Why Didn't They Ask Evans? review: Hugh Laurie makes Agatha Christie look easy
A lesser-spotted Agatha Christie is always welcome. After a glut of Poirot adaptations and in the lull before Miss Marple returns to television, BritBox is serving up Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? as an Easter treat. (Yes, it’s frustrating for non-BritBox subscribers that this three-parter isn’t on terrestrial TV. Far be it from me to tell you that the streaming service offers a seven-day free trial, during which you could watch this show and fit in Brideshead Revisited for good measure...)
Christie’s story was published in 1934 and features two amateur sleuths, Bobby Jones and Lady Frances “Frankie” Derwent. It has been adapted here by Hugh Laurie, who also gives himself a small part as a sinister clinician. Of course it’s a whodunit, but there is another tantalising question to be answered. In the Welsh village of Marchbolt, Jones finds a dying man at the foot of the cliff. With his last gasp, the mystery victim utters the words of the title. What can they mean?
Plotwise, this isn’t one of Christie’s finest. It is convoluted and coincidence-packed. The script differs in places from the book, and once or twice I found myself wondering how on earth the characters had deduced something from nothing. But it is buoyed along by two delightful performances, from Will Poulter as Bobby, the good-natured vicar’s son, and Lucy Boynton as Frankie, his childhood friend. They have a lively chemistry, with Boynton in flirtatious form and allowed to deploy the comic talents that were kept firmly under wraps in The Ipcress File.
Laurie ably balances the tone of the piece, keeping things light in the scenes between Poulter and Boynton but adding notes of menacing strangeness when required. The comedy wins out. Christie seemed to be having great fun with her dialogue, not least in the choice of name for the title. “Do you know anyone called Evans?” a relative of the deceased asks. “We’re in Wales,” replies Bobby.
Notable comic actors pop up in supporting roles: Emma Thompson hamming it up (perhaps a little too much) as Frankie’s mother, Jim Broadbent playing her eccentric husband, and Paul Whitehouse in fine form as a pub landlord.
The action moves between Wales, London and Hampshire as Frankie dreams up foolhardy schemes to track down the killer. There is no grand, Poirot-style denouement with a clutch of suspects assembled in a room. In truth, the identity of the murderer doesn’t seem to matter all that much.
It is the relationship between the leads that keeps the thing going, and I’m only sad that Christie didn’t write more mysteries for them to solve.