Kim Cattrall has a date with death in The Witness for the Prosecution

by Fiona Rae / 24 November, 2017
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The Witness for the Prosecution.

A glamorous socialite looking for love post-war comes to grief in an Agatha Christie short-story adaptation.

Kim Cattrall puts all her Sex and the City powers of seduction into the latest BBC Agatha Christie adaptation to reach our shores, The Witness for the Prosecution (Prime, Sunday, 8.30pm).

Cattrall plays Emily French, a glamorous socialite in post-WWI England, when being a free spirit was not the done thing. Unfortunately, her adventures turn to tragedy after she meets lovely young Leonard Vole (Billy Howle).

Writer Sarah Phelps, who successfully adapted And Then There Were None, has taken a short Christie story and expanded on it, fleshing out the characters of lawyer John Mayhew (Toby Jones) and Leonard’s girlfriend, Romaine (Andrea Riseborough), among others.

It’s a much darker Christie, Jones told UK website Metro. “I think it’s darker than any Christie that’s ever been done. There is no reassuring sense that justice will be restored.”

Phelps and director Julian Jarrold have infused the two-parter with the trauma of the war.

Cattrall’s character is a feminist in a world that is changing, although not fast enough. “Her world has begun to suffocate her and she dreams of having a beautiful romance with someone different to her. She goes out at night hoping to find exciting partners and new friendships,” says Cattrall.

“A whole generation of men were lost, so it’s hard to find a man anyway, and when she meets this gorgeous, vulnerable young man, he is different from anyone around her, and her interest is piqued.

“This is not simply about an older woman preying on a younger man, it’s more than just her gratification; she wants an adventure.”

The original short story is only about 20 pages long, and Phelps says on the BBC website that when she read it, she thought “it felt like the most perfect film noir for 1920s London”.

She believes there’s a universality to Christie’s stories, which continue to be adapted, because they are very much about their time. “They’re not trying to be specifically historical, but they are. They are specifically about the pressures of a particular time that might lead somebody to commit a murder.”

They also work for television because they are “twisted and great”, she says. “I came late to Agatha Christie, but I think that works in my favour because I’m shocked by it. I am acutely aware of the danger, the really unnerving, unsettling qualities. It makes me want to push it that little bit harder, because I think that’s what she wants.”

This article was first published in the November 25, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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