In these sparkling new BBC adaptations of two Christie novels, David Walliams (Little Britain) and Jessica Raines (Call the Midwife) portray the endearing pair whose quiet lives are upended by a chance encounter on a Paris train. In The Secret Adversary, they search for a missing woman and a recording that could unmask a Soviet hit man. In N or M? they must discover which person at a seaside guesthouse has stolen a nuclear bomb. Each thrilling adventure abounds with humor, international espionage, visual flair, and chic period fashion.
Along with James Fleet (Four Weddings and a Funeral) as Tommy's enigmatic uncle, guest stars include Clarke Peters (The Wire), Alice Krige (Tyrant), Ed Speleers (Downton Abbey), and Roy Marsden (P.D. James mysteries).
"Honestly Tuppence, you'll chase communists, killers, and spies but you're still afraid of the dark?"
"I am not afraid of the dark!"
Every now and again, it's just nice to sit back and watch something fun for the sake of genuine enjoyment. While film and television can - and in some cases should be - considered art, not everything needs to be artistic and speak to the state of the human condition in order to be appreciated. Sometimes, fun is fun and that's all a film or a series needs to be. Acorn and the BBC's new series 'Agatha Christie's Partner's in Crime' is a mystery/spy series about a pair of bumbling husband and wife wannabe detectives that are just pure fun to watch from start to finish. You're not meant to turn your brain off, but you're not exactly meant to overthink the series either.
Bees were all that was on Tommy Beresford (David Walliams) and his wife Tuppence's (Jessica Raine) minds. Their fortune rests with the success of their new apiary. As they aim to sell delicious golden honey for a living, they're in need of a queen bee to get the whole venture going. After traveling all the way out to farm fields in France, they're on their way home with their precious cargo. A quick train stop in Paris and a ferry across the channel and they'll be in business, or so they think. As luck would have it, adventure and excitement sit down right across from them in the form of the mysterious Jane Finn (Camilla Beeput). Not long after a man is shot and killed in an adjacent train carriage and Jane goes missing leaving her diary behind for Tuppence to dig into.
As the bee hives begin to prove a bust for the Beresford family, Tuppence encourages Tommy to seek employment with his uncle Carter (James Fleet). The problem is Tommy's bumbling reputation precedes him and Carter finds it difficult to believe that Tommy would be a good fit in the intelligence/counterintelligence world. And that would have been the final word on the matter if Tuppence hadn't gotten curious about an entry in Jane Finn's diary. After checking on an address that leads her to an off-license gambling establishment, Tuppence and Tommy are thrown into a world of international intrigue and spycraft they are ill-suited and untrained to handle. Using only their wits and grit, they run head-on into an exciting career - one that may be even more deadly than anything they've read in mystery novels!
The numerous works of Agatha Christie have proven time and again to be great sources of entertainment. From Miss Marple to Hercule Poirot, Christie had a knack for making fun and entertaining lead characters that you wanted to follow through multiple mysteries, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford may not be as well known as Poirot or Marple, they were only featured in two novels and a collection of short stories, but they prove to be worthy "everyman" type heroes who find themselves thrown into a crazy world that, like the rest of us, they had only ever read about. The charm and fun of a series like 'Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime' come from the fact that the audience can very easily put themselves into the shoes of the main characters. While we can all fantasize about what we would do or could do in a dangerous situation, the reality of the matter is that we're basically bumbling cowards - and that's exactly how the Beresfords start out. They get in way over their head, panic like the rest of would do, and then have to figure a way out of the mess without making things worse, only usually it does get worse with suspenseful but entertaining results.
The series has transported the novels from the 1920s and planted them in the early 1950s cold war era. While some may get their dander up at the idea, it works in this sense since the cold war angle actually works to heighten the intrigue. The series itself is only six episodes, three episodes dedicated to the novel "The Secret Adversary" and the second set of three episodes given to "N or M?" allowing for the better part of three hours to tell each story in full. Admittedly, these really aren't the most challenging of mysteries and it could be why Christie only told a handful of stories about Tommy and Tuppence. Without giving anything away, I will admit that the resolutions feel like what you could expect from any given episode of "Castle" where the murderer or the mysterious villain is unmasked and it's simply a character of convenience rather than someone meaningful. That isn't to say that the show isn't worth watching, it absolutely is, it's just that I can see some viewers being disappointed with the outcomes. But then this show never feels like it's meant to challenge your wits or reasoning abilities. You're along for the ride as an inexperienced participant, much the same way the lead characters are.
