Dame Agatha Christie will always be remembered for her two most famous sleuths, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. This has meant that some of her lesser known detectives tend to fall into the cracks of the mainstream market. This is the case with the two in one detectives, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford (James Warwick and Francesca Annis), a husband and wife duo who seek a life of adventure.
Both of these characters were introduced to us on the screen in a 1983 115 minute film The Secret Adversary, based on Christie’s second novel of the same name published in 1922. A further ten episodes featuring Annis and Warwick as the two detectives were quickly filmed later that year, adapted from ten of Christie’s short stories that were first published in a collection in 1929. The Tommy & Tuppence:Partners in Crime series has been unavailable to own for a long time, but now Acorn Media UK are distributing a 3 disc set which includes the prequel film as well as the entire ten episode collection.
The Secret Adversary introduces us to the two amateur detectives. Childhood friends Tommy and Tuppence reunite in London after working in the First World War and realise that they are both in need of employment. They place an ad in a newspaper and soon find themselves investigating the disappearance of Jane Finn.
At first it’s difficult to connect with the characters of Tommy and Tuppence, as they share an intimate world that we are excluded from. Also, the opening scenes are extremely rushed which makes them seem unrealistic. When the pair meet to have a meal it is Tuppence who exhilaratingly sparks the idea that they should become spies. This is quite ludicrous behaviour, but it opens us to the idea that the film is not to be taken too seriously.
We become more involved with the personalities of each character during the ten episodes that follow the film. The Partners in Crime series is set six years after The Secret Adversary adventure and the pair are now married. In the opening episode “The Affair of the Pink Pearl”, Tuppence is depressed by her monotonous life as she wishes to return to those crime solving days. Fortunately Tommy buys the defunct Blunt’s International Detective Agency on a six-month trial basis and the pair are back in the sleuthing game.
The series follows Tommy and Tuppence as they attempt to solve a new case in each episode. Partners in Crime constantly switches in genre between melodrama and comedy, however it always remains light hearted. The series sticks admirably to the Christie’s original written material by following the same story structure and deploying the tongue-in-cheek tone.
Yet keeping these elements too similar results in problems when it comes to the plot. This is because each 50 minute episode is based on a short story, so there are little twists and turns compared to in the film which is based on a novel. Alsom choosing to stick to the short stories collection means that we are more aware of stereotypes being deployed, particularly in the eccentric butler Albert (Reece Dinsdale). This characterisation technique was common in the past; however, it is disproved on in the present.
Christie’s affection for other crime writers is apparent through the personalities of Tommy and Tuppence. Our pair mimic the techniques of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes as they hunt for clues locked in every room. In the episode “Fitness the King”, the partners’ inspiration is even more apparent when they dress up as the most famous private detective duo in history, Holmes and Watson.
This isn’t the first time that actors Warwick and Annis have teamed up for a performance, in 1980 they portrayed the leads in another Christie adaptation, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?. The film was produced by London Weekend Television, the same company that created Partners in Crime. As the series progresses it makes a lot of sense as to why they decided to use these actors again. When the plotline of an episode is flawed by a too simple crime story, it is the developing chemistry between the two characters which keeps us entertained.
The pair certainly become more comfortable in their roles with each new episode, meaning that when they bounce witty dialogue off one other it seems almost improvised rather than well-rehearsed. They complement the plotlines by sharing a playful tone, especially in “The Sunningdale Mystery”, so you warm a lot to both characters. Annis is the star of the show as Tuppence is quickly made the muse of the series. Her character is filled with an excitable spirit that matches her extravagant and stylish outfits. On the other hand, Warwick as Tommy is forced into a background role.
There is a great nostalgic presence when watching the show. This is primarily displayed by the authentic nature in which it has been filmed. The stylisation of the cuts between scenes makes it feel similar to a silent movie as we are taken straight into the action rather than using fade-ins or dissolves. The series brews in authenticity right from the simple customs used in the ‘20s to the use of sublime British filming locations.
The DVD release of Tommy & Tuppence: Partners in Crime offers an Agatha Christie Biography and Bibliography, James Warwick and Francesca Annis Cast Filmographies, The Glamorous Fashions of Tuppence featurette and a Tommy and Tuppence Gallery. The Christie Biography is a short read at only five pages long with the Bibliography organising her books in alphabetical order rather than in a timeline. Quick slideshows give a selection of some of the outfits Tuppence wears throughout the series and a simple Gallery illustrates photographs of the two characters together.
Compared to the gory and gritty murder dramas that are forever present on our screens, Tommy & Tuppance: Partners in Crime may seem outdated. Yet this collection offers a great opportunity to dive into the simple crime dramas of the past which flawlessly execute the same styles of Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple.