In celebration of the 125th anniversary of the birth of Agatha Christie the BBC have brought Christie’s crime-fighting husband-and-wife duo Tommy and Tuppence Beresford to Sunday nights.
With a strong cast led by David Walliams, playing Tommy, and Jessica Raine, playing Tuppence, Partners In Crime is a six-part series, adapting two of Christie’s stories, The Secret Adversary and N or M? This isn’t classic detective drama, but an espionage caper, where married couple Tommy and Tuppence find themselves as a fish-out-of-water detective duo mixed up in a dangerous mystery.
The first episode, part one of three of The Secret Adversary written by Zinnie Harris, opens in Paris in 1952 with Tommy and Tuppence boarding a London-bound train. Tommy is transporting precious cargo of a small box containing a Queen bee, to begin his entrepreneurial endeavour as a beekeeper, and Tuppence is carrying everything else. This opening image neatly sums up their married life, setting up the order that will be shaken by their adventures to follow.
Before the train has even left the station, as Tommy and Tuppence comfortably bicker and Tuppence eagerly tucks into Dorothy L Sayers’ ‘Strong Poison’, a chance encounter with an agitated woman, Jane Finn, and an unknown murder, begins Tommy and Tuppence’s heroes journey to find out what happened.
The rest of the episode is set in 1950’s London, with a backdrop of remaining World War II bombsites and a bruised city in the nursery years of the Cold War. This is one of the most apparent changes from Christie’s original 1920s story. Transposing the action to the Cold War of the 1950s has given the story an interesting new dimension, as Tommy and Tuppence’s marriage is already established and there’s an even greater sense of hunger for adventure-seeking Tuppence to be involved in something bigger than just her domestic life.
As Tommy, David Walliams brings a subtlety to the gung-ho and a bit left-footed husband, making an awkward anti-hero very watchable. But it’s Tuppence who is the real delight, and the driving force of the episode. Played brilliantly by Jessica Raine (Call The Midwife) Tuppence is inquisitive, intelligent, audacious and sparky, whilst retaining vulnerability despite her brave face. Tuppence’s curiosity in wanting to know what exactly happened on the train and trace the missing Jane Finn is what leads her and Tommy to be hired by Tommy’s Uncle and Third Floor bigwig, Major Anthony Carter.
Carter, played by the unusually not-bumbling James Fleet, has insider info that Jane Finn was carrying a secret recording that will reveal the identity of a legendary Soviet assassin, believed to be plotting a strike on England. Despite Carter’s attempts to keep them out of it, Tommy and Tuppence quickly find themselves embroiled in the assassin’s gang. It’s high stakes and heightened drama, as the two amateur sleuths embark on an adventure that neither one seem quite prepared for.
In true Christie style this opening episode has danger, mystery and humour, laced with a cosiness that makes it perfect Sunday night viewing. Plot-wise there’s spying, secrets, bombs and baddies – an unfolding mystery with strong central characters you want to spend time with and enough mysterious peripheral characters to leave you guessing who, what, where and why?
The end of the episode sees Tommy and Tuppence separated and both in a seriously dangerous fix of their own, making you sure to tune in next week to find out where Jane Finn has disappeared to and what the mysterious item she hid in the Queen bee’s box on the train at the start of the episode really is. But most of all you leave the first episode wanting more so that you can go along with Tuppence and Tommy for the ride. Anyone with a sense of adventure can’t help be hooked.
Did you tune in for Partners in Crime episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on Partners in Crime episode 2? Read Isla’s review of episode 1 here.
Episode 1 of Partners In Crime left Tommy and Tuppence both in a difficult fix of their own.
On the hunt of missing girl Jane Finn and a secret recording that promises to reveal the identity of a legendary Soviet assassin known only as ‘Mr. Brown’, episode two opens with husband Tommy being mistaken for a close ally of the assassin himself, and wife Tuppence undercover as a maid, complete with blonde wig, to faded soprano Rita Vandemeyer.
After a close shave where both guises narrowly miss being foiled, Tommy and Tuppence immerse themselves as undercover agents with, predictably, Tommy having more difficulties keeping up his chosen charade than Tuppence. The nervous awkwardness of Tommy in the lion’s dead of Brown’s gang is made even worse by the gang’s ‘safe house’ being in a Soho brothel. Not a natural home for Tommy. This is a nod to the playfulness of Agatha Christie’s characterisation, executed by a fittingly demure and clever performance from David Walliams.