To that end, it's the lead performances from Jessica Raine as Tuppence and David Walliams as Tommy that sell the show to its fullest. You have a wonderful sense throughout the show that these actors are very much like the characters they portray. Walliams has a deadpan humor to him that you can't quite tell if he is a complete knucklehead or if he's genuinely in over his head and simply trying to figure things out. Then you have Raine portraying Tuppence as a nosey inquisitive wife who reads too many murder mysteries. Often she's the one that gets them into trouble, but it's also because of her inquisitive nature that she's the one who is able to find the clear path to solving the case. It's a wonderful dynamic and the pair is right at home together. At their side delivering fine supportive performances is James Fleet as Uncle Carter, a man who is good at his job but may also be a bit too old or too dim for the severity of the task. Then you have the funny Matthew Steer as the mechanical wiz Albert and you have the base cast for a fine series. Like any entertaining show, you should never get tired of the cast and this is a series that keeps things interesting and fun for its leads at all times.
Will 'Agatha Christie's Partners In Crime' get a second series - or should it even for that matter? I would personally like to see more from this cast and crew - just for the fun of it all. This isn't a challenging piece of material in any way and it should stay that way. It's simple, better than average entertainment that is smartly written and well produced with excellent production values. If you're in the need of something a little more heady, that's why we also get 'Agatha Christie's Poirot' with David Suchet in the title role, or 'Agatha Christie's Marple' with the late Geraldine McEwan. With 'Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime,' there's now something for all audiences to enjoy, and I have to admit that I was thoroughly entertained throughout this series' first season.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Agatha Christie's Partners In Crime' arrives on Blu-ray from Acorn pressed onto two Region A BD50 discs. Housed in a standard two-disc case with identical slipcover, each disc opens to a series of previews for other Acorn releases and streaming services before arriving at the main menu. Extra features are spread out between both discs.
Acorn has delivered 'Agatha Christie's Partners In Crime' to Blu-ray with a very strong 1.78:1 1080p image presentation. Aside from some digital softness stemming from some need to mask some exteriors to match the early 1950s time period, the image is crisp, clean, and loaded with fine details to soak in. From the facial features and makeup to the costuming to the set design and production work - everything is left on the screen for the viewer to see and appreciate. Colors are genuinely on the warmer side of things with a slight golden hue to them, but when the individual stories get darker the color shifts towards blue/grey effortlessly. Flesh tones and primaries are spot on as everyone has a healthy-looking appearance. Black levels are rich and inky giving this entire series a wonderful sense of depth and three-dimensional pop. This is a well produced and expertly shot show from cinematographer David Higgs and this Blu-ray has a lot to show off.
'Agatha Christie's Partners In Crime' arrives with a very strong DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track for each episode. As a show about sleuths, spies, and international intrigue, this is a very subtle sound mix. Our heroes aren't people of dramatic action and the audio tracks for each episode echo that sentiment favoring subtlety over "in-your-face" explosive activity. Busier street and public scenes fair the best as there is a lot more activity going on so your surround channels get a more noticeable work out, but even in quiet scenes the sound design makes constant use of the sides and rear channels filling it with the score by Tim Phillips and with the softer background ambient effects. Dialogue is clean and easy to hear at all times. Levels are spot on and never an issue.
The Stylings of Partners in Crime: Fashioning the 1950s: (HD 31:48) Cast and crew talk about the focus of the fashions of the show and how they fit within the look and time period the show is intended to take place. Provides a great look at how the designs were intended to echo the look of stars like Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. This is actually a very fun and entertaining behinds the scenes look at the show, especially if costuming is your thing - or you happen to have a family member who is into it.
Time Out With Clarke Peters: (HD 24:48) The actor who plays Julius Hersheimmer in the first story "The Secret Adversary" offers some interesting insight to the show and what it was like working with the rest of the cast and crew.
Between the Pages: Behind the Scenes of 'Partners In Crime': (HD 57:32) Another great bit of behind the scenes content featuring the cast and crew talking about bringing the show together, changing the time periods while staying true to the nature of the source material, casting, etc. All around a solid bit of bonus content that's worth a look if you're a fan of the show.
Photo Gallery: (HD 1:32) A collection of behind the scenes set photos and stills during the production of the series.
When you need a break from challenging material, keep 'Agatha Christie's Partners In Crime' on your radar. Sure, it's not the best show to ever come from the BBC, but it certainly is entertaining and a good way to distract yourself for an hour or two at a time. Having two of Agatha Christie's stories spread out over six episodes like this also helps because you only need to watch three to get the story, you don't have to commit to multiple hours to get the whole thing. Acorn has done a fantastic job bringing this series to Blu-ray with a first-rate A/V presentation as well as some genuinely interesting in-depth extras that are worth watching. Recommended.