Agatha Christie romp ‘Partners in Crime’ on BBC 1 review – ‘David Walliams is grossly miscast and sinks the series’
When the hero and heroine of your mystery drama are a posh 1950s married couple called Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, you’re probably half-hobbled already. When Tommy is played by David Walliams, you might as well invest in a pair of crutches.
Walliams, who’s listed as an executive producer on Partners in Crime (which probably explains the casting), a six-part adaptation of two Agatha Christie novels, is mainly what sinks the series.
Jessica Raine is fine as the crime fiction-addicted Tuppence, always yearning for a bit of adventure to enliven their debt-ridden suburban life, which revolves around Tommy’s struggle to get a honey business off the ground, but Walliams is grossly miscast. You never for a second believe these two could be married with a young son.
Required to handle a straightish dramatic role, Walliams underplays it to the point of passivity half of the time. When he’s not doing that, he veers too far in the other direction, making Tommy the kind of faintly dim, ham-fisted ditherer that couldn’t investigate his way through his own front door.
The part demands the kind of light-yet-dashing touch someone like Toby Stephens, who showed his flair for this sort of thing in BBC2’s short-lived, underrated Vexed (2012), could bring to it. Walliams, though, is just leaden and the faintly camp persona he cultivates elsewhere is never far away.
The couple have a chance encounter on a Paris train with a frightened young woman called Jane Finn, who’s being pursued by some nasty types. Jane disappears and her young male accomplice is murdered.
Back in London, Tuppence’s impulsive investigation leads her into a dangerous encounter with the aforementioned nasty types in a seedy backstreet betting shop.
They turn for help to Tommy’s uncle Anthony (James Fleet), a boss in MI6, who says Jane was carrying a secret tape recording that could reveal the identity of a legendary Soviet assassin known as ‘Mr Brown’, who’s planning to bump off a leading political figure.
What Tommy and Tuppence, who uncle Anthony co-opts into the Cold War espionage game, don’t know is that Jane slipped the vital tape into their belongings.
It doesn’t do to scrutinise the plot’s improbable leaps and bounds. Like Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes and The 39 Steps, both of which it superficially resembles, Partners in Crime is supposed to be a rattling, old-style good yarn.
The problem is that it creaks more than it rattles, lumbering ponderously from one laboured scene to another.
I have no idea what liberties have been taken with the source novel, The Secret Adversary – although since it was written in 1922, I imagine there’s been some tinkering – but I can’t really see this pleasing anyone.