Category Archives: Agatha Christie

SERIES REVIEW Agatha Christie’s Hjerson

Much was made of this Swedish series, based as it is on a fictional character within a fictional story written by the evergreen, late, great Agatha Christie. It’s a strange, perhaps obscure reference point for non-Christie fans, so for their benefit, here’s who Sven Hjerson is. Or was. Or now is.

Hercule Poirot had a mystery novelist friend called Ariadne Oliver, who appeared in six Poirot novels. Just as the real-life novelist had Poirot, Christie also gave Oliver a fictional detective to write about. That detective was called Sven Hjerson.

Such is Christie’s popularity through the ages, it seems any kind of link or character is riper for adaptation.

It is only after you have watched a whole episode that the link with Agatha Christie becomes apparent, but aficionados will definitely make the connection, and should also be able to appreciate how this celebrates the art of her writing – albeit in a rather bizarre manner.

Without spoilers, this series concerns a dysfunctional Swedish reluctant mother (Klara, played by Hanna Alström), who is the main source of new ideas for a ridiculous (although in these days maybe not so ridiculous) reality TV show. She eschews the ‘traditional’ ideas of dragging in children to sell the show, and hits on the idea of making a real-life detective series using the most brilliant (but disgraced and excommunicated) detective to effectively bring Cluedo to life. This is, of course, is Sven Hjerson (Johan Rheborg), who has a lot of skeletons in his closet.

The remainder of the series revolves around Klara enticing Hjerson to join her in investigating seemingly open-and-shut cases, but also explores the early life and idiosyncrasies of both Hjerson and Klara. Klara has an ultra-intelligent daughter who seems destined to be permanently babysat by Klara’s other half, himself an over-the-top megalomaniac obsessed by her need to escape all the maternal duties.

The series is laugh-out-loud funny in parts, particularly the interaction between the two main protagonists, and Klara’s infrequent returns to her former fellow reality show boss to ensure they are still engaged with her ‘project’. The final episode is one of the most brilliantly written denouements I have seen, and will pull your emotions in directions you were not even aware existed.

This really was a surprise hit from the Walter Presents stable. From rather obscure and scant reference material, this has been transformed into a wonderful romp with bizarre stories, and equally bizarre characters.

Brian Parker

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Agatha Christie’s Hjerson is available to stream on All4 in the UK


SERIES REVIEW Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (S1)

Any new adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel instantly arouses interest, which, of course, is a testament to her cross-generational appeal and unrivalled longevity.

The last time we saw Christie on television, the brilliant Sarah Phelps reworked five of her novels to dazzling effect. Darker, meatier, more grisly and, arguably, more interesting than the cosy crime Christie has become synonymous with, they were nonetheless met with criticism in some quarters.

So this adaptation of one of her lesser-known – and, at least, less celebrated- novels will have the diehard Christieites breathing a huge sigh of relief.

A passion project of Hugh Laurie no less, this good-looking, three-part series is now streaming on Britbox and is bejewelled with not only the magnificent Laurie himself but also the likes of Paul Whitehouse, Conleth Hill, Amy Nutall, Miles Jupp, Emma Thompson and Jim Broadbent.

If that’s not enough to tune in, it also transports us back to the relative cosiness and the amateur sleuthing that has endeared Christie fans to the ITV Marple and Poirot series. There are no liberties taken, no fathomed backstories, and no dark interpretations – this is Christie for the Christie hardcore massive.

As ever with this iteration of Christie, we’re transported back to a rural 1930s England full of fabulous fashion, quaint villages, warm, frothy beer and Lagondas careering around pre-war bucolia.

The action is set a Welsh coastal town, and the story begins when local, butter-wouldn’t-melt vicar’s son and heartthrob Bobby Jones (Will Poulter) – caddying for the local doctor on a gold course – hears a commotion and goes to investigate. He finds a man who has fallen from the cliffs onto the beach below, and clambering down, finds him – naturally – at death’s door. His last words… a question: “Why didn’t they ask Evans?”

