After Agatha Christie made her first big splash in the literary world with The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920, she decided her next book would not feature Hercule Poirot and would not be an old school mystery. Rather, she plotted the first of what turned out to be occasional thrillers she enjoyed writing and featured two young madcaps who longed for adventure. The Secret Adversary introduced Tommy Beresford and Tuppence Cowley, former school chums who get tangled up in post-World War I espionage and fall in love. For the rest of her writing career, Mrs. Christie would intermittently pop in on Tommy and Tuppence as they aged into parents and then grandparents but always harboring a lingering sense of adventure and write about their latest caper. (In fact, the last book Mrs. Christie actually wrote was a Tommy and Tuppence adventure Postern of Fate though several other manuscripts written earlier were published after that book.) In 1929, she published a book of short stories called Partners in Crime featuring the sprightly duo who were asked by Scotland Yard to run a detective agency and investigate mysteries, most of which scholars consider minor Christie at best. The 1982 ITV series Partners in Crime and the 1983 follow-up TV-movie The Secret Adversary feature Tommy and Tuppence in their first literary adventures.
Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime: The Tommy & Tuppence Mysteries
Directed by Tony Wharmby et al
Studio: Acorn Media
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 623 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English
Release Date: January 29, 2013
Review Date: December 29, 2012
Truth to tell, Mrs. Christie enjoyed writing thrillers because they gave her a break from the heavily plotted and intricately designed puzzles for which she was known. Nevertheless, even her thrillers contain elements of mystery within them, usually concerning the identity of the evil mastermind out to either take over the world or bring down England and the West, but there is a sameness to her means of disguising her evildoers which makes it fairly easy to figure out these identities once you’ve read (or seen) one or two of them. The Secret Adversary finds the couple embroiled in a search for the mysterious Jane Finn who is carrying secret documents which would prove an embarrassment to Britain were they to fall in the wrong hands and which might lead to a general strike and even to civil war. Thwarting Tommy (James Warwick) and Tuppence (Francesca Annis) every step of the way is the mysterious Mr. Brown who at various points is instrumental in capturing and holding Tommy against his will and in putting Tuppence’s life in the gravest of danger. The almost two-hour The Secret Adversary which is the first item in this set is by far the most elaborate production included in the box made on an obviously larger budget than any of the one hour episodes of Partners in Crime.
As for the one hour mysteries, none of them would rank with the best of the Poirot hour shows either in complexity or pacing. The original stories were written as homages to famous detectives of the day whom the sleuthing duo would mimic as they investigated their various cases. This idea was for the most part dropped for the TV series since the detectives, apart from Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, and Hercule Poirot, are practically unknown to modern audiences (there are references to Holmes and Father Brown in their respective stories, and “The Crackler” mentions Edgar Wallace’s mysteries quite deliberately). Still, these ten mysteries are really mere larks without much of the breathless danger or the baffling puzzles to be found in the Poirot mysteries.
Not that there isn’t an occasional murder, a theft, a kidnapping, or other various chicanery contained in these tales, but with Tommy and Tuppence’s flippant way of gliding through life (she has a hat fetish; he’s convivially juvenile at all times), even a grim story like “The House of Lurking Death” never seems especially dire, and the solutions to the puzzles are not among Mrs. Christie’s most creative. James Warwick and Francesca Annis have a splendid chemistry together (these aren’t the only Agatha Christie adaptations they appeared in during their careers) and are always a joy to see. They’re abetted by the delightfully silly, movie-obsessed office boy Albert (Reese Dinsdale) who gets a chance to prove his mettle in “The Ambassador’s Boots” where his movie mania comes in handy. The stories are set in the 1920s, and the production design and the elaborate costuming especially for Francesca Annis make for rather dazzling visuals and prove entertaining adjuncts to the sometimes plodding tales being told.
Here are the eleven programs contained on three DVDs in this set:
1 – The Secret Adversary
2 – The Affair of the Pink Pearl (perhaps the best of the hour mystery shows)
3 – The House of Lurking Death
4 – The Sunningdale Mystery
5 – The Clergyman’s Daughter
6 – Finessing the King
7 – The Ambassador’s Boots
8 – The Man in the Mist
9 – The Unbreakable Alibi
10 – The Case of the Missing Lady (the most unbearably silly of the stories)
11 – The Crackler
The programs are presented in their original TV aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Unfortunately, this set is merely a rehash of the original DVD releases of these programs now combined into a single box set (previously the shows were contained in two volumes). There has been no remastering or tinkering with the transfers, and the results are washed out, debris-strewn images that are overly brown, soft focused, and often unappealing. The one hour shows are a mixture of videotape for interiors and film for exteriors, and the film sequences are always softer and filled with dirt specks. Color is often dated looking and is never very vibrant but is a little better resolved in the videotaped interior sequences. The age of the masters is also apparent with the obvious and distracting banding that is present in every episode where videotape is used. The one hour programs have been divided into 6 chapters while The Secret Adversary has been divided into 10 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound mix is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. While the dialogue is quite clear and is never drowned out by the sprightly music or the minimal sound effects, the audio track is rather undistinguished but fairly typical of a television production of this era.
There are no bonus features apart from various Acorn Media promo trailers which appear on disc one in the set.
2.5/5 (not an average)
Collectors of Agatha Christie programming will likely already have these programs in previous editions. This release of Partners in Crime merely collects the previous two volume sets into a single package of all eleven programs featuring Mrs. Christie’s husband and wife detective duo. There has been no improvement in sound or picture quality from previous releases, so unless one didn’t already have these programs, there is nothing new here to tantalize a fan into rebuying them.