Tag Archives: Partners in Crime

Agatha Christie Ltd CEO Hilary Strong talks to DQ

Agatha Christie Ltd CEO Hilary Strong explains why adaptations of the celebrated author’s stories, which remain popular across the world, will keep on coming.

The 125th anniversary of the birth of author Agatha Christie this year is being marked with two new television adaptations.

Sleuthing couple Tommy and Tuppence appeared in a new BBC1 series called Partners in Crime, starring David Walliams and Jessica Raine, in July. A six-part drama placing the characters in the 1950s, it re-imagined the events of Christie novels The Secret Adversary and N or M? across two three-part stories produced by Endor Productions.

BBC1 has also partnered with US cable network Lifetime on a new adaptation of And Then There Were None, which was named the world’s favourite Christie novel in a survey published in September.

And Then There Were Non
And Then There Were None will air on BBC1 this Christmas

The classic thriller, which tells of 10 individuals invited to an isolated island where they are killed one by one by an unknown murderer, has been adapted by Sarah Phelps (Great Expectations) and produced by Mammoth Screen. The cast includes Douglas Booth, Charles Dance, Anna Maxwell Martin, Sam Neill, Miranda Richardson, Toby Stephens and Aidan Turner, and is due to air on BBC1 this Christmas.

These new adaptations serve as a fitting tribute to the prolific writer, dubbed the Queen of Crime. But they also represent the efforts of Agatha Christie Ltd to introduce her to a new generation of fans by becoming more proactive when exploiting the rights to the author’s vast library.

Hilary Strong (pictured top), CEO of Agatha Christie Ltd, says: “The brief from Mathew Pritchard, Christie’s only grandchild and chairman of the company, was that we would work together to exploit the brand ourselves and that’s why he brought me in with my television background,” explains Strong. “We were coming to the end of our Poirot films series on ITV that first aired in 1989. David Suchet’s work as Poirot is iconic and no one else has played a leading drama role for 25 years. It’s an extraordinary thing to have done but we knew they were finishing and we knew then that we had to do something new and fresh.

“It gave us the opportunity to sit back and decide what we wanted to do. Did we want to carry on with Christie being the traditional, much-loved work that it is? People’s perception of it is ‘cosy crime.’ But for a brand to remain alive and resonate for a modern audience, it needs to do something new and give a different message.”

With a background in television and rights management, Strong is perfectly placed for this new challenge. She was previously MD of Acorn Productions, where she had responsibility for developing drama around the works of Christie and other properties, including Foyle’s War. She has also worked for Chorion (Enid Blyton, Paddington Bear) and was group business director at Hat Trick Productions.

Partners in Crime
Partners in Crime, starring David Walliams and Jessica Raine

With Partners in Crime, the company made its first move away from ‘cosy crime,’ setting the action in a more recent period and casting Walliams and Raine to attract a younger audience. And Then There Were None, while set in 1939, has a more contemporary tone and is, Strong says, “really fucking scary.”

She explains: “Sarah Phelps has done an amazing job and has been absolutely truthful to the story while giving us this deep dark tone. For me, it embodies what we’ve been trying to do – take something and retell it so it appeals to modern audiences. If we can achieve that, then we’ve done our job. I don’t want to shake off the cosy crime image but I want people to understand that Christie can be delivered in a different way.”

The company isn’t just interested in a new way of telling Christie – it is also shaking up the way its television adaptations are built. No longer simply licensing rights away, Agatha Christie Ltd is keeping its hand in the creative process and building direct relationships with broadcasters and suggesting potential projects before selecting the production partners they want to work with to bring the idea to the screen.

“It is quite unusual,” Strong says of the strategy. “It helps that there are relationships before that process. Damien Timmer, who runs Mammoth, was an executive producer at ITV on Poirot and Miss Marple, so he has a long relationship with the family and the company. When we sat down with him, he was extremely open to the benefits of collaboration because you get a different insight when you’ve got people who really know the brand involved. The script process is very collaborative but once production starts, they get on and make the programme. It works really well.

