Not as eccentric as Poirot and Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence are nevertheless immediately likeable, and perfectly cast in this 1980 - 1982 TV series with Francesca Annis and James Warwick, reprising their successful collaboration from the 1980 realization of Christie's "Why Didn't They Ask Evans?" Taking its title from the second entry in the Beresford cycle, originally only the short stories contained in "Partners in Crime" were developed for television; "The Secret Adversary," although set earlier in the literary originals' sequence and providing critical background information on the couple's friendship, was only adapted as a feature film two years later. (Fortunately, the original order is restored in this video and DVD release.)
Although "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" had already proved Christie to be a writer of exceptional talent, her first Tommy and Tuppence adventures - penned for financial reasons as much as out of a desire to write - still show her style as a work in progress, sometimes lacking certainty as to what exactly works in terms of characterization and storylines. While she succeeds, like in the first Poirot mystery, to immediately draw in her audience, and the Beresfords are presented in as much detail as the little Belgian with the many gray cells, the plotlines - particularly that of "The Secret Adversary" - sometimes stretch credibility and have a whiff of the kind of story that Arthur Conan Doyle could get away with 20 years earlier, but which Christie herself (wisely) only took up infrequently later (and generally with more solidly constructed plotlines and often with Poirot as the main character). Thus, if the televised versions of these early Tommy and Tuppence stories appear somewhat less convincing than the subsequent, more acclaimed adaptations of Christie's Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries, this is at least partly owing to the literary originals themselves: The creators of the TV series reproduced the mysteries' "swinging Twenties" setting successfully and with a fine eye for detail; and Francesca Annis and James Warwick give terriffic performances as the vivacious, hat-loving Tuppence and her (almost) equally witty, slightly more settled husband.
Tommy and Tuppence's boisterous young assistant Alfred is portrayed by Reece Dinsdale (best known, since, as Guildenstern in Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet" and D.I. Scott in the mid-1990s British cop show "Thief Takers"); and there are recurrent appearances by British TV regular Arthur Cox as Detective Inspector Marriott, in the televised version chiefly responsible for establishing the couple as owners of Blunt's International Detective Agency (in the books, the agency is a cover for the Beresfords' spy activities), who informally continues to consult them whenever he feels that Scotland Yard's official capacities have reached their limits.
"The Secret Adversary" sees Tommy and Tuppence after the end of WWI, both out of work (Tommy has been an intelligence officer, Tuppence a nurse) and looking for adventure. That opportunity presents itself when, as a result of two newspaper ads, they are sent on the hunt for a lost treaty which, if published now, would cause a general strike and throw the country into turmoil, thus playing into the hands of a mysterious criminal known only as "Mr. Brown," and set on nothing less than the attainment of absolute power. The key to the treaty is believed to lie with a young American woman named Jane Finn, who has likewise disappeared and whose cousin Julius P. Hersheimer (or is he really?), Tommy and Tuppence learn, is "the third richest man in America." - Further notable appearances here include those of Alec McCowen (influential barrister Sir James Peele Edgerton), Gavan O'Herlihy (Hersheimer), Peter Barkworth (intelligence chief Carter) and Honor Blackman, as well as George Baker of "Inspector Wexford" fame, as members of "Mr. Brown"'s gang.
The shorter "Partners in Crime" mysteries have Tommy and Tuppence hunting for a vanished perl and uncovering, in turn, the mastermind behind a string of poisonings (drawing on Christie's trademark knowledge acquired when she was a nurse in WWI herself), the culprit of a murder during a masked ball, and the evil spirits responsible for a series of seemingly unearthly occurrences in an old house (again drawing on Christie's own experience, as the sleuthing couple's client is compelled - like Christie's mother periodically - to rent out rooms in her large house as a means of survival). The common trait of these mysteries is Tommy and Tuppence's repeated assumption of the roles of famous literary detectives; most obviously by attending the aforementioned masked ball disguised as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
While not quite on the level of Christie's more famous mysteries and their recent TV adaptations, this series is an enjoyable romp through the the swinging 1920s' London. And who knows - maybe 20+ years after its initial airing we'll see a realization of one of Tommy and Tuppence's later adventures? Annis and Warwick might be about the right age for "N or M" now ... or even better, "By the Pricking of My Thumbs," which unlike the earlier mysteries easily stands up with the best of Christie's other works!
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