phelps – was to be Ordeal By Innocence. Now we know the cast.
What Sarah Phelps has done with Agatha Christie’s stories has been nothing short of miraculous. When the BBC and the Agatha Christie estate announced it had signed a new deal in 2015, we weren’t quite sure what the fruits of the deal were going to taste like – more by-the-book Miss Marples and Poirots? Vanilla adaptations of some of her other stories? The fruits turned out to be something totally fantastic, and so far we’ve had two Christmas event series that have been meaty muthas, stuffed with emotion, heartbreak, tension, and extra characterisation and social context. Now we know for sure that Phelps will be back with us for a third Christie adaptation.
Last night, on Boxing Day here in the UK, we were treated to another Sarah Phelps adaptation of an Agatha Christie story: an intriguing, post-World War I yarn set in the Roaring Twenties, a murder of a voracious but tragic socialite at its heart. Nailed on for her murder was her young lover and ex-soldier Leonard Vole, who was relying on the alibi of his partner, Romaine Heilger, to get him off the hook. Except Heilger (Andrea Riseborough in mesmerising form) changed her tune just before his trial, spitting “hang” in his face. Why had she done this? While not a primary suspect, she was playing with the truth. Or was she? We were about to find out…
NB: Spoilers ahoy
We got our first real whiff of the BBC’s new working relationship with the Agatha Christie estate with last year’s And Then There Were None (let’s conveniently gloss over the fairly awful Partners In Crime before it), and if that was anything to go by our festive visit to Christieville is going to be an annual treat. And Then There Were none felt like a fresh take on an old story – its intriguing whodunit elements retained and observed reverentially, with lashings of gorgeous set design, superb, big-name actors and beefed-up depth and social context in its characters. If And Then There Were None set a benchmark for future Christie Christmas adaptations, then The Witness For The Prosecution surely followed suit.
NB: Spoilers ahead
As you’re all no doubt aware by now, Toby Jones is one of this country’s finest and most adaptable actors, but he’s at his best – I think – when he playing men who are conflicted somehow, perhaps slightly timid and unable to express emotions. There’s something about Jones’s furrowed browd and hangdog look. He appear alongside Andrea Riseborough and Kim Cattrall in Sarah Phelps’ The Witness For The Prosecution, and he’s wonderful. I managed to get hold of an interview with Toby, which is after the jump.