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Meet Agatha Christie’s sexy young sleuths

Meet Agatha Christie's sexy young sleuths 2

Why does Agatha Christie never go out of fashion? For Hugh Laurie the answer’s quite simple. ‘She was a genius, an absolute genius,’ he says. 

‘Every crime writer owes a debt to Agatha because she defined what a murder-mystery should be. What it needed to be, what the rules were, because it has to obey rules to really satisfy you. She plotted like an angel. She didn’t cheat.’ 

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Hugh’s just written and directed a rather glorious new three-part adaptation of his favourite Christie novel, 1934’s Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, which he describes as ‘a bit like trying to do a Rubik’s Cube while people are pelting your face with hot gravel’. 

Frankie (Lucy Boynton) and Bobby (Will Poulter), the stars of Why Didn't They Ask Evans?

Frankie (Lucy Boynton) and Bobby (Will Poulter), the stars of Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?

But forget Poirot and Miss Marple, Christie’s sleuths here are two sexy young things – socialite Lady Frances ‘Frankie’ Derwent and her childhood friend Bobby Jones, the vicar’s son, played with pizzazz by Lucy Boynton and Will Poulter – who are determined to solve the mystery when a man falls to his death from a clifftop. 

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Thus the BritBox series has all the hallmarks of a Christie thriller – intrigue, red herrings and a devilishly clever denouement – but it’s shot through with fizzing youthful zest and a frisson of romance that make it utterly compelling. 

‘Frankie Derwent was my first crush,’ reveals Hugh, 62. ‘When I read the book as a teenager I absolutely fell in love with her. 

‘She was sort of my dream because she was such good fun. She was feisty, she had a sense of adventure, she was funny and fearless. 

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‘She comes from a privileged background but she treated every character she met as though they were all in it together. I loved that, and I sort of rediscovered the crush while writing the story. 

‘Every week on TV we see some old detective who’s on his last case, but with these two we have characters whose innocence and pluck is part of the advantage they have. They’re not cynical, they’re clever and quick-witted. 

The story starts when Bobby hears a scream while caddying on a golf course on the beautiful Gower Peninsula in Wales

The story starts when Bobby hears a scream while caddying on a golf course on the beautiful Gower Peninsula in Wales

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‘The charm of the story is you’re watching heroes forming themselves. Do they fall in love? Or have they always been in love but just didn’t know it? 

‘I think that’s more likely, and they were the only two who didn’t realise it until the end of the adventure.’ 

The story starts when Bobby hears a scream while caddying on a golf course on the beautiful Gower Peninsula in Wales. A man has fallen off a cliff, and when Bobby reaches him he manages to utter, ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’ with his dying breath. 

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Quite quickly there are more deaths – Bobby himself is poisoned and nearly killed – and Frankie becomes obsessed with finding out who Evans is, why nobody asked him, and ultimately who the killer is, sending the pair off on a thrilling adventure. 

Hugh makes a cameo appearance as a mysterious doctor, but he admits it was the directing that proved most difficult. Particularly challenging were the vintage cars, including a beautiful Lagonda, a Standard Ten and a Model T Ford. 

 Frankie Derwent was my first crush, I absolutely fell in love with her. She’s feisty and fearless

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‘The Model T Ford often wouldn’t start,’ he says. ‘But it’s not the car’s fault, I don’t think you can blame a 100-year-old car for being a little slow to get going in the morning. 

‘And we had to crash a beautifully restored Standard Ten into a wall in an apparent accident that’s one of the set pieces in the book. But I’m determined to bring it back to life because it doesn’t seem right.’ 

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The car trouble was offset by the joy of getting together a starry cast including Emma Thompson and Jim Broadbent as Frankie’s parents Lady and Lord Marcham, and Paul Whitehouse as the landlord of the local Anglers Arms, Mr Askew. 

‘Emma and Jim were kind enough to come and be eccentric for a day and that was very enjoyable,’ laughs Hugh. ‘And I love the fact that Paul Whitehouse is a renowned fisherman and his character is running a sort of temple to angling.’ 

This is only the second adaptation of Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? since a 1980 film with John Gielgud – one of the first major productions of Christie’s work that triggered a stampede for more. 

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And now Hugh’s paid his own homage to his favourite story. ‘A good yarn with characters you like spending time with is a satisfying thing,’ he says. 

‘And this has one of the most spine-tingling revelations of any of her stories, it still gives me the shivers. It doesn’t solve the problems of the world but I think viewers want to be able to dive into a time where the rules are slightly different. It’s a chance to park the modern world for a bit.’

  • Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? is available on BritBox now.

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