Why is Agatha Christie never out of fashion? For Hugh Laurie the answer is quite simple. ‘He was a genius, an absolute genius,’ he said.
‘Every crime writer is indebted to Agatha because she defined what a murder mystery should be. What is necessary, what are the rules, because it must obey the rules to really satisfy you. He planned like an angel. He’s not cheating.’
Hugh has just written and directed a stellar new three-part adaptation of his favorite Christie novel, 1934’s Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, which he describes as ‘a bit like trying to make a Rubik’s Cube while people throw hot pebbles in your face’ .
Frankie (Lucy Boynton) and Bobby (Will Poulter), stars Why Don’t They Ask Evans?
But forget Poirot and Miss Marple, detective Christie here are two hot young things – socialite Lady Frances ‘Frankie’ Derwent and her childhood friend Bobby Jones, the priest’s son, played with pizzazz by Lucy Boynton and Will Poulter – who are determined to solve the mystery. when a man fell to his death from the top of a cliff.
As such, the BritBox series has all the hallmarks of a Christie’s thriller – intrigue, red herring, and a very clever ending – but it shoots with a sizzling youthful vibrancy and a romance vibe that makes it utterly compelling.
‘Frankie Derwent was my first crush,’ says Hugh, 62. ‘When I read the book as a teenager, I absolutely fell in love with him.
“He’s like my dream because he’s so much fun. He’s passionate, he has a sense of adventure, he’s funny and fearless.
“He comes from a privileged background but he treats every character he meets as if they were all in it together. I loved him, and I rediscovered that love while writing the story.
‘Every week on TV we see some old detective working on his final case, but with these two we have a character whose innocence and courage are part of the advantage they have. They are not cynical, they are smart and intelligent.
The story begins when Bobby hears screams while caddying on a golf course on the beautiful Gower Peninsula in Wales
‘The charm of the story is that you watch the heroes shape themselves. Are they in love? Or are they always in love but don’t know it?
‘I think it’s more likely, and only the two of them didn’t realize it until the end of the adventure.’
The story begins when Bobby hears screams while caddying on a golf course on the beautiful Gower Peninsula in Wales. A man fell off a cliff, and when Bobby reached him he managed to say, ‘Why don’t they ask Evans?’ with his dying breath.
Soon enough there are more deaths – Bobby himself was poisoned and nearly killed – and Frankie becomes obsessed with finding out who Evans is, why no one has asked him, and ultimately who the killer is, sending the pair on a thrilling adventure.
Hugh makes a cameo appearance as a mysterious doctor, but he admits that directing is proving the hardest. Most challenging are the vintage cars, including the beautiful Lagonda, Standard Ten, and Model T Ford.
Frankie Derwent was my first crush, I totally fell in love with him. He is passionate and fearless
‘The Ford Model T often won’t turn on,’ he said. “But it’s not the car’s fault, I don’t think you can blame a 100 year old car for being a bit slow to go in the morning.
‘And we had to crash a beautifully restored Standard Ten into a wall in an accident that is definitely one of the defining chapters of this book. But I was determined to bring it back to life because it didn’t seem right.’
The car trouble is offset by the excitement of a stellar cast including Emma Thompson and Jim Broadbent as Frankie’s parents, Lady and Lord Marcham, and Paul Whitehouse as local Anglers Arms owner, Mr Askew.
‘Emma and Jim were nice enough to come and be eccentric for a day and it was so much fun,’ laughed Hugh. ‘And I love the fact that Paul Whitehouse is a famous fisherman and his character runs some kind of temple for fishing.’
This is only the second adaptation of Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? since the 1980 film with John Gielgud – one of the first major productions of Christie’s work that sparked calls for more.
And now Hugh paid his own homage to his favorite story. ‘A good thread with a character you love spending time with is satisfying,’ she says.
‘And this has one of the most intriguing revelations of all of his stories, it still gives me goosebumps. It doesn’t solve the world’s problems, but I think viewers want to be able to dive into a time where the rules were a little different. This is an opportunity to park the modern world for a while.’
- Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? available on BritBox now.