“The thing I was most keen to do was move away from the idea that the estate is there to approve or disapprove, which does happen with estates. So if we get it right and we’ve chosen the right writer and worked on the scripts, then once you get to production, those parts are in place. It would be quite unusual to hit a fundamental problem then.

“We also do a lot of the design stuff together because that’s really important to us. We need to make sure the imagery being used when you get to promotion works cross-platform. We had new book covers for Partners in Crime, with a logo that goes across the TV programmes.”

Les Petits Meutres
France 2’s Les Petits Meutres d’Agatha Christie

Christie isn’t just popular in Britain, however. Strong says the novelist’s works have been translated into more languages than those of any other author, while TV adaptations have been sold into more than 180 countries. Japanese network NHK aired a two-part version of Murder on the Orient Express in January this year, produced by Fuji TV. And French broadcaster France 2 is behind Les Petits Meutres d’Agatha Christie, which plants two detectives into Christie plots. Twenty-three episodes have been produced by Escazal Films since 2009.

“What’s been really interesting is just how big Christie is in other countries,” says Strong. “In South America, Australia, Germany, Italy, Japan and China, Christie is huge and they have their own indigenous productions in foreign languages.”

She also suggests a big deal for the German-language rights to Christie’s books is near completion, adding that the estate is very open to doing “very radical, avant garde, contemporary new things” with Christie’s stories.

“But we’re unlikely to muck about with the core plot because that’s what works,” she explains. “When people start trying to mess with it, that’s when it goes wrong. You can tell it in a new way, give it a contemporary tone or set it in a contemporary setting. And Then There Was None means there is no one left at the end. It’s not a returning series!”

Strong recognises the drama business is tougher now than at any point in her career: “The fact that budgets have come down and expectations in terms of quality are higher, together with the need to compete on the international market, means your vision and scale has had to go up.

“It’s a very good time for drama. There’s an awful lot out there but that’s because there’s an appetite for it. As people keep on watching it, people want more. And the fact there’s so much, if you’ve got a brand like Christie, you can put your head above the parapet a bit and people can find you in the schedules.

Murder on the Orient Express
The Japanese version of Murder on the Orient Express

“But one of the things we don’t do is work with people just because they think the brand will help them sell more shows. We will only work with people we know have a genuine love for the stories. We have tried developing a couple of smart ideas and then down the road realised the people we were working with didn’t have the depth of understanding of the brand, and in those circumstances it rarely works. If you work with people who understand Christie, it just works much better.”

Strong would love to see Witness for the Prosecution, a short story about a woman who gives evidence for the prosecution in her husband’s murder trial, made for television and says the global appeal of Christie’s stories is in the pure and simple language she uses.

In the meantime, fans can look forward to a new big-screen version of Murder on the Orient Express, which will be directed by Kenneth Branagh for 20th Century Fox. Branagh will also star as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who must investigate a murder on board the famous train – but there are a number of passengers who could have committed the crime.

Agatha Christie Ltd has also launched its own digital drama based upon Christie’s character Mr Quin, which launched as an app in November 2015.

But what is it about Christie’s work that means it has stood the test of time? “Her plot lines are just ingenious and her characters are lovable,” Strong adds. “People adore them. And the breadth – there are 33 Poirot novels to read. You’re not going to do it in a hurry.

“I don’t see any time when people don’t want to carry on reading her books. Our job is to retell those stories in a way that makes them accessible for people. What I’d love – and would tell me I’d done my job – is if people watched And Then There Were None and then went back and read some of the original books.”

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Cleopatra succeeds Tut

Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film Cleopatra, the most famous screen version of the Egyptian queen's story
Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film Cleopatra, the most famous screen version of the Egyptian queen’s story

After Tut, now comes Cleopatra. With the Egyptian boy king only recently departed from TV screens following the three-night event series on Spike TV, the girl queen is the subject of a new series being developed by feted director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) and David Ellender, the former FremantleMedia exec who now operates under the Slingshot Global Media banner.

