‘Agatha Christie’s The Witness for the Prosecution’: From queen of crime to king of Emmys?

Two years ago, the streaming service Acorn reaped an Emmy bid for Best TV Movie for “Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain, Poirot’s Last Case.” That telefilm marked the culmination of a series that dated back more than a quarter century in which David Suchet played Agatha Christie‘s classic character of Hercule Poirot. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, almost all of the other novels were brought to life. But following the broadcast of “The Clocks” in 2011, fans were left waiting until Acorn stepped in and ensured the final three whodunits would be filmed. The bonus was that the participation of an American producer made this Brit hit finally eligible to contend at the Emmys.

Acorn, which specializes in programming from across the pond, is back in the mix this year with another TV adaptation of one of the classics from the queen of crime novels:  “Agatha Christie’s The Witness for the Prosecution.” The two-hour telefilm, that also aired on the BBC, is based on the 1925 short story crafted by Christie rather than on her 1953 play. The latter was adapted by Billy Wilder in 1957 with an all-star cast led by Oscar champ Charles Laughton as the defense attorney.

In this outing, Emmy nominee Toby Jones takes on this meaty part while Kim Cattrall, who reaped five Emmy bids for “Sex and the City,” steals scenes as the murder victim. In the title role, Andrea Riseborough keeps us guessing as to her character’s true motivations as she changes stories repeatedly about the whereabouts of her husband at the time of the killing.

In his rave review, Tim Goodman (THR) observes: “Toby Jones plays John Mayhew, the lawyer who comes to Leonard’s defense. Jones, in case you haven’t been paying attention to this character actor’s lengthy and impressive set of roles, is always brilliant. Here, he’s a veteran who appears to have suffered trauma to his lungs in the war, via gas (the plague of WWI), and he’s left coughing and sputtering around dank offices as an underappreciated underling while at home, he’s the sad-sack husband to a wife (Hayley Carmichael) who barely speaks because she can’t shake the depression of losing their teenage son in the war.”

And Maureen Ryan (Variety) was equally effusive: “Sarah Phelps has an instinctive understanding for the combination of frustration and obsession that drives the typical Christie character to break the rigid social rules that governed England between the wars. Director Julian Jarrold does a particularly fine job of creating the kind of atmosphere that mixes well-constructed anticipation with a certain strain of enjoyable dread, and in the leading role, Toby Jones is simply terrific.”

While Acorn delivers a range of new fare, such as the popular “Doc Martin” and “Midsomer Murders,” it also offers an extensive back catalogue that includes such Emmy darlings as “Upstairs, Downstairs” and “Prime Suspect.”

Now, with “Agatha Christie’s The Witness for the Prosecution” it could well have an Emmy winner of its own. To that end, Acorn is making the telefilm available to all TV academy voters via a website. It offers a hassle-free way (no ID, no password required) to watch this potential nominee, as well as its three contenders for Best Limited Series — “Close to the Enemy,” “The Level” and “Striking Out.”

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