Meanwhile, Tuppence takes to espionage like a duck to water, convinced of Rita’s involvement with Brown. This is secured by the arrival of a mysterious package from Brown himself. Rita immediately hides the package in a locked room, which spurs Tuppence to try and get into the room and find out what the package is.
Tuppence feels unleashed in this episode, growing in confidence as an intelligent, daring and resourceful secret agent and woman. Jessica Raine’s sparky portrayal and Zinnie Harris’ witty script acknowledge this, as Tommy asserts, “You are ingenious, you know that?” With a smile, Tuppence retorts “Getting into my stride”. She’s not wrong.
On hand to help Tommy and Tuppence out with anything that requires a certain degree of technical knowledge is Tommy’s old war friend Albert, played convincingly by Matthew Steer. Albert is just the kind of geek any amateur sleuth would want at their disposal. Albert’s technical capabilities make him a useful plot device, and it’s only mildly frustrating that he brings little more than convenient solutions, rather than any real conflict or drama.
Glimpses of 1950s London pepper the episode, with an anchoring mid point outside Kings Cross St Pancras station, a nice call-back to Paris’ Gare du Nord where Tommy and Tuppence’s journey started.
It’s here where Tommy and Tuppence hijack Drennan, the close ally of Mr. Brown whom Tommy has just about been getting away with impersonating. They stalk Drennan into a good old English boozer and spike his pint, buying enough time for the pair to go back undercover and follow their instinct, despite a direct order not to from Tommy’s Uncle Carter.
With Tommy back in the brothel and Tuppence back under the blonde wig pretence of the dutiful maid, the pace of the episode picks up. Tommy is certain the missing Jane Finn is being kept by Brown’s gang and Tuppence is certain Rita is in it up to her glottal.
The stakes are raised when both Tommy and Tuppence are discovered as imposters. Unbeknownst to each other, they’re both contained by Mr. Brown’s cohorts and threatened that they will be dealt with. It’s a much-needed crisis point – how will they get themselves out of this one?
Of course it’s quick-thinking Tuppence who makes a run for it, via a slightly whimpering big escape moment down a drainpipe, whilst Tommy is left bound in a basement with a hangman’s noose around his neck.
Do we really believe anyone’s going to string Tommy up and kick the chair away beneath him? Possibly not, but we go along with it to see where it takes our hapless hero next.
Which is one final plot twist away from the end of the episode, with Tuppence en route to save Tommy, albeit sidetracked suddenly by a mysterious discovery of her own, and Tommy blackmailed into switching loyalties.
These final moments make for a promising next episode, which will be the concluding part of the story. The hope is that Tommy and Tuppence are reunited to solve The Secret Adversary mystery together, as that’s when this pair are at their strongest, in their own clumsy but endearing way.
Did you tune in for Partners in Crime episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on Partners in Crime episode 3? Read Isla’s review of episode 2 here.
Episode 2 of Partners In Crime left Tommy blackmailed by Brown’s gang and Tuppence transfixed by a mysterious clue etched into a wall: Anassa. What could it mean?
The third and final part of The Secret Adversary, the first of two Agatha Christie stories re-imagined for the BBC as Partners In Crime, opens with Tuppence back in their marital home fretting over what’s become of Tommy, and a quaking Tommy held in the basement of a Soho brothel by Brown’s gang as they deliver their ultimatum. Tommy must steal a file from Military Intelligence, code name ‘Linden Tree’, or son George gets it.
Released to undertake his mission, Tommy is reunited with Tuppence, who immediately knows something’s up. After a failed attempt to steal the file on his own, Tuppence forces Tommy to confess what’s really going on. Tuppence takes matters into her own hands and before you know it, they’ve stolen the file and are on their way to hand it over to Brown’s gang.
There is much less stalling and much more action in this episode, giving both central characters purpose and urgency, as they work together to drive the narrative forward. As an audience we’re with them, invested in the journey they’ve been on so far, and eager for an action-packed and rewarding dénouement.
As soon as the file is handed over to Brown’s gang, Tommy is more than happy to retreat to their ‘normal’ life. When a mission to bug the car of one of Brown’s cohorts backfires, a reluctant Tuppence agrees to bow out with her husband. But, like every good crime villain, Brown has other ideas.
