Agatha Christie’s Marple: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2009) is another of these rewrites — a task which, this time fell to Patrick Barlow. So how did he do? Well, from his point of view, he was starting from near the bottom of the barrel. No matter how you view the Christie canon, this is not one of her best works. Rather it’s one of these romance-tinged mysteries which has a couple of bright young things investigating skullduggery and coming out of the experience deeply in love. I think the kindest thing anyone can say of this early work is that it’s best left in relative obscurity. However, by changing things around to introduce Miss Marple, it’s possible to rescue the leaking plot, give it some cohesion, and raise the general standard of the mystery to solve. Watching the result proves the old adage that not everything that’s possible may actually be achieved.
Let’s start with the set-up. Somewhat extraordinarily, the young man with time on his hands is first seen walking along the cliff top in full childhood mode. He’s playing cowboys and indians (although, given the relocation in time to the 1950s, I suppose he could be pretending to be a heroic Tommy). Either way, he’s using his fingers as guns and, at one time, is himself shot and falls down clutching his stomach. Unkindly, I was forming the impression this was a character in need of psychiatric assistance when he metamorphosed into Bobby Attfield (Sean Biggerstaff) because, attracted by faint cries not emanating from the circling gulls, he looks over the cliff edge and sees the body of a man on a ledge. Climbing down, he receives the fatal question forming the title to the book.
At this point, I need to make a minor detour through my own recollections of the time. Yes, by modern standards, it was remarkably amateurish. But if there was an unnatural death, an inquest would be held and our cowboy Tommy would be called. If he did not turn up to give evidence, questions would be asked. Put this the other way round. He was expecting to be called and, when the letter arrived, he set off, meeting Frankie Derwent (Georgia Moffett) on the train. She comes with him and they find the nominated building closed. So they just shrug their shoulder and go home? That’s not credible. They would hammer on the door of the building or go round to the nearest police station to find where the inquest is being held. They are socially responsible and intelligent people. If a mistake has been made, they would want to put it right. This fundamental plotting error is the first of an endless series that ends up in one of the worst examples of potboiling melodrama it has been my misfortune to see for years.
I will spare you the catalogue of catastrophe. Suffice it to say that very little of what we see on screen makes any sense or allows us to see an investigation into the sequence of events that occurred six months earlier. Let me put it to you fairly and squarely. If Miss Marple is going to be able to reconstruct what happened in a house she’s never visited involving people she’s never met, how can she do it unless she physically goes there and talks with those people? The answer provided by this adaptation is that she can have perfect twenty-twenty hindsight without have any beforesight, if you catch my meaning. Apart from the killer(s), this Miss Marple does not meet with anyone who could possibly have told her what happened. We’re supposed to accept she could infer events from seeing the will. None of this rubbish about motive and opportunity. No grilling of witnesses. This is the ultimate rabbit from a hat without the intervention of a magician.
So apart from changing virtually everything without improving the outcome, can anything good be said about the production? I loved the old house they used as a setting for the larger part of the action. If you’re going to have people eavesdropping and lurking in shadows, you need the right place to do it and this house was absolutely perfect. Despite being given very silly things to do, the cast was unusually restrained and quietly impressive (except during the climactic denouement where all intelligence was abandoned. If you’re going to have a group of people pretend that any one or more of them could be murderers, they all have to look deeply suspicious and yet normal in a surreal kind of way. Without exception, this was done brilliantly. It didn’t matter which of them was guilty of the murder(s), they were all enjoyable to watch. As to Julia McKenzie, this was the first time I actually felt she was a good version of Miss Marple. She hid behind her knitting and was quietly sitting unobserved in odd corners as “things” went on around her. She was also more effectively proactive in protecting the two lovers in their naive efforts to solve the crime. As a final thought about the ending (ignoring the two love birds skipping off into the sunset, of course), it’s rare to have a whodunnit end with two of the “innocent” members of the cast under arrest for the murder of the murderer(s). Without wishing to spoil all the “excitement” you might derive from watching it, we have a quite deliberate execution scene. Although a good argument might have been made for self-defence, what actually happens is a deliberate act going far beyond what’s actually needed to protect the person under attack. I fear a mandatory life sentence would be required for these last minute killers. So Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? has a dire plot but a not unenjoyable piece of acting in spectacularly appropriate locations. This series is proving a disaster of unmitigated proportions.
For reviews of other Agatha Christie stories and novels, see:
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2004) — the first three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2005) — the second set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2006) — the third set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2007) — the final set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Blue Geranium (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Caribbean Mystery (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Endless Night (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Greenshaw’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Murder is Easy (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Pale Horse (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye (2008)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Secret of Chimneys (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: They Do It with Mirrors (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Big Four (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Case of the Missing Will (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Chocolate Box (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Clocks (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain. Poirot’s Last Case (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Mirror (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Elephants Can Remember (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Hallowe’en Party (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Labours of Hercules (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Three Act Tragedy (2011)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Underdog (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Yellow Iris (1993)