While it is inevitable that comparisons will be drawn between the projects, the creative sensibilities and commercial starting points underlying them should bring about different results. While Tut was written by US scribes for a US channel, Kapur and Ellender come from Indian and European backgrounds respectively. This will presumably affect their approach and funding model.

Kapur, who will write the series, said: “Cleopatra is probably the most famous and the least known/understood figure of all time. Her life will reflect a modern-day parable of our lives today.” Ellender added: “As he did with Elizabeth, Kapur will reveal the human being behind the myth. We couldn’t think of a better filmmaker than Kapur to tackle this subject.”

If there’s one name you’d love to see at the bottom of your production sheet, it’s Jerry Bruckheimer. With film and TV credits that include Pirates of the Caribbean, Beverly Hills Cop, Bad Boys, Con Air, Top Gun, CSI and Without a Trace, he is a bona fide hit machine. So US cable channel TNT must be dancing in the aisles having picked up a Bruckheimer pilot called Home this week.

TNT has picked up the pilot of Jerry Bruckheimer series Home
TNT has picked up the pilot of Jerry Bruckheimer series Home

Originally set up at Fox, Home explores the secrets festering behind the facade of an idyllic suburban family. It centres on a pregnant woman who has a successful business and a wonderful home life with her husband Joe, a respected prison psychologist, and his two sons, to whom she’s stepmother. But the peace and tranquillity are shattered when she discovers long-buried secrets.

Home’s package is further enhanced by the fact the pilot has been written by Aron Eli Coleite, whose credits include Crossing Jordan, Hostages and Heroes (for which he was writer and producer for most of its run). The show is designated as a Jerry Bruckheimer Television and Warner Horizon TV production.

A notable trend in the last few years has been to fictionalise the lives of famous historical figures. Da Vinci’s Demons is a classic case in point, as is ITV’s upcoming series Houdini & Doyle (and so, for that matter, are Tut and Cleopatra). The idea behind this approach is to get pre-transmission brand awareness that will help a show cut through the clutter of competition. Imagine if, for example, Da Vinci showrunner David Goyer had said he was going to make a series about the fantastical youth of a medieval Italian genius. He probably wouldn’t have got more than halfway through his pitch.

Seth Rogen in controversial movie The Interview
Seth Rogen in controversial movie The Interview

There is a parallel process that involves taking fictional characters and giving them new settings. Traditionally, this involves looking back at the youth of the character in question (The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Endeavour et al) or putting them in a different period (Sherlock). A novel take on this was announced this week by CBS, which is to pilot Sawyer & Huck. In this case, Mark Twain’s classic Mississippi characters Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are to be aged up and placed in modern-day America as adults.

Scripted by The Blacklist writers Brandon Margolis and Brandon Sonnier, the story will see Sawyer as a lawyer, who hires his boyhood friend Huck Finn as an investigator on a murder case. If the series progresses beyond pilot, the plan is for the characters to take on cases for people who don’t have anywhere else to turn.

In other news out of the US, NBC has acquired a drama project entitled The Bourbon Kings from Endemol Shine Studios. Based on a novel by JR Ward, the story centres on an aristocratic Kentucky family who make their fortune in the bourbon industry.

Interestingly (and what are the chances of this?), there are reports that Fox is also developing a TV series about a Kentucky bourbon empire. All that remains to be seen is whether either project will be filmed in Kentucky. A year ago, the answer to that would probably have been no. But in May the state increased its refundable tax credit from 20% to 30%, an aggressive move that will make it a viable alternative to Louisiana and Georgia, two US states that have made excellent use of film incentive schemes.

