by Kathleen Costa
ACORN-TV provides hundreds of the best programming options including news & reviews, mysteries, dramas, comedies, documentaries, foreign language, feature films, and some programs only available on Acorn-TV. Currently there is a free trial, but the regular monthly or annual subscription fees seem reasonable. With hours of commercial-free streaming enjoyment for the true fan of UK productions, you won’t be wondering, “What’s on tonight?”
Premiering next Monday, January 30, Acorn-TV is exclusively featuring the universally acclaimed ACORN-TV and BBC 2016 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Witness for the Prosecution.
In 1925, Agatha Christie initially published in Flynn’s Weekly a short story called “Traitor Hands.” She would publish it a few additional times including in 1948 in a US collection called The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories. The original story ended abruptly, and over time she became dissatisfied calling into question her desire for justice to be portrayed. In rewriting the short story as a play, Christie was able to add characters and rework the ending to her and the audience’s satisfaction. In 1958, the play was adapted for the screen by Billy Wilder with Charles Laughton (nominated for an Academy award), Tyrone Power (his final completed film), and Marlene Dietrich. The film was met with many accolades, and the story used as influence for many courtroom dramas.
In 2016, Acorn-TV and BBC’s remake of this classic was presented in a 2-episode mini series on BBC, but it is based more on the original short story than the theatrical or cinematic versions. The backdrop of 1923, post-WWI, adds another layer of complexity to the story and characters. Leonard Vole is a soldier having returned to England disillusioned by the fact that there was no hero’s welcome, rose-covered cottages, and pockets of money for having sacrificed so much in the name of country. Romaine Heilger, herself a survivor of the war, is a chorus girl snubbed by her peers…Austrian, German, is there a difference? Emily French, a very wealthy middle-aged widow, refuses to give in to the conventions of marriage and mediocrity choosing instead to use her money in the pursuit of young men. Janet McIntyre, Emily’s maid, whose devout loyalty appears more sinister and controlling. John Mayhew, Leonard’s solicitor, is himself struggling with the loss of his son in the war and his wife’s indifference. The scene is set. The brutal murder exposes betrayal, fear, and astonishing truths.
Leonard Vole (Billy Howle) is accused of the brutal murder of Emily French (Kim Cattrall) with whom he has had a paid relationship, but he adamantly professes his innocence. The prosecution presents their case that Vole, after learning he had been made the sole beneficiary of Emily’s considerable fortune, premeditates the murder. Further complicating his innocence is the maid (Monica Dolan) testifying she witnessed Vole exiting the house immediately before discovering the body. Vole’s council is then blindsided by the betrayal of Romaine Heilger (Andrea Riseborough) believed to be Vole’s wife. They learn she and Vole were never officially married and her anger over learning about Vole’s relationship with Emily French, prompts her to change her testimony that would have corroborated Vole’s alibi. Is a guilty verdict a foregone conclusion?
Not so fast. Vole’s solicitor John Mayhew (Toby Jones) maintains his belief in his client’s innocence. He has subsequently discovered secrets calling into question Romaine’s credibility and the maid’s motives, if not her own alibi, that could easily support reasonable doubt. The courtroom erupts into gasps of surprise when Vole’s council presents their evidence refuting the prosecution’s case. Vole is released on a not guilty verdict, but the question of who murdered Emily French is still unanswered. Will justice be left to Karma or does Mayhew have evidence to bring the killer forward?
I was absolutely engaged and highly recommend this incarnation of Agatha Christie’s original story. The setting of post WWI added a gritty element, and although Billy Howle was unknown to me as an actor, he and the entire cast were superb. The story expanded through brief flashbacks into Vole’s war experience and how he met Romaine, along with glimpses into the troubling relationship between Meyhew and his wife. But, Monica Dolan is brilliant as the maid often bordering on psychotic addiction as she tries to protect her lady from whom she views as an unscrupulous Leonard Vole. The suspense is often intensified by moments of relative silence where you see the drama but hear the ticking of a clock, music from the gramophone, or the meowing of a cat. The ending was satisfying, but left some elements up to my interpretation and imagination, but still fulfilling.
This production, airing exclusively on Acorn-TV as a movie instead of a mini-series as it aired on BBC, is well worth becoming a subscriber of ACORN-TV and enjoying the rest of their British and Canadian productions.
The Witness For the Prosecution earns 5/5 Agatha Christie Honors!
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This is definitely one of my favorite Christie stories with the twist and cliffhanger for which she is not always known. I also love “Evil Under the Sun” with Hercule Poirot and “The Mirror Crack’d Side to Side” with Miss Marple.
WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE AGATHA CHRISTIE STORY?
I didn’t get the Acorn TV subscription I asked for at Christmastime, so this clinches it–I’m going to shell out the money for myself. Thanks for the info!
Hey Amy…it didn’t seem to be that expensive, and I’ve noticed so many dramas, comedies, and movies that I’ve never seen along with reruns I can’t wait to enjoy again. Go for it!
Yes, wasn’t it good!
In 2015 there was touring stage production by Theatre Mill and RJS Productions, performed in York (UK) Guildhall and Leeds Civic Hall, both perfect settings for a courtroom drama.
Having seen the Leeds production and remembering the film, I sat down to watch wondering what new “take” there could be to justify a tv adaptation. Sarah Phelps’s script, highlighting the social context and the aftermath of war gave the production a new dimension.
Great insight, Frances! I was intrigued by how the setting acted like a character in the story adding greatly to the themes providing a better understanding of the reaction of the have-nots against the haves. I was very surprised by the ending having only the play and movie in my mind… It was very enjoyable and well worth a repeated look.
I promised myself I’d not turn on the television till I finished the draft of a story I’m working on. Then I read your review. The television is still off, but I’m sitting here with the remote within reach. Oh dear, oh dear, what to do now.
This particular version of Christie’s original story will be well worth taking a ‘little break’ from writing.
Good, pithy review. Very glad I have Acorn TV and looking forward to seeing this current production.
Have to say I am a big fan of the Charles Laughton/Tyrone Power film but really enjoy versions of these Christies that are closer to the original story. A case in point is the latest version of “And Then There Were None” which I loved.
Again Kathleen, enjoyed your review very much.
“Pithy” I love it …Thanks, Sharon.
I am extremely addicted to Acorn TV!