This trauma coincides with the return of breezy childhood friend Lady Frances Derwent (all berets, high-waisted trousers and posho attitude and played to perfection by Lucy Boynton), who may or may not be in love with young Bobby dazzler. Still, they have some catching up to do, and the frisson is very obviously still present between them, despite Frankie being away in London and cementing herself in the capital’s circle of bright young things.

What’s bringing them back together is this mystery – who was this dashed chap that snuffed it on the rocks and what in blazes does “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” mean. Frankie, displaying the kind of insouciance and boredom only socialites can, senses an opportunity for adventure, and despite the slightly star cross’d nature of their relationship, Bobby – fuelled by redoubtable morality – decides to go along for the ride.

However, they are not the only ones interested in the death of Alan Carstairs – a cartoonish but deadly villain (dressed wraith-like all in black and wearing a bowler hat) is stalking Bobby in the village and causing some havoc.

Soon, Bobby and Frankie are off on their adventure (like Tommy and Tuppance elsewhere in the Christie oeuvre) – first to London, and then on to Hampshire – to hunt for Roger Bassington-ffrench, a man Bobby encountered at the scene of Carstairs’ death. To infiltrate his posh family home – a very dysfunctional place it has to be said – they have to concoct a fiendish plan.

And so the story continues, encompassing some shady characters from a nearby mental sanitorium and, of course, plenty of Christie’s patented red herrings. At the heart of it all is a rather convoluted story, but you know that watching and enjoying an Agatha Christie is not just about the story – it’s about the journey, it’s about the guessing game and it’s about the presentation of suspects and reveal of the perpetrator.

And this story is quite well told. Laurie – who adapted it himself – is obviously in his element here (he’s already appeared in Jeeves and Wooster from the same period, lest we forget) and has a nice feel for the phrasing and vernacular of the time (although it’s not too ‘gosh, jolly hockey sticks’). He also imbues it with the dry, witty humour he’s become known and loved for (there are very nice gags in among the mystery). And when it comes to direction, he shows a bit of flair and some interesting and confident flourishes.

But Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? isn’t one of Christie’s least lauded books for a reason – yes, there’s everything you want from a Christie story, and Laurie manages to ask some questions about class and class division in society (as well as a sweary, tonal shift for a great a Daily Mail joke and dig), but the whole thing could do with a bit more pep. In fact, I’d go so far to say that this story could – and perhaps should – have been told in a feature-length special. It also noticeably skips a few things too, leaves a few ends untied and the denouement is a little bit messy.

However, one thing that Why Didn’t Ask Alice Evans? has going for it is Lucy Boyton as Frankie – the absolute epitome of a young Christie heroine. Boynton is full of vim, vigour and irressistible energy. If she isn’t a star already – we only saw her recently in ITV’s The Ipcress File – she certainly will be very soon. A great talent.

For Christie diehards, this is the adaptation they would have been waiting for. Laurie has an obvious love for the period and the material, and it’s a fun, watchable, and, well, traditional Christie exprience.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? streams in the UK and US on Britbox


Nordic Noir: New Agatha Christie’s Hjerson trailer unveiled

We k now that C More’s Swedish Agatha Christie series – Hjerson – is just around the corner.

And now we have a new trailer.

Based on a fictional character penned by a fictional character Ariadne Oliver, who is a mystery crime writer that appears in a number of Agatha Christie novels, the series is set to start in Sweden on 16th August.

Johan Rheborg will play Sven Hjerson and Hanna Alström will play his ‘sidekick’ Klara Sandberg, a former trash TV producer who successfully pitches a true-life crime show starring Hjerson, who will solve a real crime each week. 

NORDIC NOIR Premiere date for Hjerson confirmed

Last year we brought you news that Hjerson – a fictional character penned by a fictional character Ariadne Oliver, who is a mystery crime writer that appears in a number of Agatha Christie novels. According to Agatha Christie herself, Ariadne bears certain similarities to herself.

Now we know when Hjerson will air in its native Sweden.

