Wealthy and promiscuous widow Emily French (Kim Cattrall, Sex and the City) likes young men and she loves to party, much to the chagrin of her uptight lady's maid, Janet McIntyre (Monica Dolan, The Casual Vacancy). One night, she meets one Leonard Vole (Billy Howle), a handsome young man, broken by his experiences from the WWI battlefields and struggling to hold a job. Before long, he becomes Emily's regular companion, and with it come all the trappings and fancy clothes... including a drastic will change for Ms. French. When French is found bludgeoned to death in her lovely home by Janet, who swears she saw Leonard Vole leaving the home only moments before, the police are certain they have their man. After all, he had motive, was seemingly cheating on his demure showgirl wife, Romaine (Andrea Riseborough, Resistance, Shadow Dancer), and the maid is a witness - case closed.
Fortunately for Leonard, low-level solicitor John Mayhew (Toby Jones, Detectorists, The Secret Agent) comes trolling the newly imprisoned and catches a volatile and career-changing case in the French murder, representing Vole. And fortunately for Mayhew, Vole's wife, Romaine (Riseborough), can provide his alibi as he swears he was home with her by 9:30pm, long before Emily was murdered. And provide that alibi she does - until information is revealed to her that her beloved Leonard may have been sexually involved with French, and she swiftly turns the tables on him, recanting her statement and immediately becoming a witness for the prosecution (hence the name). Leonard is devastated that his beloved Romaine has turned her back on him and basically assured he'll get the noose, but Mayhew continues to dig since he so staunchly believes in Leonard's innocence. What could cause a devoted partner to turn like that, he wonders.
Before long, Mayhew discovers information that shadows Romaine's previous testimony and the tables are completely flipped. But if Leonard didn't kill Emily, who did and why? The more Mayhew searches for answers and the more grand the spectacle of Leonard's trial grows, the more convoluted the truth becomes. When the final curtain closes, you won't know which way is up and you'll be well and truly stunned by what actually happened.
What I love about these Agatha Christie adaptations provided by Acorn and helmed by Sarah Phelps is that they are so rich and layered, but tell the stories in a brand new way. I loved last year's And Then There Were None, which is a classic Christie I had seen in several different forms, but I was completely unfamiliar with Witness and it was all the better because of that. How Phelps can manage to take a 20-page short story and turn it into two hours of edge-of-your-seat entertainment, teasing out aspects of the characters that were barely glanced upon in the original work is epic and brilliant and I dearly hope that Acorn and the Christie Foundation commission her to adapt many, many more Christie tales (Evil Under the Sun please!).
The acting in Agatha Christie's The Witness for the Prosecution is superlative. I mean, how could it not be with actors the likes of Toby Jones, Kim Cattrall and Andrea Riseborough, but still, it takes a masterful screenwriter and director to make a truly fantastic movie and this crew has talent in spades. It's really hard to pick a favorite, but it has to be Andrea Riseborough, who, up to now, I have only seen in mediocre movies. Not that she was mediocre, mind you. She's awesome, but the movies themselves were simply okay. She shines like a diamond in Witness, deftly fluctuating between a war-damaged young woman, an injured wife, a demure ingenue chorus girl, and a dangerous woman scorned. And I loved every minute of it. Everyone else was fantastic as well, of course, from Cattrall as French, to Jones as Mayhew, to Dolan as McIntyre and everyone in between. Come to think of it, you'll see vastly different sides of each of these characters and its quite glorious to behold.
If you are looking for special features, you'll find plenty to love here. There are featurettes on everything from the set locations, to dressing a murder scene, to the fashions in the film, and adapting the story to screen, plus more. There are also specific featurettes on each of the locations in the film, and the various cast members also give you the rundown on the roles they play. There is a tiny bit of overlap with other featurettes, but it is scant.
If you are trying to decide whether to watch it on Acorn TV, or buy the DVD or the Blu-ray, I can easily recommend the Blu-ray. I watched the film on all three mediums and Blu-ray is a must. I have a 4K TV, player and receiver and typically, even DVDs are upscaled gorgeously, but this film's visuals are particularly "muddy" when not viewed on Blu-ray. I say this not to insult the film at all, but rather, much of it takes place in dark, dusky places. A smoke-filled battlefield, a dark and sexy speakeasy, a dreary jail cell, the dim dressing rooms of a crumbling theatre, and the dangerous, fog-shrouded back alleys of Liverpool are places the film will revisit often and if you aren't watching the Blu-ray, you won't get the full effect. As an example, when I watched it on Blu-ray (after viewing the other mediums), I saw things I totally missed in my first two viewings like blown apart bodies on the battlefield, or a tear or fray in a piece of clothing, or a small wrinkle on an aging but still very beautiful woman. You'll be able to enjoy the film on any medium, but all of the little nuances that helped round out the characters are amplified on Blu-ray.
Ok, enough said. This adaptation of Agatha Christie's The Witness for the Prosecution is must-see if you enjoy British mystery, Agatha Christie in any form, or really, just a good, old-fashioned murder mystery. Watch it or buy it, or both, but do yourself a favor and experience this film.