NHK Japan has picked up Partners in Crime
NHK Japan has picked up Partners in Crime

In the last couple of years, the scripted market has become accustomed to a steady stream of commissioning announcements from subscription VoD platforms like Netflix and Amazon. This week it’s Hulu’s turn to step up to the plate by announcing plans for a comedy pilot starring Seth Rogen.

The project, entitled Future Man, is about a gaming nerd who has to save the human race from being destroyed by aliens. Future Man is being produced by Sony Pictures Television and is the company’s first order from Hulu. Sounds like much safer territory than Rogen’s North Korea satire The Interview.

On the acquisition front, Asian broadcasters have been busy this week. RTL CBS Entertainment has announced it will premiere upcoming US drama Limitless in Asia within 12 hours of its broadcast in the States. Meanwhile, All3Media International has shipped new TV adaptation Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime to a number of international broadcasters including NHK Japan.

The Japanese market is notoriously difficult to crack but “Japan is Christie heartland in terms of a fanbase for the author and this show will introduce a further generation to her work,” says Stephen Driscoll, senior VP for sales at All3Media International.

Equally upbeat is Junko Fukano, senior producer of NHK Japan, who says: “We are delighted that we can broadcast this wonderful show in Japan. Agatha Christie’s dramas have attracted a strong Japanese following, so we believe it will be hugely popular among Christie fans, and hope that it will bring even more audiences to NHK.”

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Disney’s Descendants on the up

Descendants was directed by High School Musical’s Kenny Ortega
Descendants was directed by High School Musical’s Kenny Ortega

When Disney gets it right, it really gets it right. Currently doing great business for Disney Channel US is Descendants, a modern-day story based around the teenage offspring of Disney’s most notorious villains. Having attracted 6.6 million viewers for its premiere, the live-plus-three-day audience for the show increased to 10.5 million.

Those figures make Descendants the number-one cable TV movie of 2015, which is perhaps not so surprising when you learn that it was directed, choreographed and exec produced by High School Musical’s Kenny Ortega. HSM was a huge franchise, spawning three movies and giving the world the adorable Zac Efron.

Descendants is also performing well across other platforms. It currently holds the top spot on iTunes (Top TV seasons), while its soundtrack is at the top of the iTunes soundtrack chart and third on the iTunes album chart. It has also spawned a best-selling prequel novel, The Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz, and an animated shortform series, Descendants Wicked World.

More movie-length productions are presumably an option, although the concept and characterisation might also lend itself to a live-action series.

Cedar Cove stars Andie MacDowell (left)
Cedar Cove stars Andie MacDowell (left)

Hallmark Channel is also celebrating this week following a strong showing from Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove, a romantic drama starring Andie MacDowell and Dylan Neal.

According to Hallmark, the latest episode of Cedar Cove became the network’s most watched and highest rated among total viewers and households in its Saturday 20.00 time period. To date, season three of the show is averaging a 2.0 household rating and two million total viewers.

“Over the last four years, Hallmark Channel’s scripted series have become appointment viewing for our audience,” said Michelle Vicary, executive VP for programming and network publicity at Hallmark owner Crown Media Family Networks. “The popularity of Cedar Cove, Good Witch and When Calls the Heart demonstrate the power of our brand and the resonance of our storytelling.”

With so much competition in scripted content, a lot of launch success these days is down to whether you can offer something that piques the audience’s interest.

Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston in Sneaky Pete
Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston in Sneaky Pete

Today, for example, Amazon launches Sneaky Pete, the pilot for a conman drama written and executive produced by David Shore and Bryan ‘Walter White’ Cranston.

Backed by Sony, the show was originally intended for CBS. But when the network withdrew its interest, Amazon stepped in and greenlit the pilot. The star of the pilot is Giovanni Ribisi, but Cranston will guest star, which is sure to lure in swathes of Breaking Bad fans.

That might be enough to convince Amazon it is worth going to series with Sneaky Pete – particularly if it results in new subscribers for the service.

