Saturday, 1 August 2015


This article was originally published in The Courier on Saturday 1st August 2015.

Agatha Christie's Partners In Crime: Sunday, BBC One

Life In Squares: Monday, BBC Two

Paul Whitelaw

Though never as popular as Poirot and Marple, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford were fond favourites of their creator Agatha Christie. She first introduced these happily married sleuths in 1922 and returned to them sporadically throughout her career. Their final appearance was in the last novel published before her death in 1973.

The Tommy and Tuppence canon is slim, however, hence why it's rarely been adapted for television. So, seeing as Poirot and Marple have been milked dry, no wonder the BBC have turned to the Beresfords for one more squeeze of the udder.

The first thing you notice about Agatha Christie's Partners In Crime is how expensive it looks. That £6m budget is visible in every vintage car, costume and immaculately dressed location. But these glossy trimmings can't compensate for the second thing you notice: there is zero chemistry between David Walliams and Jessica Raine as Tommy and Tuppence.

Walliams has shown in the past that he's a decent dramatic actor, but he looks painfully ill at ease here. Then again, even the world's greatest Thesp might struggle with such a poorly written role.

By rights, we should regard Tommy as a charming idler who gradually overcomes his natural cowardice by plunging into danger alongside his intrepid wife. But he comes across in this adaptation as such a soggy bore, it's no wonder Tuppence looks so exasperated with him. Their adventures are supposed to be a thrilling escape from their aimless existence, not from their marriage. A few flashes of warmth aside, they don't even seem to like each other very much.

Raine fares better as Tuppence, whose thirst for adventure drives the plot. Ably assisted by a bevy of attractive hats, she plays her with a kind of prim seriousness that occasionally bubbles over into breathless enthusiasm. It's telling that the best scenes involve her investigating the case alone. But she's got no chance of injecting any spark into her scenes with Walliams.

Even moments which should play to his comic strengths – e.g. Tommy being propositioned by prostitutes – are played monotonously straight. It's as if he's deliberately acting against his natural instincts, to prove there's more to him than camp tomfoolery. All he's proved is there's less.

However, despite his flat performance, the show does work in places. It wisely obeys one of the cardinal comic-thriller rules, namely that the villains must be genuinely threatening. Indeed, Partners In Crime is surprisingly violent at times, but that just adds to the zippy sense of peril. If the villains weren't authentically nasty, then we wouldn't buy into the central conceit of two ordinary people being dangerously out of their depth.

It also clatters along in a busy riot of twists and clues, so much so that the plot almost doesn't matter. While that may irk Christie purists, it does at least result in a fairly enjoyable piece of Sunday night escapism. You'll barely remember a thing about it afterwards – Walliams looks lost during it – but it passes time agreeably enough. So that's £6m well spent, then.

A more modest affair, Life In Squares is an intriguing period drama about the Bloomsbury Set, that radical group of intellectuals who cocked a snook – and more besides – at the strictures of Victorian England.

It's an elegantly claustrophobic meditation on sex and art as intensely entwined bedfellows, as Virginia Woolf and her artist sister Vanessa fight to establish independence years ahead of their time. An intelligently written, subtly performed and beautifully photographed slow-burner with occasional flashes of fire. 

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