Monday night, January 30, is Acorn TV night with the premiere of another Agatha Christie reinvention. Based on one of her short stories, Witness for the Prosecution is represented by an accomplished ensemble: Kim Cattrall as the moneyed and glamorous Emily French who draws a younger, easy on the eyes Leonard Vole (Billy Howle) into her world unaware of his extracurricular personal life with chorus girl, Romaine (Andrea Riseborough). Toby Jones is defending counsel as John Mayhew. Janet McIntyre, Ms. French’s loyal housekeeper is aptly portrayed by Monica Dolan.
Scriptwriter Sarah Phelps, who adapted the last, highly acclaimed, Christie adaptation, And Then There Were None, is responsible for this latest BBC/AcornTV retooling.
You may be familiar with the iconic Billy Wilder directed, 1957 version, and you may be aware that that film was adapted from a play which Christie had penned for the stage. To fill in the story a bit, “Traitor Hands” was the original title of what would become a famed short story and was published in the weekly pulp magazine Flynn’s Weekly in 1925: after which it was one of 12 stories in a British anthology, circa 1933: The Hound of Death. Later, (1948) it was included in a book, released in the United States titled: Witness for the Prosecution and Other Short Stories.
It was shortly after achieving great success with the staged Mousetrap (1952) that English theatrical producer Peter Saunders approached Christie. Why not adapt: Witness for the Prosecution for the boards as well?
At first Christie balked. She had never taken on a courtroom drama and was unsure of her expertise in doing so. However, as we know, she eventually acquiesced, finishing the piece in one month’s time. And on doing so, she took certain liberties: she added courtroom scenes and changed the ending. At the time, the conclusion was a well-kept secret. Those associated with the production were asked to sign a nondisclosure document. And the rest, as they say… is history.
One of the intriguing things about tonight’s presentation of Witness for the Prosecution is how the 20-page original short story will have been handled by Phelps. She explains, here, her excitement about, and approach to, adapting “Traitor Hands.”
Witness for the Prosecution is available for streaming on AcornTV beginning Monday, January 30th.