I recently came across the 2016 BBC production of The Witness for the Prosecution on iTunes, and I was totally surprised to hear it existed. While I get bored by mystery series (same detective over and over gets old), I’m definitely entertained by a one-off movie or miniseries, but somehow I missed this one. This Agatha Christie adaptation was done by the same people who did And Then There Were None (2015), which I definitely enjoyed, so sign me up!
Now, Witness is famous as both a story, play, and 1957 movie. My experience is limited to super vague memories of stage managing in a play version back in junior high school — but luckily I had zero memory of the plot! On the off chance you’re like me, I’m going to try to avoid getting too much into the twists of the plot beyond the basic set-up.
Emily French (Kim Cattrall) is a rich older woman with a penchant for cute young boys.
She picks up Leonard Vole and makes him her latest pet; Leonard is clearly uncomfortable, especially since he’s with the beautiful and sad Romaine (Andrea Riseborough of W.E. and The Devil’s Whore), but he’s got trauma from his experiences soldiering in World War I and a guy’s gotta make a living.
And then, Emily is found murdered and Leonard is accused. Enter lawyer John Mayhew (Toby Jones of Aristocrats, Elizabeth I, Amazing Grace, A Harlot’s Progress, and basically every British costume-y production), who is barely making a living plus dealing with ruined lungs from the war.
The movie is definitely a courtroom drama, but there’s lots of scenes set elsewhere, like in the creepy smoggy streets of London (massive props to the set designers) and the dance hall where Romaine works as a performer.
I definitely enjoyed watching the show, helped no doubt but my total lack of memory of the plot. But I thought the script was well done and the performances were quite moving, especially Jones as Mayhew, struggling emotionally on multiple levels, and Riseborough as the semi-inscrutable Romaine.
You get to see how the range of classes live, from Emily French’s super-rich, super Art Deco pad; to the small pokey rooms that Leonard and Romaine live in; to Mayhew’s threadbare, working-class home. Similarly, you get to see costumes from the ultra-fancy and glam on Emily to Romaine’s working-class street wear and sparkly (if tawdry) stage costumes, to Mayhew’s sad, sad wife in threadbare but presentable duds.
The costumes were designed by Claire Anderson (The Limehouse Golem, Life in Squares, A Royal Night Out), and since I bought the series on iTunes, I got to watch a quick (10-minute) interview with her and cast members on the costuming, some of which is included in the video below. Basically she talks a lot about how the 1920s fashions had changed from pre-War styles, but then how the film references more 1910s fashions on some of the older and more traditional characters.
In particular, I was interested in her discussion of how the uniform worn by maid Janet was more fashionable (because it would have been the employer’s choice) than she was probably comfortable with.
There was also some conversation with the lead hair stylist, who pointed out the differences between Kim Cattrall’s perfectly Marcel-waved and pincurled style, to Romaine’s less precise wave, to Janet and Mayhew’s wife’s more teens-era buns.
I REALLY liked some of the costume elements from the very end of the show, but as I’m not giving anything away, I’m not going to say (or show) anything else. Just, serious props.
Overall, I’d give the show a solid A and say that if you like this era, or murder mysteries, you should definitely check it out!
Have you caught The Witness for the Prosecution (2016)? What did you think?