TV Review: Murder is Easy

Murder is Easy is a fresh new Agatha Christie adaptation that doesn’t always come off

“It’s 1954, a woman can do whatever she likes”

I am no purist when it comes to the art of adaptation and so I’m more than happy to see creative risks being taken in reframing classic works. At the same time, we have to remain free to critique them too. Which is a long-winded way of saying that I loved the concept of Murder is Easy more than the execution, and not just because it dared to off Penelope Wilton within moments of the drama starting! Oops, spoiler!

Siân Ejiwunmi-Le Berre’s innovation is to shift the story from the 1930s to the 1950s and to the already heady mixture of class and gender politics, she adds race by making protagonist Luke Fitzwilliam a Nigerian attaché recently arrived in London to take up a job in Whitehall. He meets Wilton’s Miss Pinkerton on a train and as she divulges that she’s on her way to Scotland Yard to report some suspicious deaths in her otherwise sleepy village of Wychwood, Luke gets swept up into the murderous mayhem.

Directed by Meenu Gaur, there’s a deliberate 1950s technicolour vibe which perhaps comes off a little too ersatz vintage but the Hitchcockian treatment adds a point of difference to the perspective here, playing off Luke’s status as a stranger but also as a person of colour. It’s not abundantly clear why he sets about the task of trying to solve the murders so assiduously, given he’s not a policeman as in the original but aided by Morfydd Clark’s inquisitive Bridget, it turns out there’s a lot of them to deal with.

As befits a good whodunnit these days, the cast is loaded so you can’t just tell whose the culprit from the most famous name on the castlist. From Tom Riley’s haughty Lord Whitfield, Douglas Henshall’s liberal Major Horton, Sinéad Matthews’ overlooked Miss Waynflete, Mathew Baynton’s creepy Dr Thomas, Mark Bonnar’s forthright Reverend Humbleby, Tamzin Outhwaite’s hardworking char Mrs Pierce and more besides, there’s rich characterisation and red herrings aplenty.

It just doesn’t quite all cohere in the way that you want it to. Too much of Luke’s backstory, particularly around his contemporaries’ attitudes towards his working with colonial powers, could be easily lifted right out without any impact which doesn’t feel right. Nor do any of the other interventions really add towards the narrative push of the story, rather they flatten characters out to single-issue mouthpieces, an unfortunate consquence given the size of the company here. It’s all performed well, I loved the way it eventually unfolds, but sadly this is far from essential viewing.

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