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Why Didn't They Ask Evans? is a 2022 television adaptation of the 1934 Agatha Christie novel Why Didn't They Ask Evans?. The miniseries was written and directed by Hugh Laurie, who also appears in the role of Dr Nicholson.[1] The miniseries consists of three episodes, first aired on BritBox on 12th April 2022.

Synopsis

Bobby Jones (Will Poulter) and Frankie Derwent (Lucy Boynton) looking over the cliffs

Bobby Jones, the son of the vicar of the Welsh seaside town of Marchbolt, discovers a badly injured man who has apparently fallen off the cliff. The man soon dies, but not before briefly regaining consciousness and saying “Why didn't they ask Evans?”. As a string of fishy incidents unfurls, Bobby becomes convinced that the man's death was no mere accident. Reunited with his childhood friends, Lady Frankie Derwent and Knocker, they decide to play the part of amateur sleuths and uncover the truth.

Cast

Main characters

Marchbolt and its visitors

  • Alistair Petrie as Reverend Richard Jones, Bobby's father (all episodes)

    Reverend Jones (Alistair Petrie) delivering a sermon in Marchbolt church

  • Conleth Hill as Dr Alwyn Thomas, Bobby's golf partner and friend (episode 1)
  • Leon Ockendon as Alex Pritchard, the dying man (episodes 1 and 2)
  • Morwenna Banks as Mrs Cayman, his sister (all episodes)
  • Richard Dixon as Leo Cayman, her husband (all episodes)
  • Nia Trussler Jones as Mrs Gladys Roberts, housemaid at the vicarage (all episodes)
  • Roberts (uncredited), her husband (episode 2)
  • Simon Markey as Nigel the Postman (episode 1)
  • Carlie Enoch as Ivy Marshall, young woman working at the post-office (episodes 1 and 3)

    Marchbolt, Bobby's hometown

  • Christian Patterson as Sergeant Ellis (all episodes)
  • Bob Goody as Ted Miller, the carnival master (episode 1)
  • Tomos Farrer as Mickey, one of the twins (episode 1)
  • Samuel Farrer as Sammy, one of the twins (episode 1)
  • Martyn Ellis as Albert Golf Pro (episode 1)
  • Trevor Cooper as Coroner (episode 1)
  • Maxime Evans as Mrs Bowden, clerk at the dry cleaner's (episode 2)
  • Alfie Bottley as Solo Chorister (episode 2)
  • Janice (uncredited), woman playing the church organ (episode 3)

Lady Marcham (Emma Thompson), Frankie's artistic mother

The Derwents and their household

Merroway Court and Staverley

The Grange sanatorium

Moira Nicholson (Maeve Dermody) and Dr Nicholson (Hugh Laurie)

Miscellaneous

  • Joshua James as Dr George Arbuthnot, Frankie's friend (episodes 2 and 3)

    Dr George Arbuthnot (Joshua James)

  • Dan Tetsell as Ticket Collector (episode 2)
  • Timothy Harker as Porter, at Carstairs's club (episode 3)
  • Andria Doherty as Rose Pratt (nee Chudleigh), Mr Savage's cook (episode 3)
  • John Savage (seen in photographs, uncredited), the deceased millionaire (episode 3)
  • Alfred Mere (uncredited), Mr Savage's gardener (episodes 1 and 3)

Mentioned only

  • Graham Morris, a man from Marchbolt who died recently
  • Henry Costello, head of the Buenos Aires shipping company
  • Mrs Harris, a staff member at the Marchams'
  • David (surname unknown, Frankie refers to him as "David something"), house agent in Marchbolt
  • Mr Elford, Savage's solicitor

Comparison with the original story

(long section which may contain spoilers - click on expand to read)

The adaptation is very faithful to the original novel, with minor character additions and plot adjustments.

