|'The finale is so ridiculously rushed, and achieved via a vast swathe of coincidence, that you don't have time to reflect on what is supposed to be a heart-rending close.'|
We were treated during last year's holiday season TV to And Then There Were None, a sterling Agatha Christie adaptation that kept you guessing and proved a treat to relax with over three nights on the BBC. At the time I suggested that it might make for a welcome annual event; the same cast and crew tackling a different Christie story every year.
Whilst that might have been impractical it was at least pleasing to see another Christie story on the schedule this year. The Witness For The Prosecution, based on a play by the author, tells the tale of Leonard Vole (Billy Howle), seduced by Emily French (Kim Cattrall) and then accused of her murder. Defended by a snuffling, shambling Mayhew (Toby Jones), Voles' wife Romaine (Andrea Riseborough) appears key to whether it was he who dunnit.
With a strong cast then and the pedigree of last year, it is strange to find that this is such a weak offering. Cut from And Then There Were None's three episodes to a meagre two, the story barely has time to function, let alone earn some of its more significant moments. Mayhew's sympathy with Leonard, for example, is meant to be linked to the death of his own son, but there's never time to establish that thread. The finale is so ridiculously rushed, and achieved via a vast swathe of coincidence, that you don't have time to reflect on what is supposed to be a heart-rending close.
Meanwhile, director Julian Jarrold, who has plenty of experience with this sort of thing, seems lost. The dry ice machine goes into overdrive on the London backstreet sets and Jones is directed to turn in a performance that hardly plays to his everyman strengths. If you're not bored of his coughing by the end of the first episode then don't worry: there's more on the way.
The show does, tentatively, consider stepping in to gender politics on occasion. Emily's carefree approach to relationships is touched on and the dynamic between Leonard and Romaine is key to the mystery but like the rest of The Witness For The Prosecution there seems to be little time for this sort of thematic sightseeing. What that means is that the show feels less like an investigation or a mystery; more like a factual, punctual, telling of an actual case. The approach spoils the reveal of the finale, as well as making for a generally unsatisfying two hours.