TV miniseries review: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (Britbox, 2022)
tl;dr: Memorable murders in sumptuous scenery.
Vicar’s son Bobby Jones (Will Poulter) is out caddying for Dr Thomas (Conleth Hill) on a golf course somewhere on the Welsh coast when they hear a scream. Looking over the cliff edge, a man is on the ground below. Bobby goes down to check on him, and the stranger utters the words “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” before passing away from his injuries. “Ask him what? Who’s this Evans person?” thinks Bobby, who becomes almost haunted by the woman on a photograph (Maeve Dermody) he finds in the man’s pocket.
At the inquest a woman (Morwenna Banks) shows up to say she’s the dead man’s sister, and that she’s the woman in the picture. She may be the woman in the picture printed by the newspapers, but she’s not the woman in the photo Bobby saw. Why is there a stoney-faced man (Nicholas Asbury) staring him down? And why does the dead man’s sister and her husband (Richard Dixon) show up at the vicarage so interested in if there were any last words?
Bobby’s childhood friend, the vivacious Lady Frances “Frankie” Derwent (Lucy Boynton), shows up like a whirlwind in the village, and she thinks it’s all a tremendous mystery. They ought to look into the clues, try and solve it. It would be jolly good fun. So why does it seem like someone is desperate to getting Bobby out of the way?
Originally shown on streaming service Britbox last year, this adaptation of the 1934 Agatha Christie novel was written and directed Hugh Laurie, who also plays the part of Dr James Nicholson. In what’s basically a cameo, albeit a memorable one, British acting royalty Jim Broadbent and Emma Thompson show up as Frankie’s parents, Lord and Lady Marcham. Paul Whitehouse shows up as an innkeeper, and I was half expecting his character to deliver a Fast Show catchphrase – which didn’t happen for obvious reasons.
The great thing is that while this is only a three episode series of around 80 minutes each (as aired here in the UK, in some other places it’s aired as four shorter episodes), it tells the story without skimping on details. I haven’t read Agatha Christie since I was a teenager, so I don’t remember whether I’ve read it or not, and couldn’t tell you any details even if I had, so I don’t know how close it is to the original novel, but at the very least it doesn’t feel rushed. It also doesn’t feel like any part is superfluous. If it was done as a film, I could see the bit set in the stately home of the Bassington-ffrench family (Daniel Ings, Amy Nuttall, Miles Jupp) being cut down considerably, for instance, but it never stops being interesting.
Poulter and Boynton make a good team. Bobby is brooding but without being ridiculous, and Frankie is privileged and lively without being obnoxious, although she veers close to it a few times. Alistair Petrie is sympathetic as the Reverend Jones, and the inability of someone to play the church organ is a bit of a running gag. Points to Jonathan Jules for his portrayal of Bobby’s friend/shipmate/business partner “Knocker” who feels like he should have had a bigger part than he does.
In this household we like watching whodunnits, and Agatha Christie stories in particular, and this was no exception. It’s engaging, well acted, well scripted, beautiful scenery, and maybe they’re not quite with the 1930s lingo but on the other hand it’s probably more accessible to a modern audience because they’re not all “toodle pip, old chap, what what”.
Oh, yeah, this is one of Christie’s stories that feature neither Miss Marple nor Poirot, hence why there’s no mention of them.
4.7 out of 5 fountain pens.