Tommy and Tuppence return to the safety of their home to find it ransacked – with a Greek language book belonging to missing girl, Jane Finn, open amongst the chaos. This leads them to make the connection that the word ‘Anassa’ is Greek, and was etched by Jane as a clue as to where the precious recording she hid is.
Of course as an audience we’ve known this all along, as we saw her hide it in the opening to episode one, and Tommy and Tuppence’s sudden realisation makes this plot point quite sticky. But does this mean Tommy and Tuppence have solved the mystery of who Brown really is? Not quite. But they know they’re close, and so do we.
The renewed urgency continues through the rest of the episode, as Jane’s desperate lover reveals himself, an energetic Tuppence comes into her own again when she smashes a vase over a man’s head to grant them restricted access, and even Tommy confronts a man with a gun and comes out on top. It’s all go.
Finally, the true identity of Brown is revealed in a classic rooftop-with-a-flailing-gun moment, where our unlikely heroes come face to face with their villain. This is the pinnacle of The Secret Adversary, the revelation of Brown, who turns out to be a man with nothing to lose. Proving Tommy and Tuppence as super-sleuths, or at least amateur sleuths who are pretty persistent.
But the real highlight of this heightened climax is Zinnie Harris’ script, which gives a nod to Agatha Christie, as her villain confesses, “I was brilliant in my day”. Yes, you were.
Suddenly we’re at the end of the caper and Tommy and Tuppence return home to their ordinary life, the moment Tommy’s been waiting for since they boarded the homeward-bound train at the start of episode one.
But, like every good story, are the characters irreversibly changed? It appears Tuppence is at least, “think of all the adventures we could have”, delivered by Jessica Raine with just the right amount of twinkle in her eye. A convincing David Walliams gives an apt look of disgust, and we know Tommy and Tuppence’s adventures have only just begun.
Tommy and Tuppence are back solving mysteries next week in N or M? The second story in the Partners In Crime adventure.
Did you tune in for Partners in Crime episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on Partners in Crime episode 4? Read Isla’s review of episode 3 here.
It’s the second half of the Partners in Crime series and the start of a new Agatha Christie adventure: N or M? This mystery, featuring crime-fighting husband and wife duo Tommy and Tuppence, is adapted for the small screen by Claire Wilson, and the first instalment has a classic espionage opening.
An unknown man is disturbed at night by a phone ringing. “It’s Gilbert”, the man answers, as a mystery voice out of the receiver replies, “they’re coming.” The man reveals a key from his pocket and rushes out, swiftly seen moving a precious machine in his RAF vehicle from a military base. On a road cloaked in darkness he’s stopped. A blonde woman with a gun appears. The mystery begins.
In London, we’re back with Tommy and Tuppence, played fondly by David Walliams and Jessica Raine. The part-time sleuths are en route to Tommy’s Uncle Carter to run a new business idea past him – the rather comically coined wig specialists Beresford Barnets. But Carter has other ideas.
Carter works in military intelligence and needs a “nobody” to collect a message from a secret agent. He’s decided Tommy’s the man for the job. But he mustn’t tell Tuppence.
Somewhat reluctantly, Tommy takes on the task and is forced to let Tuppence in on his mission. With Tuppence on the case they quickly track down their secret agent and hear the precious message: “Tell Carter there’s a spy in the house, they’ve taken Gilbert. It’s N”… Or did he say M?
Immediately we’re hooked into Christie’s world and happy to join the hapless duo on another crime adventure. Despite death and dastardly deeds at play, there’s an overall energy and positivity throughout that makes for an enticing and entertaining watch.
Delivering his message to Carter, Carter fills Tommy in. Gilbert’s a British scientist working on a top-secret prototype for a nuclear bomb, both Gilbert and the bomb are missing. The perpetrator is staying at the San Souci guesthouse and N… or is it M? is most likely their Soviet superspy code name. Tommy must travel in disguise to the guesthouse and find the guest. The only proviso is again he can’t tell Tuppence.
Rather neatly, N or M? mirrors The Secret Adversary, as Tommy is back undercover tracking down a missing person – as is Tuppence, who, dismayed at being left out of whatever Tommy’s up to, gets to the guesthouse first and immerses herself amongst the suspects in her own disguise. Cue bickering, jealousy and competition by the undercover pair.