Johan Rheborg will play Sven Hjerson and Hanna Alström will play his ‘sidekick’ Klara Sandberg, a former trash TV producer who successfully pitches a true-life crime show starring Hjerson, who will solve a real crime each week. 

The four, feature-length films will air on 16th August on C More, while the series will start rolling on 24th August on TV4. 

There’s no news on whether this has been picked up by a UK channel, but as soon as we know, you’ll know.

Hugh Laurie to adapt Agatha Christie for BritBox

Hugh Laurie is to adapt Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? for BritBox in the US, although the hope is that it will also be shown in the UK.

The legendary actor and comedy actor is said to have been in love with 1934 book since childhood.

It tells the story of Bobby Jones and his socialite friend Lady Frances Derwent, who discover a dying man while hunting for a golf ball.

Jones and Derwent turn amateur sleuths as they seek to unravel the mystery of the man, who has the picture of a beautiful young woman in his pocket, and, with his last breath, utters the cryptic question that forms the series’ title. The amiable duo approach their investigation with a levity that belies the danger they encounter.

Deadline says Laurie is hoping to be involved in some part of the cast, although there’s no confirmation yet.

He said: “The hairs on the back of my neck haven’t properly settled down from the first time I grasped the beauty of the essential mystery.

“Since then, I have fallen deeper and deeper in love with the characters, and feel immensely honoured to have been given the chance to retell their story in this form,” he said. “I will wear a tie on set, and give it everything I have.”

It’s expected that Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? will air in the US in 2022, and filming will take place this summer.

NORDIC NOIR Swedish ‘Agatha Christie’ series in the works

Agatha Christie is an enduring force in crime fiction and on TV.

Now we have a new Christie-based series, from Sweden.

According to Expressen, “Agatha Christie’s Sven Hjerson is the first TV series that is freely based on Agatha Christie’s stories and murder mysteries and is described as “a modern, playful and exciting puzzle detective with a twinkle in her eye”.”

Johan Rheborg will play Sven Hjerson and Hanna Alström will play his ‘sidekick’ Klara Sandberg, a former trash TV producer who successfully pitches a true-life crime show starring Hjerson, who will solve a real crime each week. 

Sven Hjerson was a character invented by writer Ariadne Oliver, a character in Christie’s novels.

The channel says that four film are on the slate and will transmit in 2021 on Swedish channel CMore. No UK broadcaster has been announced yet.

A spokesperson for the channel says: “To be able to take on something as ancient as parts of Agatha Christie’s literary universe and turn it into a TV series is a [dream]. This is a big challenge and I am so proud that we have been entrusted with managing something that has never been produced on television before. With the best team behind and in front of the camera, we will deliver a modern puzzle [series] today. In these times, I think more than ever we need to be entertained and seek escapism in something that is equal parts [nostalgia], equal parts innovative – the classic whodunit game in a whole new costume. ”

Agatha Christie : Channel 5 confirms transmission date of new adventure

It seems we can’t get enough of Agatha Christie.

Channel 5 has been trotting out enjoyable one-offs, starring Helen Baxendale as Christie herself in fictional adventures.

The next one – Agatha And The Midnight Murders – is set in London in 1940 and is coming very soon.

As the Blitz rages and her future is threatened by fallout from the war, Agatha Christie makes the decision to kill off her most famous creation. After twelve Poirot novels in six years, Agatha should be a rich woman. Instead, she’s struggling to make ends meet: America’s financial chokehold of Britain has cut off royalties and the tax authorities in the US and UK are investigating her.

Killing her most popular character in the midst of this turmoil seems almost spiteful. But Agatha, pragmatic and resourceful as ever, has a plan: she is selling the novel of Poirot’s death to a private buyer, a superfan who will pay a fortune to own a piece of history and keep the beloved detective alive. Fourteen years ago, Agatha met Travis Pickford, a charming grifter who transformed himself from murder suspect to ally. Who better to help broker a dubious deal than a man for whom skirting the law is career necessity? Having agreed a commission with Agatha, Travis arranges a late-night exchange at an infamous London hotel.

