Agatha Christie,  television

Stylish television: Witness For The Prosecution

When I posted about Ordeal by Innocence last week, I was asked if I had ever watched the BBC version of ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ that was on the television at Christmas 2016. This prompted me to rewatch this, as all the BBC Agatha Christie adaptations are now on the iplayer, and I was once again struck by just how brilliant Agatha was as a writer, and also by how dark and different this adaptation is to the much loved 1957, Billy Wilder film.

Witness for the Prosecution was originally an Agatha Christie short story, one which was then turned into a play. The BBC adaptation goes back to the play origins, with the lead female character again called Romaine rather than Christine (as Marlene Dietrich‘s character was called in 1958). Whereas the 1957 version was full of humour, not least between Charles Laughton as Sir Wilfred, and his real life wife Elsa Lanchester as his nurse Miss Plimsoll, the 2016 is inherently dark, almost to the point of being haunting, and is bleak throughout. The action is moved to the years after World War 1, and a world totally scarred by that war, and the lose of youth and innocence that it represented. Each of our main characters, Leonard, Romaine and solicitor John Mayhew, have a shadow cast over their life by this war that is used to explain the behaviours of the characters.

The murder victim, Emily French, is played by Kim Cattrall, and again, she is very different from the 1957 portrayal which shows a woman who loves the flattery of the charming Leonard Vole. In the 2016 version, Kim Cattrall is a middle aged, attractive woman who wants to have sex with young, attractive men. She purses Leonard, and pays him, for this very purpose, and is quite open about this to her maid, the disapproving, Janet McIntyre, who was almost violently obsessed with her employee. When Emily is found murdered, Janet gives the police the name of Leonard, absolutely convinced of his guilt, but solicitor John Mayhew (a heartbreaking performance by the always brilliant Toby Jones), grieving the death of his own son in the Great War believes Leonard to be innocent, and is determined to win the case, and ‘save’ this young man in the way that he couldn’t save his son. Leonard’s beautiful wife Romaine (a stunning Andrea Riseborough), who beguiles John, could be the key to his freedom, but is Romaine friend or foe, and could Leonard have actually committed the murder?

Witness for the Prosecution is perfect for those who love their Agatha Christie adaptations to be on the darker side.

You can catch it on iplayer here.



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One Comment

  • Promise

    I am grateful for the article. I love Agatha Christie and will definitely watch this adaptation! Judging by the photo, the film is very stylish)

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