Characters

The following characters' names have been altered:

  • Ralph "Knocker" Beadon, originally "Badger" Beadon

    Lord Marcham (Jim Broadbent) and Mr Bragge (Patrick Barlow) at Derwent Castle

  • Rev. Richard Jones, originally Rev. Thomas Jones
  • Henry Costello, originally Henriquez & Dallo
  • Lord Marcham, originally Lord Marchington
  • Mr Wilfred Bragge, originally Mr Frederick Spragge
  • Ben or Benjamin, originally Reeves
  • Dr James Nicholson, originally Dr Jasper Nicholson
  • Alfred Mere, originally Albert Mere
Spoiler warning: A spoiler is announced! The following section contains details about the plot of the novel Why Didn't They Ask Evans? and its 2022 adaptation.
The following characters have been omitted in the adaptation:

The following characters have been newly added in:

  • Albert, credited as a golf pro, who first recounts the incident of the dead man to Frankie and witnesses her reunion with Bobby
  • Nigel the postman, who delivers Bobby the telegram offering him a job
  • Ivy Marshall, a flirty young woman employed at the Marchbolt post office

    Bobby posts a telegram with Ivy Marshall's (Carlie Enoch) help

  • Sergeant Ellis, member of the Marchbolt police force and the only policeman seen in the adaptation, not altogether active in the investigation
  • Mr Ted Miller, owner of the travelling carnival that comes to town
  • Mickey and Sammy, twin brothers who attend the carnival and bring Bobby the poisoned beer
  • Mrs Bowden, who runs the dry-cleaner's in town
  • Lady Marcham, Frankie's artistic and temperamental mother
  • Hari Singh, the Marcham's Indian butler
  • Arthur Crowe, the Marchams' driver
  • “Thicko” Derwent–Broxley, Frankie's cousin

    Thicko Derwent–Broxley (Nicholas Banks) and Bobby at the inquest

  • Ben, elderly butler at Merroway Court
  • Mrs Connolly, cook at Merroway Court
  • Bessie, maid/kitchenmaid at Merroway Court
  • Mr Angel, a suspicious mystery man who is first introduced at the mass imminently after Carstairs' death, then appears to be following people around, looking for Bobby Jones. At the end, he is unmasked as Moira's henchman (along with the Caymans).
  • Graham Morris, a local man who has just died, only mentioned in passing by the Reverend
  • Mrs Harris, a staff member at the Marchams' house, only mentioned in passing by Frankie and her mother

The background and demeanor of some of the characters is changed slightly:

  • Bobby and Frankie are both only-children in the adaptation; in the book, they both have several brothers. Bobby and Frankie are childhood friends as in the book, but in the adaptation, they have last seen each other at the age of twelve.

    Bobby notices Frankie while playing the organ

    After Bobby witnesses the death of Alex Pritchard in the first episode, he runs to the mass to play the organ and sees Frankie unexpectedly in the pew, for the first time in years. He notices that she has grown up, but does not speak to her. They meet properly only later, when Frankie comes to the golf centre and asks Albert about the dead man. She later reveals to Bobby that she is bored with London and therefore came down to Marchbolt. At the end of the episode, we learn that Bobby knows Lord Marcham and the butler Hari because he "practically lived" on the estate for two summers when he was young. This did not exactly happen in the book; Bobby and his brothers used to play at the Castle Marchington, but did not spend whole summers there.
  • Knocker is smarter, sportier and luckier than his book counterpart. He also takes a more active part in the investigation. No childhood memories with Bobby and Frankie (them playing around in the mud) are evoked in the adaptation.

    Knocker (Jonathan Jules) shows his strength at the pub

    He is indeed a friend of Bobby's prior to the beginning of the first episode, but does not come from Marchbolt and so possibly made his acquaintance later in life. Knocker only meets Frankie for the first time in the second episode, when they are planning how to get into Merroway Court. Near the end of the third episode, Knocker and Frankie agree they could be friends.
  • Bobby's father, Rev. Jones, plays a more prominent role here and is more laid back than in the book. Among other things, he is not at Bobby's case all the time because of his "failed career" – although he is very disappointed when Bobby turns down the well-paid job over-seas.
  • Dr Thomas is a worse golfer than in the book. He has a wooden leg in the adaptation, back from when he served in the army (he left after he became Corporal).

Plot

Episode One

  • An initial scene is added in, in which the gardener Alfred is asked by an unknown woman to come to the house. In the last episode, the woman is revealed to be Moira, who wished the gardener to witness Savage's will.
  • In the adaptation, there is no mist on the golf course when Bobby hears the cry and discovers the dying man.
  • Due to his wooden leg, Dr Thomas cannot climb down the cliff and examine the dying man himself, so he simply asks Bobby to stay with him and try to keep him warm while he himself goes off to fetch another doctor. In the book, they climb down together but seeing that nothing can be done, Dr Thomas goes off to make arrangements to have the body lifted up, while Bobby stays with the man in case he regained consciousness.

