Wednesday, 28 December 2016

TV Review: The Witness for the Prosecution

"You're a liar, aren't you"

After the success of And Then There Were None last Christmas, it was most pleasing to see another Agatha Christie adaptation on the schedule for this year. And given how good The Witness for the Prosecution was, here's hoping that the BBC can persuade Sarah Phelps to make this a new annual tradition as it is proving to be a most fruitful creative enterprise, completely reinvigorating a genre that has arguably gotten a little too cosy, stale even.

Originally a Christie short story from 1925, later adapted into a courtroom-based play in 1953 (a version of which I saw a few years ago), the story revolves around the murder of wealthy femme d'un certain âge Emily French. The prime suspect is Leonard Vole, her lover, who we discover is a married man and who just happens to have been made the sole beneficiary of French's will. Vole's court case relies on the testimony of his wife Romaine but naturally, things prove not to be quite that simple.

Phelps' genius has been to relocate Christie's murder mysteries into the world of psychodrama that treats all of its issues seriously in a post-WWI context. So the legacy of defence solicitor John Mayhew's wartime service manifests itself in what we call PTSD, the (male-dominated) legal profession (and society at large)'s predilection for believing the worst of women exposed for exactly what it is, the twisted psychology of relationships in and around domestic service laid bare too.

Which leads to a highly effective couple of hours of twists and turns, revelations and red herrings, as truth and justice do battle with human nature in all its murky complexity. Julian Jarrold's direction perfectly capturing the darkness, and emotional bleakness, of this world and teasing some brilliantly unpredictable performances, particularly from Andrea Riseborough's Romaine, Toby Jones' troubled Mayhew and Monica Dolan's disturbing housekeeper. Great work too from Hayley Carmichael as Mayhew's wife Alice and Kim Cattrall as the ennui-laden Emily French.

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