It’s Agatha Christie – David Walliams style.
Yes, BBC1 brings the great crime writer back to UK screens with a new drama series starring (and executive-produced by) the Britain’s Got Talent judge and Little Britain star.
To say he has camped it up would be true – but a little unfair all the same. What Walliams has done is turn Christie’s stories of this rather conventional 1920’s couple into a cheeky and raucous yarn that always seems to have its tongue firmly in its cheek. But that feels appropriate: there was always something camp about Christie on TV. Think of the star-studded Poirots and Marples with their glorious costumes, arch celeb cameos and melodramatic reveals. This is following tradition.
The production team have gone forward 30 years, turning Christie’s 1922 espionage story The Secret Adversary into a Cold War yarn that takes Walliams’s Tommy and his wife Tuppence (Jessica Raine) into the austerity years of the 1950s.
It’s a silly cartoonish plot, featuring a missing woman, a suspected Soviet assassin and the involvement of Tommy’s Uncle, Spy Master Major Anthony Carter, who is played by James Fleet, an actor best known for performing as hapless buffoons in things like The Vicar of Dibley and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
This is all a bit silly. But you can’t help feeling that it’s meant to be.
The Secret Adversary is the first of two stories (each three episodes long, in a six-part series) and scriptwriter Zinnie Harris has embellished it with a much greater sense of Tommy and Tuppence as a married couple than in Christie’s novels.
Tommy is much more of a klutz than in the books, and a lot is made of his failed wartime service (he was invalided out after being hit by a delivery van – embarrassing or what?).
There is a sense, too, that his failings have affected things in the bedroom department, judging by Tommy’s response to Tuppence’s innocent use of the word “rampant”.
“A rampant something would be nice,” he mutters under his breath.
See, I said it was cheeky.
The production values are high, certainly, and the ensemble acting work is very good. I particularly liked the casting of Clarke Peters from The Wire as a rich American trying to find his lost cousin. In a drama that doesn’t take itself entirely seriously, you can spring these sort of surprises and they work.
Call the Midwife’s Jessica Raine clearly enjoys the freedoms of the part, which involves a lot of scampering about, costume changes and broad brush performing. She’s perfect for this.
Whether it will work as well as Suchet’s Poriot or the various Marple incarnations ITV has brought us… well, that depends on your taste for absurdist camp. Personally speaking, this rather won me over.
Partners in Crime continues on BBC1 on Sundays at 9pm