    Bobby discovers a key in the dead man's pocket

  • Bobby finds not only a photo in the dead man's pocket (later revealed to be of Moira), but he systematically goes through his pockets and discovers two additional clues: a key with a golden fish on the ring and a luxurious pen with red ink.
  • A sinister man with a foreign accent keeps turning up throughout the episode, who does not appear in the book at all. Bobby first notices him at the mass right after Alex Pritchard's death, standing in a pew.

    The mysterious man (Nicholas Asbury)

    Similarly, in the pub where Bobby, Knocker and Ivy go the day after, Bobby sees him just standing silently by the door. He is also present at the inquest, watching but giving no testimony, which further puzzles Bobby. Later, he is shown with a red balloon at the carnival, but Bobby does not notice him there. It is implied that he gave the balloon to the twins along with the poisoned beer. Lastly, he is sitting in the hospital lobby after Bobby's poisoning, holding flowers in his lap and pretending to be a well-wisher. He does not, however, attempt to harm Bobby or Frankie (who do not notice him), so it may be the case that he goes after Dr Thomas instead. In the third episode, he is finally introduced as Mr Angel.
  • Frankie sends her cousin "Thicko" to the inquest because she cannot attend it herself. In the book, "Thicko" is not present at all and Frankie goes to the inquest herself.
  • In the adaptation, no preventative measures are taken to better mark the footpath running along the cliff edge, whence Pritchard fell. In the book, the town council agree to put a railing along the footpath to prevent future accidents.
  • When the Caymans visit the vicarage to ask Bobby about Pritchard's death, Bobby remembers straigthaway that the man uttered his last words to him and tells them. In the book, he only remembers after the Caymans have left and writes them a letter. This results in a tighter time-frame in the adaptation – there is almost no delay between the Caymans' visit and the lucrative job offer and poisoning.
  • Bobby keeps having troubled dreams about the photo, which keeps transforming into different women he knows. This does not happen in the book, although Bobby confesses that the face of the woman in the photo "has been haunting him".
  • An addition to the adaptation is the arrival of a travelling carnival into town.

    Carnival near Marchbolt

    Bobby is tasked with overseeing the carousel. This is where the poisoning happens – the twins Sammy and Mickey deliver him a poisoned beer, stating it came from Mr Miller, owner of the carnival. Bobby takes a sip but gets sick due to the movement of the carousel and throws up on Frankie's dress before passing out, which saves his life. It is later revealed that the twins never saw who gave them the beer because the man was wearing a mask. As far as shown, the police do not investigate the incident, although Frankie goes and interrogates Mr Miller (who is clear of suspicion). In the book, somebody simply slips the poison into Bobby's beer while he is lying in the grass, and his survival is considered an absolute miracle. The police suspect the poisoning is the work of a madman.
  • Dr Thomas talks to Bobby after he wakes up in the hospital.

    Dr Thomas (Conleth Hill) warning Bobby at the hospital

    He reveals that he has made some inquiries about the company in Buenos Aires who had offered Bobby a position, and discovered that the man running it, Henry Costello, does not exist. In the book, the doctor makes no such inquiries; the company is legitimate and so is the job offer, even though it serves the same purpose as in the adaptation – to get Bobby out of the way.
  • Mr Bragge, the Marchams' solicitor, is introduced already when Frankie returns home for the first time; he has come to have some papers signed by Lord Marcham. Frankie offers him to stay for lunch, but her father reneges that, much to Mr Bragge's sorrow. In the book, Frankie only meets him when she comes to enquire about John Savage (which she also does in episode three of the adaptation).
  • Lord Marcham does not help Frankie with tracking down Bassington-ffrench as much as in the book. Here, he only manages to say that there was a commodore Bassington at Jutland, before being interrupted by a distressed Lady Marcham. In the book, he tells Frankie of several branches of Bassington-ffrenches – the Hampshire branch (who are well-off thanks to an American heiress), the Shropshire branch (who have been badly hit by death duties) and the "Irish lot". Frankie deduces Roger Basington-ffrench comes from the Hampshire branch.
  • Lady Marcham, not present in the book, introduces a vital clue in the adaptation. Her statement that "only the parlour maid knows what's going on in the house" makes Frankie realize in episode three that only the maid could have properly known what John Savage looked like, and that's why they did not ask her to sign the will. In the book, Bobby and Frankie deduce this without any outside clues.
  • At the end of the episode, Dr Thomas is found hanged in the hall of his house.