Amazon’s approach is to show pilots for free and then base its commissioning decisions on audience data and customer feedback. Alongside Sneaky Pete, another pilot hopeful launching today is Casanova, from Jean Pierre Jeunet, Stuart Zicherman and Electus’s Ben Silverman.

The Guardian said Odyssey 'failed to produce a single moment of originality.
The Guardian said Odyssey ‘failed to produce a single moment of originality’

In previous weeks, we’ve reported that ancient Egypt drama Tut achieved good ratings for its launch episode on cable channel Spike in the US. It has now aired as a two-part miniseries on Channel 5 in the UK.

C5, which like Spike is owned by Viacom, attracted around 880,000 viewers across two episodes. This is around 28% above the slot average. With Spike having announced its intention to invest more money in scripted shows, Channel 5 may find itself a long-term beneficiary of this.

A less successful acquisition has been thriller series Odyssey, snapped up by BBC2 at the LA Screenings this year after an initial airing on NBC in the US. In this show, British actress Anna Friel plays US army special ops member Odelle Ballard, who is the sole survivor of a drone attack in Mali but has been reported dead after her team discovers a US terrorism funding conspiracy.

On paper, Odyssey looked like it might be a combination of Homeland and The Honourable Woman, but it has received poor reviews and ratings. Already axed by NBC in the US, it has seen its audience on BBC2 slide from around 2.5 million at the start to around one million at the end of its run.

Friel’s acting was praised, but The Guardian summed up the general mood among critics: “Why beat around the bush with subtlety when each coarsely drawn character can spell out plot and motivation so clearly and deliberately? You can practically hear the clunk and ding of the typewriter whenever someone opens their mouth. Even the secret documents kept safe in a USB stick around (Ballard’s) neck are written in Fisher-Price spy language. The writers do not believe you’ll keep up any other way.”

While BBC2 has had a summer to forget regarding drama, BBC1 continues to do pretty well with its Agatha Christie adaptation Partners in Crime. The second episode of six attracted five million viewers last Sunday evening.

While this is down from episode one (6.5 million), it’s still pretty respectable. It bodes well for another upcoming Christie adaptation based on iconic novel And Then There Were None. Due to air later this year, And Then There Were None is a Mammoth Screen and Agatha Christie Productions programme for the BBC, coproduced with A+E Television Networks. RLJ Entertainment has taken US DVD and DTO rights, while A+E Networks will handle international sales via A+E Studios International.

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Will C4’s robots return?

Emily Berrington as a 'Synth' in Humans
Emily Berrington as a ‘Synth’ in Humans

The finale of Humans’ first season airs in the UK this weekend and the show continues to do exceptionally well for Channel 4. BARB ratings for the first six episodes show there was an inevitable dip after stellar ratings for the first two parts, but that the show has stayed remarkably consistent since then. From episodes three to six, it recorded between 3.63 million and 3.93 million viewers (seven-day figures) – way ahead of anything else on C4.

With the show now approaching its climax, it would be a major surprise if it didn’t equal or surpass those figures for episodes seven and eight. And then a commission for a second season would look highly likely.

The only cloud on the horizon for Humans is that AMC in the US is not getting such good ratings with the series (which may place a question mark over its involvement in a second season), but the strength of the C4 showing ought to be enough to see it through.

Still in the UK, there was a strong showing for BBC1’s Agatha Christie adaptation Partners In Crime, which attracted 6.5 million viewers for its first episode (Sunday at 21.00). Starring David Walliams and Jessica Raine as amateur detectives Tommy and Tuppence, the six-part show is the channel’s biggest new drama launch since Poldark, demonstrating that Sunday evening is still a time when audiences like to spend time with familiar faces and brands.

Partners in Crime opened strongly for BBC1 on Sunday evening
Partners in Crime opened strongly for BBC1 on Sunday evening

Earlier in July, Sky Atlantic and Showtime announced plans for a third season of gothic horror drama Penny Dreadful. Looking at the final ratings for season two of the show on Sky Atlantic, it’s easy to see why. According to BARB’s seven-day data, the final episode attracted an audience of 544,000 – up from 450,000-500,000 for the previous few episodes.