This espionage charade creates a playful and witty tension between our two heroes, as they wrestle against each other while trying not to blow their cover. Both David Walliams and Jessica Raine seem to be hitting their stride with their performances, and appear much more of a unit in this story, despite their opposition.
Claire Wilson’s dialogue is sharp and punchy, as witty and characterful as Zinnie Harris’ take on The Secret Adversary, and she pulls through many established themes to make the pair of stories feel cohesive as a package.
The array of characters in the Sans Souci guesthouse provides a suitable number of suspects for our crime fighters. There’s Mr and Mrs Minton, married psychologists, Veronika Urbanowicz, the polish maid, Carl Denim, the son of a publican, and the blonde and extremely flirtatious Mrs Sprot, who is married but travelling alone, and definitely doesn’t go un-noticed by Tommy – or Tuppence. All guests are under the watchful eye of Irish proprietress Sheila Perenna. Tommy and Tuppence are immersed in a lively whodunit.
Last but by no means least there’s the very suspicious Major Khan, who rouses Tuppence’s suspicions so much she hides in his wardrobe to scope out potential superspy dealings. But when her not-so-covert hiding place is discovered, Tuppence finds herself in a very dangerous position indeed.
This leaves it on a suitable cliffhanger fitting of any crime caper. With enough unanswered questions, and a willingness for Tuppence to overcome the suspicious Major Khan, there’s plenty of reasons to look forward to tuning in next week.
Did you tune in for Partners in Crime episode 4? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on Partners in Crime episode 5? Read Isla’s review of episode 4 here.
We left Tuppence at the end of episode four held at gunpoint by prime suspect Major Khan, as Tommy flirted with a mystery blonde next door. How can the crime-fighting husband-and-wife duo get out of this one?
Episode five, the second instalment in Claire Wilson’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s N or M?, opens with Tuppence confessing all to Major Khan to dodge his bullet. It’s an over expositional start to the episode and the danger quickly subsides with Tommy and Tuppence back on the hunt for the mystery Soviet spy N… or is it M?
Undercover at the local Veterans Ball, Tommy and Tuppence are poised to find out exactly who isn’t who they say they are when Major Khan is killed. It must be N’s work. Tommy and Tuppence immediately regret diverting so much attention to Major Khan, who clearly wasn’t their culprit after all, and retreat to survey the other inhabitants in the Sans Souci Guesthouse.
Tommy and Tuppence are again pitted against each other in this episode, as Tommy mistrusts young beatnik Carl Denim, whilst Tuppence thinks the blonde flirt Mrs. Sprot is up to no good. This tension is signposted within Claire Wilson’s dialogue, as both husband and wife acknowledge they’re not working together. Slightly clunky as this acknowledgement is, diametrically opposing the characters using jealousy to motivate their suspicions makes for a spirited and entertaining story.
The joy of this episode, however, is in the complete immersion in the world of the Norfolk guest house. The enclosed community, particularly with the 1950s backdrop detailed to pinpoint precision, delivers a real sense that danger could be lurking around any dated corner. This dangerous claustrophobia works for the story both locally, where everyone in the guest house is a suspect, and globally, giving a real sense that the Cold War knocking on England’s door.
Russia casts an over-arching shadow. Whilst Tommy and Tuppence obsess over every detail gleaned from the Sans Souci guests, Carter imparts the crux of the situation. N’s gone rogue and has sent a ransom: £100,000 and the release of thirty soviet political prisoners or they detonate the bomb. A bomb several hundred times more powerful than an atomic bomb. Suddenly the stakes are the highest of the series so far – the life or death of thousands of innocent people, our heroes included.
These stakes bring renewed focus and the action gathers apace. We’re swept along with Tommy and Tuppence, despite neither appearing to know what they’re doing. Each of the guest house occupants are cleverly painted so as to appear suspicious, revealing increasingly darker sides to their characters as the episode progresses. This is much more of an ensemble story than The Secret Adversary, and all the better for it.
Uncharacteristically it’s Tommy who gets the breakthrough, even if it is by accidentally stumbling upon a stash of hidden radio equipment on a beach. This leads to an underground passage, linking to the Sans Souci guesthouse. With Carl Denim in possession of a boat, Tuppence and Tommy search his room to find secret documents proving he isn’t who he says he is. Cue chase by lantern-light through the underground tunnel with Tommy hot on Carl’s tail.
