People who only have a passing knowledge of Agatha Christie's body of work may be surprised that she penned recurring sleuths other than Hercule Poirot and Miss Marples. Her third most prolific mystery solvers are Tommy & Tuppence Beresford, and they happen to be my top choice of all of Christie's clue wranglers. On television, in 1982, these perfectly amiable amateur detectives-in-love made their mark with BBC's delightful television film adaptation of THE SECRET ADVERSARY, a recounting of their first ever caper. In 1983, BBC aired the PARTNERS IN CRIME series which adapted Christie's second Tommy & Tuppence novel (or anthology, to be more accurate). The inclusion of these Tommy & Tuppence adventures is why I snapped up this DVD collection.
AGATHA CHRISTIE'S ROMANTIC DETECTIVES is pretty sweet. It treats us to 7 discs rife with baffling mysteries and jolly escapades staged as British period pieces. The production values convincingly steep the viewer in the backdrop of early 20th century England. You're in for a treat, especially if you favor the flapper era. As mentioned, this set, on four (of the seven) discs, presents THE SECRET ADVERSARY and the PARTNERS IN CRIME episodes (10 in total, each ep around 50 minutes long). And for dessert, the final three discs provide television film adaptations of two other Christie classics, WHY DIDN'T THEY ASK EVANS? and SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY, as well as the BBC biopic AGATHA CHRISTIE: A LIFE IN PICTURES.
But you'll pardon me, I hope, as I mostly talk up Tommy & Tuppence.
Unlike Christie's more somber stories, these particular mysteries are distinguished by a lighter tone. The common thread here is the presence of actors Franscesca Annis and James Warwick. They bring to life, respectively, the mischievous, inquisitive Tuppence and the steady, sensible Tommy. Their spirited partnering produces a steady dose of amusing verbal jousting. They keep on trading these naughty half-smiles.
The DVD package is titled AGATHA CHRISTIE'S ROMANTIC DETECTIVES, and these features don't play us false. There's the all-important whodunit aspect, yes, but there's also the romantic element. Tommy and Tuppence's romance is a bubbly, effervescent thing. This sophisticated English couple bring the sexy, and the offhanded comic timing, and an appealing air of self-mockery. Tommy and Tuppence Beresford would feel entirely at home hobnobbing with Nick and Nora Charles. And not only do Annis and Warwick share a marvelous, playful chemistry as the Beresfords, but they're equally engaging as sudden sleuths Lady Frankie Derwent and Bobby Jones in their earlier collaboration WHY DIDN'T THEY ASK EVANS? (first aired, 1980). And, if you haven't had enough of James Warwick, he shows up again in THE SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY (1981).
THE SECRET ADVERSARY begins in the aftermath of the first world war. It finds longtime chums Tommy and Tuppence renewing acquaintances. Being two young things down on their luck, they decide, on a whim, to engage in a joint venture. They place an ad in the paper, keening for adventure, and promptly reel in a case, the gist of which has them striving to unearth the mysterious Jane Finn, who may have in her possession a secret treaty of which publication could destroy England. But opposing Tommy and Tuppence is the brilliant criminal mastermind, Mr. Brown, who could be anyone and be anywhere. I have loved many an Agatha Christie mystery. For sheer likability, THE SECRET ADVERSARY sits very near the pinnacle.
I love the short story collection, PARTNERS IN CRIME, near as much. In its opening salvo, "The Affair of the Pink Pearl," several years have elapsed since the events of THE SECRET ADVERSARY, and Tuppence Beresford is bored, bored, bored. She longs for adventure, or as her patient hubby Tommy puts it: "This craving for vulgar sensation alarms me." But, for the Beresfords, the doldrums are soon over as, for a six month trial period, they get a crack at running a down-and-out private detective agency, interchangeably called Blunt's Detective Agency or the International Detective Agency.
In the book version of PARTNERS IN CRIME, each short story involves Tommy and Tuppence applying an investigative method favored by a (at the time) well-known literary sleuth. This conceit isn't as relevant in the TV adaptation, but there's still a whiff of good-natured parody lurking about in several episodes. So, for example, we glimpse a glimmer of Sherlock Holmes in "The Case of the Missing Lady" and Father Brown in "The Man in the Mist." In "The Sunningdale Mystery" the Beresfords do a bit of armchair detecting ala Baroness Orczy's the Old Man in the Corner, and in "The House of Lurking Death," A.E.W. Mason's ingenious French Inspector Hanaud (of course, you remember him!) is channeled. What fun! By the way, young Reece Dinsdale does very well as the exuberant, cinema-obsessed Albert, erstwhile bellboy become the Beresfords' butler.
I only wish they'd adapted N OR M? as well.
On to the rest of the DVD set, briefly: In 1980's very watchable WHY DIDN'T THEY ASK EVANS? - which featured the first pairing of Annis and Warwick - Bobby Jones (James Warwick) finds at the bottom of a cliff a dying man who, before expiring, bemusedly wonders: "Why didn't they ask Evans?" This twisty mystery showcases Annis and Warwick as amateur sleuths who become embroiled in mixed identities, poisoning, and, naturally, murder most foul.
1981's lighthearted thriller, THE SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY, stars Cheryl Campbell as Lady Eileen "Bundle" Brent, a curious girl who stumbles across a nefarious secret society. But she gets ready assistance from suave man-about-town Jimmy Thesiger (Warwick). John Gielgud, by the way, happens to be perfectly wonderful as Bundle's indulgent father. Campbell is fine as "Bundle," although I've a sneaking suspicion that Annis would've blown her out of the water. And if you're of a mind to meet a Christie detective even further under a rock than the Beresfords, then you're in luck. Superintendent Battle is sniffing around in this one.
If nothing else, the ratings success of both WHY DIDN'T THEY ASK EVANS? and THE SEVEN DIALS MYSTERY led to the commissioning of THE SECRET ADVERSARY and PARTNERS IN CRIME.
Lastly AGATHA CHRISTIE: A LIFE IN PICTURES makes for interesting... somewhat serviceable... okay, ponderous viewing. It narrates in flashback a bizarre period in the life of Agatha Christie (played by Olivia Williams and Anna Massie) in which she went missing for eleven days, her disappearance giving rise to mass media furor and wild speculation. But I wasn't feeling this one.