With Game of Thrones finished for another year, Penny Dreadful became channel’s top-performing drama, some way ahead of The Affair (433,000) and True Detective season two (352,000). In the week following Penny Dreadful’s departure, nothing on Sky Atlantic managed to attract more than 315,000 viewers. The show has also been attracting attention internationally, securing a deal with Australian subscription VoD platform Presto last week.

In the US, MTV is halfway through the first 10-part season of Scream, a horror series that has been spun out of the iconic feature-film franchise. A strong debut saw the show attract six million viewers (live plus three), making it “the most watched new series premiere of the summer on cable with millennials,” according to MTV. In an added bonus, the first episode was also streamed more than 500,000 times on MTV.com and the MTV app.

Scream will get a second season after performing well on MTV
Scream will get a second season after performing well on MTV

Since then the ratings have dropped a little but stayed strong enough for MTV to announce a second season. At the midway point, 21 million viewers have tuned in to Scream on air while the series has generated 7.9 million streams across other platforms.

Speaking at the Television Critics Association’s summer event this week, MTV head of scripted programming Mina Lefevre said: “It has been a wonderful experience working with (Scream exec producer) Bob Weinstein and his team, who are such connoisseurs of this genre, and we are thrilled by how viewers have responded to the reinvention of Scream.”

Meanwhile, the US TV industry’s love affair with Scandinavia took a double hit this week. Following the news that Netflix has cancelled Lilyhammer, NBC announced that it has canned eOne’s low-rated comedy Welcome to Sweden. The show, created by Greg Poehler, did moderately well in season one but has fallen away badly in season two, with NBC pulling it from the air after just four editions of its 10-episode run.

Welcome to Sweden has been cancelled soon into its second run
Welcome to Sweden has been cancelled soon into its second run

Commenting on Instagram, Poehler said: “Due to some craptastically low ratings in the US, WTS is officially done. I am eternally grateful to all of our fans. When you make a show – and write, produce, obsess and act in it – all you want is for someone, somewhere, to tell you they appreciate it. There have been so many of you in both Sweden and the US that have done so, and every compliment has made me immeasurably happy. So, thank you. Thank you, thank you…”

In the Hispanic US market, Telemundo continues to make inroads into the audience share of its major competitor Univision. DQ reported on the success of El Senor de los Cielos last week, and now Telemundo says the finale of Tierra de Reyes (Land of Honor) attracted 2.39 million total viewers.

This helped make Telemundo the number-one Spanish-language network in primetime, beating Univision. It has also just launched Bajo el Mismo Cielo (Under the Same Sky), the story of a hard-working Mexican immigrant who crosses the border illegally and settles with his family in LA. Episode one attracted 1.72 million viewers and also hit 3.3 million global Facebook users with a 30-minute preview.

On the corporate front, the TV market is waiting to see the implications of the US$1bn merger between Banijay Group and Zodiak Media (announced this week). Between them, the two companies own approximately 45 prodcos.

Tierra de Reyes has helped Telemundo make up ground against Univision
Tierra de Reyes has helped Telemundo make up ground against Univision

While there are some complementary areas between the two businesses, there is also a lot of overlap in markets like the US, France and Scandinavia. In drama terms, the deal brings together companies including Touchpaper (UK), Yellow Bird (Scandinavia), Magnolia (Italy), Marathon Media (France), DLO Producciones (Spain) and Screentime (Australia and New Zealand).

Finally, this week’s big corporate ‘miss’ is Ryan Kavanaugh’s film and TV studio Relativity Media, which has filed for bankruptcy after racking up $320m in unpaid loans. Kavanaugh’s next-generation studio model, with its strong emphasis on data analysis, enthralled the industry for a few years but in the end couldn’t survive a number of high-profile box-office failures.

