Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence Goes Darker for TV

It’s an English-country-house suspense thriller in the time-honored tradition,” Bill Nighy says of Ordeal by Innocence, a three-part television adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel, following last year’s The Witness for the Prosecution and 2015’s And Then There Were None. It will appear this Christmas on the BBC in the U.K. and early next year on Amazon in the U.S. The story is set at Christmastime, in 1954, and Nighy stars as Leo Argyll, a gentleman and an amateur Egyptologist. Nighy was first attracted to the project by, he explains, the “brilliant script, the director, the cast, and the period, and I’m keen on the genre generally.” He continues: “A large part of its appeal was the period—how much our relationships and social structures have changed, and the nostalgia and curiosity we all feel for what happened 60 or 70 years ago.”

Co-starring is Anna Chancellor as Rachel Argyll, a perfect wife to Leo and mother to five adopted children, who is brutally murdered. “It’s a rather cruel Christie for Christmas,” says writer Sarah Phelps. “A nice murder, twisted deviance, and savagery—it makes you realize you quite like your own family!”
“It’s about what kills her, not who,” Phelps says, adding that “women had become weaponized postwar—they were what we’d been fighting for, the perfect hearth, home, family . . . but Rachel kept a dark secret.” Executive producer James Prichard, Christie’s great-grandson, echoes Phelps: “Everything’s perfect on top, but underneath the water everything is chaos. What I love is that it is really subversive, an incredibly screwed-up family at Christmas.” Nighy concurs: “All families have their ups and downs, but this one, bloomin’ hell!”

Director Sandra Goldbacher was looking for “an All About Eve tone, darkly glittering old-style glamour and snappy one-liners.” As for the viewers, Nighy says, “I have a vision of every family around their TV arguing about who’s done it, because the audience will confidently suspect all the characters at some time during the show.” A perfect Christmas feast, then, and there are six more in the pipeline.

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