Agatha Christie And The Midnight Murders: Wednesday 7th October, 9pm, Channel 5


REVIEW: The Pale Horse (S1 E2/2)

“That’s the point isn’t it? Making people believe…”

Let’s state this right off the bat, shall we? Episode two of Sarah Phelps’ adaptation of The Pale Horse was just about perfect; one of the best hours of crime drama you’ll ever see.

It had everything: some sumptuous production design, fine acting, some edgy, creepy moments, shades of Highsmith and Hitchcock, some really imaginative, bravura direction by Leonora Lonsdale and a classic Christie reveal at the end.

But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.

We left the philandering Mark Easterbrook at the end of episode one edging into the mysterious world of Much Deeping – the bucolic, picture-postcard English village that housed three soothsayers who may or may not have had anything to do with the death of his first wife Delphine, and a list of seemingly random people who were showing up dead with increasing rapidity.

Mark Easterbrook’s name was also on that list, lest we forget. He certainly couldn’t.

What could have easily gone down the route of a folk horror – a la The Wicker Man – quickly spiralled into a vortex of Hitchcockian noir and paranoia, as Easterbrook decided the only way he was going to save himself was to investigate this curious case himself and free himself from this ever-escalating situation.

Control, control, control. That was what he liked, craved.

Except he wasn’t in control at all. He was desperate to find a rational explanation for this all, but everyone around him was telling him differently – it was magic, witchcraft and everything to do with hexes.

Even he was starting to believe it.

This internal conflict brought with it fear and loathing, desperation and paranoia. It wasn’t long before he was having dreams; lurid, hyperreal nighttime visions of totems in his hallway bearing down on him as he lay sprawled, screaming in his pyjamas on the floor. Rufus Sewell’s Mark Easterbrook was now resembling James Stewart’s Scottie in Vertigo, or Gregory Peck’s John Ballantyne in Spellbound (albeit version without any redeeming characteristics).

He was a man at the end of his tether, living wide-eyed in between two worlds, that of of the conscious and the unconscious; shuffling, terrified, through a fever dream.

After he extracted a confession from Ardingly that he had his mother killed and had put a hex on her via the women at The Pale Horse he decided enough was enough. Who could hate him enough to put a hex on him? He deduced that it must have been Hermia who had visited the ‘witches’ and put a curse on him, so he, in turn, went to The Pale Horse himself to confront the three women himself.

With repeated pressure from an increasingly panicked Zachariah Osborne and an increasingly dogged Lejuene, he was desperate. So he asked the three women to put a curse on his wife, and to put a curse on Lejuene. They were both ‘obstacles’ he said – Hermia because she was high maintenance and, in his eyes, some sort of pathetic plaything, Lejeune because he was getting too close.

But to what?

There was always the question of what really happened to his first wife Delphine, who died in the bathtub, hanging over this story. We were about to find out.

We flashbacked to that fateful evening, and saw Mark fly off the handle when he discovered the Much Deeping paraphernalia in her handbag, and the name and number of Oscar written on it. He flew into a jealous rage and swiped at the electric radio perching at the end of the bath.

Poor Delphine was frazzled.

Easterbrook had been carrying around this gargantuan secret – and the guilt from the secret – ever since.  And it looked as though he was going to get away with it. Away with it all.

Hermia, who had been the victim of some terrible psychological abuse from her ‘perfect’ husband, was found in a near-comatose state when Easterbrook returned from his visit to the three women in Much Deeping. And then, while he was taking her into the hospital, Lejuene was wheeled in, blood appearing to leak from every orifice.

His plan – and the Pale Horse women’s curse – was working.

Except it wasn’t. Easterbrook, despite feeling free of his shackles and partying as if his very life depended upon it, kept seeing the ghost of Delphine. Something twigged, and he decided to pay a visit to Osbourne in his workshop.

And then it really all happened. Easterbrook found rat poison, lists and dossiers of people – on people – who had died in his workshop. He found detailed plans of their houses. Entrance points. Schematics.