Like all good crime chases, our hero is distracted and overcome by Denim via a bash over the head with a plank of wood, leaving Tuppence searching for the love of her life in a damp tunnel.
Unable to find him, Tuppence is spat out onto an empty beach alone, shrouded in mist. This seems a fitting ending for the penultimate episode and the setting works as hard for the story as Jessica Raine’s emotive performance.
Tuppence is seldom emotionally vulnerable, and her loneliness is paralleled neatly in the empty beach stretching before her. As she clutches her husband’s discarded scarf and hat and stares out to sea, it sets up the final episode to follow with an equal sense of mystery and heart.
Did you tune in for Partners in Crime episode 5? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on Partners in Crime episode 6? Read Isla’s review of episode 5 here.
It’s the final part of the N or M? adventure and we’re heavy in anticipation for an action-packed denouement fitting as a celebration of the 125th anniversary of Agatha Christie’s birth. But does it deliver?
Desperately searching for missing Tommy, Tuppence enlists the help of teacher and part-time agent Albert. It must be school holidays. Together they track down possible suspect Carl Denim, who is finally exposed as a smuggler, not a Russian agent.
Tommy, on the other hand, duped by one of N’s associates, is held against his will with the missing scientist Gilbert Worthing. At least he’s found him. But where’s the bomb?
N, who we find out is a woman – shock, horror – is in possession of the bomb but Gilbert has hidden the key. It’s only when Tuppence storms the house that Tommy and Gilbert get their chance for escape, albeit with a reasonably comedic rescue mission involving Tuppence scaling the side of the house brandishing a gun.
Reunited, the crime-fighting gang of Tommy, Tuppence, Albert and Carter are primed for action, as Gilbert finally shares the hiding place of the precious key. Of course it’s in the San Souci Guesthouse. Tommy and Tuppence are armed with knowledge, purpose, and briefly the key to the bomb, until N holds Tuppence at gunpoint and Tommy gives up the key to save her life.
“One person you love is worth more than a million civilians you’ve never met,” asserts N. Never a truer word said by a crime villain, particularly to re-focus the plot and lead the crime-fighting heroes to the villain’s undoing.
The plot gallops at pace with a satisfactory effervescence in the storytelling and heightened drama and romance at the heart of every turning point. Smuggler Carl Denim and proprietress Sheila Perenna are an item protecting his secrets, Tommy declares he is unable to do anything without Tuppence, and even N’s motivation is revealed to be love.
All N is doing this for is her husband – a Soviet prisoner code name M – whose life is worth more to her than a million civilians she’s never met. It’s just a shame he died two weeks ago.
Cue Tommy going undercover for one last time, dressed as N’s estranged husband M.
Tommy makes his way onto the pier under the veil of darkness, which neatly parallels the opening of the story three episodes ago. Darkness. The bomb. A blonde assassin. Gunpoint. Simple but effective motifs.
Of course N doesn’t fall for the (fondly laughable) moustache and hat trick, and Tommy’s disguise is quickly blown. As N marches to activate the bomb we’re not fussed – we know Tuppence will be hot on her killer heels, in a pair of her very own.
The ultimate showdown does not disappoint. In an atmospherically lit disused theatre on the pier, Tuppence’s fur coat is right behind N’s and it’s a red-lipstick tussle over the theatre balcony. N finally reaches her demise at the hands of Tuppence. She’s come a long way from the crime novel reading wife at the start of her adventures.
There’s only the small matter of the atomic bomb left, complete with contrived tension of a countdown timer, which is neatly taken care of by technical quick-fixer Albert. The only disappointment being he’s not stretched past this one-dimension. All the same, crisis averted and order restored.
With Tommy and Tuppence reunited in safety, and Major Carter happy – even proud – where else is there to go? But Agatha Christie’s got plenty more Tommy and Tuppence in her cannon, and everyone knows it.
The series leaves it wide open for the pair to return, and why not? It’s a gentle, humorous escape to a crime-mystery within anyone’s reach.
“People want adventures Tommy”: Claire Wilson’s script might be edging on the self-aware, but on a Sunday evening with Tommy and Tuppence involved, she’s not far wrong.
Did you tune in for Partners in Crime episode 5? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!