Speaking at Mipcom in 2013, Kavanaugh expressed his intention to get more into the TV business, expounding his theory that films “are perhaps the greatest TV pilots ever.” His goal at that stage was to sell five or six TV series properties a year. However, this never came to pass. The main TV titles to come out of Relativity have been National Geographic’s Act of Valor and Limitless, a spin-off of the Bradley Cooper-starring movie in the form of a series will soon air on CBS.

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BBC partners Agatha Christie to bring crime caper to TV

DQ takes a closer look at the forthcoming BBC1 show Partners in Crime, starring David Walliams and Jessica Raine and based on a series of novels by celebrated author Agatha Christie.

In the crowded world of TV detectives, a new drama featuring the crime-solving capers of a married couple has ambitions to bring a mix of thrills and humour to the genre.

Set in a 1950s Britain thrust from the aftermath of the Second World War into the early throes of a new Cold War, BBC1’s forthcoming series Partners in Crime (main image) sees husband-and-wife team Tommy and Tuppence inject some adventure into their marriage when they stumble their way into a world of murder and conspiracies.

David Walliams (right) came up with the idea of bringing the story to TV
David Walliams (right) came up with the idea of bringing the story to TV

Described as Agatha Christie meets Indiana Jones, the six-part series is based on the celebrated author’s first two full-length novels to feature the pair – The Secret Adversary and N or M?

Tommy and Tuppence are played by David Walliams and Jessica Raine respectively, and it was Walliams who first approached Agatha Christie Productions with the idea of bringing the couple to the small screen. Once the BBC was on board, Endor Productions was signed up to deliver the series, which is distributed by RLJ Entertainment.

Little Britain star Walliams says: “I’ve been a fan of Agatha Christie since I saw the movie of Murder on the Orient Express as a kid, when I was about eight, and I was completely blown away by the story and haunted by it for a long time afterwards.

“I’ve read a lot of Christie’s work and recognised these characters hadn’t been done for quite a while – there was a TV series in the 1980s but in recent times there hadn’t been many adaptations, and I thought there was a good opportunity to have a new version.

“There was something for me that really appealed about a husband-and-wife detective duo, and I thought there was something really delicious at the centre of it. You’d have Agatha Christie’s brilliant box of adventures but at the centre of it you’d have a human story. These are characters who are not genii in the way of a lot of book detectives like Sherlock Holmes or Poirot – these were normal people in that situation.”

The Secret Adversary was Christie’s second novel, published in 1922 after The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which first introduced readers to Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Tommy and Tuppence then appeared in a further four stories through Christie’s career.

“My grandmother was very fond of them,” says Mathew Prichard, Christie’s grandson and chairman of Agatha Christie Ltd. “They featured in her second book and, 50 years later, in her last book. Occasionally throughout her career, when she felt she needed a rest and she needed to lose herself in something, she wrote about Tommy and Tuppence. The Secret Adversary, the first story we’re treating, came in 1922, and N or M? in the middle of the Second World War in the 1940s.

“Tommy and Tuppence represent something entirely different from Poirot or Miss Marple. They represent a partnership, and the most important thing for me is that when I watch them, they are intrinsically Agatha Christie. They are very much the person that I knew in the 1950s, where these films are set, and I can’t help watching them with a considerable sense of nostalgia, affection and recognition of the person whom I respected and loved so much. Dare I say it, I hope we do some more.”

The TV adaptation, timed to coincide with the 125th anniversary of Christie’s birth, plants the action in the 1950s, bringing together elements of the Tommy and Tuppence novels that span half a century.

And for both Walliams and Raine, best known for her work in Call the Midwife and Fortitude, it was the relationship between the crime-solving couple that attracted them to the project. While Tuppence is a woman who sees adventure round every corner, her husband is decidedly more cautious.