It was Osbourne. There was a rational reason for all of this. Appearing from a doorway, dressed in his pyjamas, Osbourne explained that he had gone through newspapers to prey on the rich and vulnerable, used the three women at The Pale Horse as cover, and only knew about Easterbook after he had seen him leave the home of his mistress – who Osbourne had poisoned. He decided to torment Easterbrook, because why not? He knew he was harbouring secrets and wouldn’t go to the police.

Two killers faced off against each other. Who would flinch first? It was riveting.

(A note about Bertie Carvel, who played Zachariah Osborne. In Baghdad Central he’s been surely channelling Leonard Rossiter in his portrayal of the duplicitous Temple, and here, as Osbourne, there was something of the Peter Sellers about him, certainly from the Ealing Comedies era. He was greasy, awkward, nervous and stammering. Osbourne somehow reminded me of an evil version of Fred Kite from I’m Alright Jack. High praise indeed, I know, but this was a diamond little role for Carvel, who’s really been stretching his wings recently.)

In the end, Easterbrook did away with Osbourne and burned down his workshop with him in it.

He was finally free. Free of everything.

But there was one fantastic twist to come. Entering his home with a spring in his step, he looked down at his newspaper only to see a disturbing headline: Mark Easterbrook had been killed mysteriously.

It’s one of the classic noir storylines – the man who wasn’t there. Or, the man who had been investigating a case only to find that he had done it all along. Here, Easterbrook saw the ghost of Delphine at the end of the hallway. He was now trapped in some sort of purgatorial state, reliving her death over and over again.

How? Why? Hermia had woken up from her coma, to be greeted by the three Pale Horse women at the side of her bed. Even though their so-called powers had been disproved and discredited, it seemed Hermia had asked the three women to put one final curse on her nefarious husband, to make sure he finally paid for all his misdemeanours and the abuse she had endured.

It was quite the ending.

All of this amounted to a stunning hour of television – hyperreal, stylish, riveting – but let’s face it, Christie diehards will have hated it. Phelps took the kernel of the original story and changed characters, outcomes, you name it. There was no happy ending here, unlike the book. Instead, Phelps cleverly wove tales of psychological terror, flashes of melodrama and all manner of references from the period into something new, exciting and surprising.

If this is Phelps’ last Christie adaptation, she has given us the perfect end to a quintet that has traversed the early part of the 20th century, almost decade by decade, and rooted Christie’s fabled whodunits with so much more cultural and historical depth and context. And she’ll be remembered for bravely and creatively breathing new life into characters and stories that, whatever you think, really needed it.

Paul Hirons


REVIEW: The Pale Horse (S1 E1/2)

For her fifth Agatha Christie adaptation – And Then There Were None, The Witness For The Prosecution, Ordeal By Innocence and The ABC Murders came before it – Sarah Phelps has selected a novel written towards the end of Christie’s long and distinguished career.

In her other adaptations – that have polarised Christie fans – Phelps has used her artistic licence liberally to create new stories that have been imbued with a greater socio-political and cultural context while keeping the central mystery puzzle at their heart. Phelps’ characters have also had real nuance and depth to them.

Those previous four have seemed to chart British history throughout the 20th century, taking in as they have, world wars, poverty, sexism and classism, and, most notably (and topically), fascism in 1930s London.

So where has Phelps taken us with The Pale Horse? Looks-wise it goes back to Ordeal Of Innocence – it’s light, bright and not the kind of wheezing, jaundiced feel of, say, The Witness For The Prosecution or the ashen greys of The ABC Murders.

No, The Pale Horse gives us vivid colours, snazzy suits, verdant greens, picture-perfect English villages, pearls and pencil dresses, and wrist-length gloves and cat-eye sunglasses. And witches.

But let’s not go there just yet.

As Phelps enters this post-war period, a time where optimism was beginning to permeate throughout the country after the shattering, spirit-sapping World War a decade before it, we’re presented with two very difficult types of Britain: that of the working classes, and the upper classes, still enveloped in wealth and privilege and stinking of arrogance.

