Review by C.J. Bunce
In the never-ending adaptations and updates of stories and novels by Agatha Christie, Hugh Laurie (House, MD, Roadkill, A Bit of Fry and Laurie) may have created the best yet. In the three-part limited series Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Laurie, the always witty and sometimes dry writer, director, comedian, and actor has found the perfect story to add his signature style. In stressing the fun of the thrill of the chase–and merging exquisite banter with the perfect cast of leads–Laurie’s series runs circles around the popular dark, dreary, and sometimes even unnecessarily grotesque Sarah Phelps adaptations of Christie’s stories (see our reviews of the recent Ordeal by Innocence, The Pale Horse, and The ABC Murders). And even without the all-star casts of Kenneth Branagh’s big-screen adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, we’ll bet you walk away from Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? with a new favorite Agatha Christie story.
The series features Will Poulter (The Maze Runner, The Chronicles of Narnia, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3) as the curious and mild-mannered vicar’s son Bobby Jones and Lucy Boynton (Bohemian Rhapsody, Murder on the Orient Express) as the sharp and savvy, ahead of her time young noblewoman Lady Frances “Frankie” Derwent. After a stint in the navy, Bobby has returned to his Welsh hometown of Marchbolt, back to being the church organist and picking up odd jobs as he meanders around figuring out his next step in life.
While a golf caddy, our lead Bobby (supposedly named for golf pro Bobby Jones) hears a man fall to his death off a nearby cliff. As he approaches the body, the man utters a final strange sentence before dying, “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” Bobby runs into a childhood friend, Boynton’s Frankie, at just the right time. Now grown up, both take to each other, but from afar, and Frankie is keen to hear the gory details of the man’s death. Soon their joint interest becomes a partnership as they concoct a plan to determine whether the man leaped to his death or was pushed.
As with all the best mysteries, it’s not that surprise gotcha at the end, the stuff that drives contemporary mysteries, that’s fun–it’s the joy of the ride there. Bobby’s a straight shooter, the perfect lead as he’s free of some angle or untoward motivation. Frankie–in large part because Boynton inhabits the role so seamlessly and superbly–is outgoing, vibrant, and hilarious.
The supporting cast has it all: Familiar face Alistair Petrie (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Rush, The Bank Job) plays Bobby’s father the vicar, Jonathan Jules is Bobby’s old pal Ralph “Knocker” Beadon, who Bobby enlists as an accomplice in the investigation, Daniel Ings (Black Mirror, Eddie the Eagle) is the trendy Roger Bassington–ffrench (“with two small ffs”), a chief suspect, and Amy Nuttall (All Creatures Great and Small, Downton Abbey) plays his sister-in-law, who helps Frankie after an auto “accident” Even more fun, Jim Broadbent (Hot Fuzz, Harry Potter series) plays Frankie’s very Jane Austen-ish father, the great Emma Thompson (Men in Black: International, Much Ado About Nothing) is the perfect put-upon mother, and Hugh Laurie steps from behind the screen to play a doctor for two episodes (recall Thompson and Laurie together in the early 1990s days of Peter’s Friends and Sense and Sensibility).
The series overflows with style and class, with sets, cars, costumes, and hairdos that will immerse viewers in the 1930s. The closest series you’ll find to this sweeping, beautiful, lively British drama is the 2017 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1930s American drama The Last Tycoon. Plus it has the fun of the 2013 adaptation of Ethel Lina White’s The Lady Vanishes (but Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? is even better).
Add this to your list of the best TV of 2022 and at the top of all Christie adaptations. Props to Hugh Laurie for a big win. Don’t miss Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? It’s streaming now on BritBox via Prime Video here. Christie’s novel is still in print and available here.