I adore Agatha Christie. Both novels and film alike and very nearly missed catching the BBC adaptation of The Witness for the Prosecution during the festive period – the perils of not watching live TV very often and forsaking buying a TV mag (note to self: perhaps make buying a TV mag a New Years resolution…).
Despite this on a random day when I was a bit bored and perusing I caught both episodes on BBC iplayer, thankfully. I really enjoyed the adaptation of And Then There Were None on the BBC last year, it felt very different from the ITV Agatha Christie, darker, grainier, less flamboyant but very compelling.
This styling certainly continued with the adaptation of The Witness for the Prosecution, perhaps not surprising given it was scripted and cast by the same person (Sarah Phelps), and while this is not necessarily better, as I very much enjoy the ITV style, it certainly offers a different take and I think necessary contrast.
The plot, without giving away spoilers, focuses on Lawrence Vole, a working class soldier of the First World War, who in 1924 appears to be struggling with work, catches the eye of the wealthy Emily French, a woman with a taste for younger men, with whom he becomes involved for payment. Sometime later Emily is murdered and Lawrence is the primary suspect, identified as leaving the house by the creepy and possessive lady’s maid, leading in to the heart of the whole drama, navigated primarily for us the viewer through the eyes of Lawrence’s lawyer Mayhew who believe in Lawrence’s innocence.
Perhaps the most intriguing character was the Austrian Romaine Vole, Lawrence’s wife/lover on whom the defence’s case rests as she initially provides Lawrence his alibi for the evening of the murder, and who subsequently provides the impetus for the unravelling drama with her dramatic about turn to become a witness for the prosecution. Leaving Lawrence’s life and innocence hanging in the balance. Her actions and whole demeanour are hard to read throughout, her reasons for turning on Lawrence, his infidelity? Jealousy? Is she truly this spiteful? For me she was a void, and it was hard to tell if her emotions were her own or she displayed what was expected of her? Still her ambiguous nature makes the drama interesting to watch, and the final denouement far more sinister.
As well as the drama of the courtroom, we are also introduced to the domestic life of Mayhew and his wife, who have both been ravaged by the war, his wife most acutely by the loss of their son and Mayhew emotionally by his role in his sons death and physically through his weakened lungs. The scenes between Mayhew and his wife were expertly played by both Toby Jones and Hayley Carmichael, the pervading sadness, loss and unrequited feelings all encompassing and stifling even as a viewer. It is through this lens that you can understand Mayhew’s push and drive to prove Lawrence innocent, to save him as he couldn’t his son, his hopeful act of redemption and therefore making the ending altogether sadder and darker.
I don’t want to give too much away regarding the final outcome, but overall this was compelling and watchable, offering a different slice of Christie, certainly far less cosy than other offerings and with a seething dark underbelly in a world still reeling from a devastating, generation altering conflict.