This is the world in which Mark Easterbrook lives. A suave, slightly nervy, beautiful man  (Rufus Sewell is perfect for the role), he’s still coming to terms with the death of his first wife, Delphine, and is now married to Hermia, an insecure socialite. Easterbrook is a strange kind of character and goes about his business as if it’s his business and no one else’s. He’s softly spoken but prone to fits of anger, drives a smart sports car and dresses in the snazziest of suits.

He’s a complete arsehole (and different, very different, from the book).

His world begins to fracture when a list of names is found in the heel of a woman’s shoe. The woman, we see, is convinced she’s being stalked and is terrified when she’s able to pull clumps of hair away from her head.

The dancer Easterbrook is sleeping with behind Hermia’s back – whose name is also on the list –  also begins to find hair coming away from her head with ease. She too winds up dead, next to Easterbrook when they spend the night together in her flat.

Hot on the case is Detective Inspector Lejeune (a wonderfully gravel-voiced Sean Pertwee), who wants to know what Easterbrook knows, and whether he is implicated in the case. Rifling through his dead wife’s belongings he finds a bus ticket to the village of Much Deeping, a name, and a number.

And it so it unfolds. One by one names on the list begin to die, all finding that their hair is beginning to moult unexplainably, and Easterbrook – wracked by guilt and yet eager to conceal his philandering – sets out on a search to see what lies in Much Deeping.

And what does lie there?

Quaint bucolia, superb topiary, dry stone walls hewn from the very essence of rural Englishness… and witches.

We saw in the opening scenes that Delphine had visited three women who lived in Much Deeping – at The Pale Horse pub no less – and gave her an ominous tarot card reading. In fact, as a very out-of-place Easterbrook wanders around the winding lanes during a traditional festival complete with a totem and scary masks and people banging drums (very Wicker Man) he’s spooked by their piercing eyes (judgemental eyes, perhaps?) and their uncanny knack of telling him things, personal things, about his life and relationships.

(The ‘witches’ are fantastic. It’s always a treat to see Rita Tushingham on TV, and Kathy Kiera Clark and Sheila Atim all mesh with perfect menace.)

The final scenes see Easterbrook succumb to the moulting hair syndrome – his name is on the list, after all, and he’s for it next. Unless he can find out who the murderer is, and how he or she is doing it.

The mystery and whodunit puzzle is well and truly there in The Pale Horse, but there’s so much more here. The relationship between Easterbrook and Hermia is both heartbreaking and fascinating. His attitude towards her is blithe insouciance, while she is desperate for love, acceptance even. While Easterbrook works at his antique business all day, she’s stuck at home – the so-called perfect, affluent life little more than an unfulfilled, lonely, ennui-filled existence, where anxieties gnaw away like a parasite. These scenes with Hermia remind me of Mad Men and Revolutionary Road and serve to once again give social context and give depth to scenes and characters.

All in all, though, The Pale Horse feels and looks like the Agatha Christie adaptations of old: English villages, perfect lives, gorgeous, gauzy light… and murder.

Almost a cosy crime, even. Almost.

And yet, you just know it’s going to descend into a hell of unknown description in its concluding episode. You can bet your arse I’ll be watching.

Paul Hirons


BBC One confirms transmission date for Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse

Mark this down as another winner from screenwriter Sarah Phelps (yes, we’ve seen the first episode).

Phelps’ next Agatha Christie adaptation is a two-part series of The Pale Horse, originally released in 1961.

And now we know when it’s going to be broadcast.

The Pale Horsefollows Mark Easterbrook, who, after a mysterious list of names is found in the shoe of a dead woman, begins an investigation into how and why his name came to be there. He is drawn to The Pale Horse, the home of a trio of rumoured witches in the tiny village of Much Deeping. Word has it that the witches can do away with wealthy relatives using the dark arts alone, but as the bodies mount up Mark is certain there has to be a rational explanation. And who could possibly want him dead?

The Pale Horse: Sunday 9th February, 9pm, BBC One