Stylish Films: Witness For The Prosecution (1957)

Christmas is always a time to rediscover Agatha Christie, and this festive season, a whole range of film adaptations were shown, including the one that Agatha loved best of all, the 1957 adaptation of an original short story, ‘Witness for the Prosecution’. This was a brilliant adaptation, with a very starry cast, and Agatha absolutely loved it, which was certainly not always the case for film adaptations of her books (she hated the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple’s for instance.) Witness for the Prosecution has been adapted many times since this film, most recently as a stage play that has wowed audiences in London, but, for me, this version is certainly the best.

The beauty of Witness of the Prosecution is in the truly incredible cast. Hollywood legend Tyrone Power gave one of his best performances as the suspected killer Leonard Vole, on trial for the murder of a lonely lady he had befriended, who had been murdered after she had named him as the chief beneficiary of her will. Power was notoriously handsome and charming, and his matinee idol image worked so well for this role. He was ably supported by another legend as his German wife Christine. Marlene Dietrich was not always granted the greatest of roles, she often seemed bigger than any role, but as the ice cold Christine she is perfect, stunning and elegant as the wife who seemingly betrays a loving husband. Many believe she should’ve won an Oscar for this, her true crowning role, and I think it is hard not to agree.

What I love about Witness for the Prosecution is that it remembers how much Agatha appreciated humour, and, at times, despite the viciousness of the story, it is funny. This is in no small part due to the brilliance of the towering Charles Laughton as defence barrister Sir Wilfred Roberts, not in the best of health, and constantly irritated by his fussy nurse Miss Plimsoll, played so brilliantly by his real life wife Elsa Lanchester. Their interplay is constantly delightful and raises a rye smile, adding balance to what was, when later filmed with Toby Jones in the Sir Wilfred role, a much darker, gloomier role.

Witness for the Prosecution is a sheer delight, with twists and turns galore, and a real sting in the tale. It never gets old on any viewing, the performances continue to delight. No wonder Agatha was so pleased with it.

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