Walliams says: “I like that Tommy has to defer to Tuppence, which I think a lot of viewers will recognise, and it will have a lot of appeal that the woman is in charge. The woman is definitely running the show and she’s more intelligent and heroic than he is.

“The idea of Tuppence saving the day and being the more forthright, heroic one is definitely there (in the books), and she’s the one yearning for adventure. We definitely wanted to be true to the spirit of it. I’m the damsel in distress.”

Raine says the “team element” was key to her taking on the role of Tuppence. “It was the way they were equal. There’s not really any sidekick element. I really liked how front-footed she is, how quick-witted. She’s quite funny, intelligent. She’s all of these things you want to be in real life, and I liked how Tommy is more on the back foot, while Tuppence is quite nosey and curious. Putting characters in alien situations is always very attractive because you get to play that. It was irresistible as soon as I read the script. There’s no hint of sadness, she’s a very confident woman. It was really refreshing – she’s incredible.”

Jessica Raine (left) in Call the Midwife
Jessica Raine (left) in Call the Midwife

With a host of TV crime dramas focusing on the hunt for serial killers who prey on women, both Raines and Partners in Crime director Edward Hall said it was pleasing to portray a woman who wasn’t playing the victim.

“Tuppence is really modern for a woman in the 50s,” says Raine. “She was, I felt, a little frustrated at where her life had got to. I don’t think of her as a typical woman of the 50s, if there is such a thing. It was so nice to play a woman who isn’t in any way put-upon or a victim. That was a massive appeal for me.”

Hall adds: “It’s very hard to find heroines in TV drama who are heroines for reasons other than overcoming some kind of physical or sexual violence, or something else that makes them a victim. You very rarely see women coming in and saving the day. I thought that was a particularly good thing about this project.”

Unlike so many crime dramas on television, Partners in Crime seems to slip effortlessly between tension-filled scenes and the touches of comedy rooted in Tommy and Tuppence’s relationship, which are heightened by Walliams’s comedy instincts.

“What we were trying to achieve in the making of this is a swing in tone from thriller to high comedy sometimes, wrapped up with all the characteristic joys of a good Agatha Christie story,” Hall explains. “It all starts and finishes with the scripts. We had some fantastic scripts from Claire (Wilson, who adapted N or M?) and Zinnie (Harris, who wrote The Secret Adversary), and that guides you.

“If something had a degree of jeopardy, you wanted to make it as scary as possible so that it felt real. And if something was funny, you could swing back at the drop of a hat. There’s a moment in episode five when Jessica has a farce moment with a maid in a corridor, trying to get to a room. The music’s quite fun, it’s quite a funny moment. She gets to the door, she opens the door, and then the atmosphere completely changes when she walks into this room. She’s not meant to be there, it’s very serious – it’s life and death. We just tried to be alive to those changes in tone.”

Executive producer Hilary Bevan Jones, founder of Endor Productions, said the characters’ high energy and spirit was key to the way the series was conceived as “Agatha Christie meets Indiana Jones.”

Hilary Strong, CEO of Agatha Christie Ltd, adds: “A great story is a great story, whenever it’s told, and I think people forget, because Christie’s stories have been around a long time, that she was a really contemporary writer. She was a very contemporary woman of her time.

“One of the fantastic things about Agatha Christie is that her work has always really appealed to young readers. With this piece of work we wanted to get back to that, to have something that’s useful and fun and where people could really see the joy in Christie’s work with those great storylines underneath. Tommy and Tuppence is the perfect way to refresh, to bring Christie back.”

But what would the celebrated author herself think of this new take on Tommy and Tuppence, which will launch on BBC One later this month?

“I’m sure she would have loved it,” says Prichard. “The uniqueness of this project is that you’re almost seeing my grandmother at a certain age on the screen. There’s all the humour, energy and vitality, and it really isn’t like Poirot, even though she wrote a Poirot book a year before.

“This is much more natural, much more realistic. We all know a Tommy and Tuppence, but we don’t know a Poirot.”

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