Starring: David Walliams, Jessica Raine
It’s amazing Britain survived the ’50s, if it really was in the habit of recruiting “gifted” amateurs like the suicidally plucky Tuppence Beresford and her hopeless duffer of a husband Tommy to the ranks of the secret service. The Tommy and Tuppence series sits at the flimsier end of Agatha Christie’s output, so it’s perhaps no surprise that this latest BBC adaptation meets with mixed success in transferring these frothy period pieces to the screen.
The series consists of two three-parters, the first of which, The Secret Adversary, whisks this humdrum married couple into a world of Soviet spy rings, East End gangsters and assassination plots. It’s lavishly set-dressed (star attraction, a very nice burgundy Morris Traveller) and shot in the gauzy-edged, sepia-infused style that the Beeb seem to adopted for their recent costume dramas, but there’s an uncertainty of tone as the piece veers ponderously between menace and banter. Donning wigs and climbing out of third storey windows, Jessica Raine has a high old time as Tuppence, but poor David Walliams has little to do as gormless Tommy but sit there like a sack of potatoes as he’s intimidated by thugs and scolded by his wife. And three hours seems just too long for a story that, to work, needs to flit past you before you have the time to ask too many awkward questions about it.
Thankfully, things gel much more successfully in the second story, N or M?. An atomic scientist is missing, there’s a double agent in MI5, and a dying informant manages to gurgle out an important clue – all of which leads our protagonists to a guesthouse in that den of iniquity, Cromer. With its cast of English eccentrics and a pleasantly blowy seaside ambience, this story offers a much more satisfying blend of whimsy and intrigue, as well as a better of balance between the two leads, with Tuppence just a shade less annoyingly certain of herself and Tommy showing the occasional flicker of intelligence. It also gets a fillip from a glowing, perfectly judged performance by Christina Cole as guesthouse crumpet Mrs Sprot, and it’s nice to see Roy Marsden, in a supporting role, back trudging the shingle like he used to do when he played Commander Adam Dalgliesh.
Partners in Crime is a series that still has some wrinkles to iron out – the chemistry between Walliams and Raine remains stubbornly non-existent – but the second story in particular shows a more assured grip on this rather fragile, of-its-time material and a promise of better things to come. And at the very least this box set makes for relaxing rainy afternoon viewing, just the sort of thing Tommy would love to watch if only his wife didn’t keep on dragging him off on adventures. 7/10
Excellent 30-min piece on the clothes for the series which will be of great interest to fashionistas and anyone interested in telly costume design. The wardrobe mistress plugs garments off racks and opens up boxes to give us a close look at Raine’s various outfits, which mix new and vintage pieces. ~ 23-min interview with Clarke Peters, who talks nostalgically about the ’50s (which he just about remembers). 7/10