Everyone is a suspect in the BBC One adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel
Ordeal By Innocence, Sundays from 1 April, 9pm, BBC One/HD (CH 101/108). Also available for 30 days in Catch Up > Channels > BBC iPlayer
If Agatha Christie makes you think of Sunday nights watching grandpops fall asleep mid-sip of Earl Grey in front of David Suchet’s Poirot, then you’re in for a shock.
Scriptwriter extraordinaire Sarah Phelps (Great Expectations, The Casual Vacancy) has adapted Christie’s novel Ordeal By Innocence, and it’s dark, dark, dark.
Told in three parts across three Sunday nights, Ordeal By Innocence stars Bill Nighy (Love Actually) as the father of an adopted brood of five children living in 1950s Scotland. The eclectic family includes London-born Mickey (Christian Cooke, Magic City), fish-out-of-water Tina (Crystal Clarke, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) and desperate-to-please Mary (Eleanor Tomlinson, Poldark). At the start, we find out that one of the children, Jack, has died in prison after being arrested for the murder of the family’s matriarch. But, of course, all is not as it seems…
It’s the third Christie adaptation for Phelps – who cut her teeth writing some of EastEnders’ finest “doof doof” moments – following in the murky footsteps of And Then There Were None and Witness For The Prosecution. “I wasn’t a Christie aficionado by any stretch of the imagination,” Phelps tells us. “I thought it had a queasy nostalgia, and that’s just not my thing. Then I read her work, and realised it’s so brutal and savage.”
“I’d never seen any Agatha Christie before – I went into it blindly,” says Cooke. “I thought Christie meant cosy Sunday nights in. This has changed my perception totally.”
And that’s not all that’s changed. If you’re familiar with the book, you may be in for a shock when it comes to the ending – Phelps has altered Christie’s original text. “I’ve embellished it and made quite a lot of changes. I’m lucky the Agatha Christie estate let me. But you have to adapt the spirit of the book, not the letter of it.”
This adaptation has not been without its problems. Originally intended to be shown at Christmas, the show was pulled from the schedules after allegations of sexual assault were made against Ed Westwick, who initially played Mickey. The role was recast – enter Christian Cooke – and following some smart reshooting, the series has made it to our screens just in time for Easter. “The cast were happy the work was going to be shown,” Cooke says. “They were all really welcoming.”
And that cast – like And Then There Were None (Aidan Turner, Charles Dance, Sam Neill) and Witness For The Prosecution (Toby Jones, Andrea Riseborough, Kim Cattrall) – is most definitely all-star. As well as Nighy, it includes Alice Eve (Star Trek Into Darkness), Matthew Goode (The Crown), Catherine Keener (Get Out), Morvern Christie (The Replacement) and Luke Treadaway (A Street Cat Named Bob).
Tune in from Easter Sunday to see Nighy in some lovely suits (which he provided himself) – and, of course, to find out whodunnit.
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Image credits: Ordeal By Innocence © Mammoth Screen/ACL – Photographer: James Fisher/Joss Barratt