    Bobby finds Dr Thomas dead

    This does not happen in the book. At the end of the third episode, it is revealed that he had to be killed because he had been asking too many questions about the job offer from the Buenos Aires company.

Episode Two

  • The episode starts with Dr Thomas's burial. Sergeant Ellis interrogates Bobby

    Sergeant Ellis interrogates Bobby before the funeral

    and claims that it was suicide, although Bobby is sure that that cannot be the case – after Bobby's poisoning, the doctor had told him that if contemplating suicide, he would take a large dose of phenobarbital under a tree outside, and definitely not hang himself, so as not to alarm the servants or stain the carpet. There was also no suicide note and no real reason for the doctor to take his life. The doctor's death serves as an incentive for Bobby to investigate further; before that, he had been dead set on letting go of the case, going to London and running the garage with Knocker. Frankie is the only one to believe Bobby's claim that it was not suicide and concocts a plan of action. Neither the doctor's death nor Bobby's hesitation to join the investigation are present in the book.
  • In the adaptation, Frankie's visit to the house agents in Marchbolt is done off-screen; she informs Bobby and Arbuthnot post hoc about her success at gleaning information from "a David something", who told her that Roger Bassington-ffrench came from Staveley in Hampshire. In the book, Frankie gets general information about Roger's origin from her father, then visits Messrs. Wheeler & Owen, a Marchbolt housing agent firm, where Mr Owen supplies her with his exact address.
  • The plotline with a dark-blue Talbot car seen in the vicinity on the day of Pritchard's death is scrapped in the adaptation.
  • Bobby does not carry a revolver at him after the poisoning, which he did in the book.
  • In the adaptation, Frankie explains her plan of getting into Merroway Court on the train to London and in Knocker's and Bobby's garage; in the book, this happens in Bobby's room above the garage. In The Club Box in London, she further explains that she went to St Swithun's school, located just three miles from Merroway Court, and that's how she knows the layout of the roads; in the book, she has gone down some days prior and reconnoitred the surroundings.

    Bobby and Knocker exchanging uneasy looks as Frankie outlines her plan

    While Bobby reacts extatically to the plan in the book, here he is a bit sceptical about the crashing part and worries about Frankie's safety.
  • Here, Frankie only buys one car – the one to crash – from Knocker and Bobby's garage. In the original story, she also bought a car for Dr Arbuthnot.
  • In the adaptation, Knocker is taken into confidence and helps Frankie, Bobby and Arbuthnot outline the plan of action. He is also the one to push the car off the hill; in the book this is done by Bobby.

    Knocker pushing the car into the wall of Merroway Court

    Lastly, his cuts his palm so that Frankie can smear some blood on her face after her feigned accident. In the original story, she does not use blood, only pale make-up.
  • Ben, the cyclist who witnesses the accident, is very distressed in the adaptation and runs quickly to the house. In the book, he is quite unfazed and morbidly curious.
Spoilers end here.

Tropes and Themes

  • Welsh and Irish heritage are often evoked – through folk songs, funeral choirs, crests etc.

    Bobby and Knocker sing the old Irish folk song "Sally Brown"

    Dr Thomas talks about the war and the phrase "Luck of the Irish", which turned out to be "Luck of the Welsh" instead (he soon lost two friends and his leg). Also present is a subtle rivalry between the Welsh and the English – postman.
  • Name humour – the catchphrase being "Bassington-ffrench with two small Fs". Lord Marcham does not understand his daughter's question and thinks that she is asking about a Roger Bassington who is French by origin. Knocker expresses the sentiment that only posh people could come up with such a ridiculous name.
  • Absence of police investigation – apart from an inefficient local bobby, Sergeant Ellis, no police officer disturbs the amateur sleuths in their sleuthing
  • Wills and testaments – the signing of a will lies at heart of the whole mystery
  • Magic tricks – Bobby conjures a coin (and later also an improvised engagement ring) from behind Frankie's ear
  • Love between the protagonists – Bobby and Frankie get married at the end

Filming Locations

  • Three Cliffs Bay, Gower Peninsula, Wales – cliffs adjoining the golf course
  • Guilford, Surrey – exterior street scenes[2]

Research notes

Gallery

Promotional Videos

See Also

References

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