For almost a decade now, Agatha Christie on the small screen has been taking a turn for the dark, the meditative and the experimental. Led deftly by screenwriter Sarah Phelps, we've seen gritty adaptations of lesser known stories such as The Pale Horse and Ordeal by Innocence - even Poirot became an obsolete, suffering outcast in The ABC Murders. These have been daring, risky adaptations and for the most part have received critical praise for their inventiveness.


However... sometimes all you want from a Christie adaptation is a good old-fashioned caper, with quips, car chases and intrigue. Enter Hugh Laurie, who pulls triple-duty as writer, director and actor for BritBox's new series Why Didn't They Ask Evans?, an adaptation of the 1934 novel.

Will Poulter stars as Bobby Jones, a vicar's son and former naval officer who happens upon a dying man at the bottom of a cliff. With his dying breath, the man asks a question - "Why didn't they ask Evans?" Cue a cross-country journey, undercover detective work and a shadowy conspiracy, as Bobby teams up with his old friend Frankie (Lucy Boynton) to discover how the man died and just what his final question alluded to.

Will Poulter, Lucy Boynton and the cast of Why didn't they ask Evans
The cast of Why Didn't They Ask Evans? BritBox

Poulter and Boynton make for a likeable, charming and dynamic double act, bouncing off each other with a natural chemistry. Bobby is loyal, reserved and noble, while Frankie is smart, excitable and witty. The pair are perfectly cast, as Poulter's performance betrays a toughness beneath his amiable disposition, while Boynton lights up every scene she's in with a sparkling, quick energy.

Laurie's direction is competent and unobtrusive, with his acting background shining through as he allows the performances to take precedence over camera trickery or structural experimentation. That said, the series looks gorgeous, having been shot on location in Surrey and the Gower Peninsula during summer. The sight of sun-dappled cliffs and opulent country houses will never not be appealing, and combined with some excellent set-design and costuming, makes for an old-school visual treat.

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If there's one thing this series and Sir Kenneth Branagh's recent Death on the Nile have in common, it's that they both prove where Christie's novels are concerned, the stars will seemingly always come out to play. Here we have a supporting cast of big-name actors including Dame Emma Thompson, Jim Broadbent, Paul Whitehouse, Conleth Hill and Laurie himself.

It's an embarrassment of riches, particularly from a comedy standpoint, and with the stars placed in strategically small yet memorable roles, their appearances never detract from the story at large. Instead, Thompson, Broadbent and Whitehouse help to keep the tone light, while Hill and Laurie play into more dramatic and sinister developments.

The series clips along at a well-judged pace, taking its time to develop the central relationship and character dynamics while also making sure there are enough thrills, spills and action beats to keep mystery fans engaged. And even if the resolution isn't the strongest from Christie's oeuvre (it's more an "ah" than a "what?!" and subsequent character beats feel somewhat rushed), the journey is the real highlight here, and viewers are unlikely to come away feeling short-changed.

Why Didn't They Ask Evans? may not be particularly innovative or groundbreaking, but it didn't need to be. Instead it's a well-told story with an all-star cast on top form, gloriously lush costumes, set design and visuals and more than enough twists and turns to keep things engaging. If you're looking for a cosy evening in front of the TV, you could do a lot worse.

Why Didn't They Ask Evans? is available on BritBox now – you can sign up for a 7-day free BritBox trial here. Check out our Drama hub for more news, interviews and features or find something to watch with our TV Guide.


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