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Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence Beresford Are Streaming
September 17, 2015  | By Jonathan Storm

Tuesday (Sept. 15) was Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday, which is as good a time as any to trot out TV shows featuring a couple of her more obscure sleuths, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford (top). The stories are “The Secret Adversary” and “N or M?”. Two tales do not a series make, but that hasn’t stopped the producers from assigning a title: Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime. There are only four T&T novels, but Partners in Crime is also the name of a Christie collection of 15 short stories featuring the duo, so there’s plenty of fodder for more shows.  

Each story is three episodes, and all six episodes have just wrapped up on the BBC. The Internet streaming service Acorn TV, British TV for North Americans, premieres “N or M” Thursday. It will roll out a new episode for the next two weeks; “The Secret Adversary” is already waiting.

This is pretty typical British Christie TV fare, with period clothes and furnishings and characters plucked from the stolid upper middle class. (Our heroes, for instance, sleep in twin beds.) But there are several twists. Murders, of course, but quite a bit more action than usual. Things are more up-to-date as well. Tommy and Tuppence are not after wily flappers, devious vicars or over-baked pre-war widows, but Cold War Soviet spies.

The early 1950s are farther away today than the ‘20s were when I, and much of the audience for these shows, discovered Christie, so things remain exotic. I particularly like Tuppence’s outfits and the Beresfords’ Morris Minor Traveller station wagon, with its wood decoration (left).

The car takes a pounding in “The Secret Adversary,” but is back unscathed for the adventure of “N or M,” as the TV writers take great liberties with their source material. “Adversary” was actually Christie’s second novel, published in 1922, eight years before Miss Marple made her debut, with “N or M” coming 19 years later.

In Christie’s “Adversary,” T&T chase Bolsheviks following World War I. In “N or M,” it’s Germans during World War II. In these two for TV, there’s no break between the two tales. As quick as Tommy’s honey business (Beresford’s Bees) goes bust, he’s back with another fly-by-night scheme, Beresford’s Barnets. Always overly enthusiastic about his entrepreneurial abilities, he has printed 1,000 cards: “Suppliers of the Finest Quality Postiche,” which, according to him, is a “more discreet, classier” way of saying “toupee.”

Tuppence, by far the more physically daring of the two, is happy that there’s a rich uncle Carter in the background, not just for financial security, but, even if he chooses not to follow these marvelous investment opportunities, also because he’s a big shot at MI-5, the British CIA, where adventures abound.

Because of a leak, Carter needs “a nobody” to flush out the dangerous spy, known only as “N,” and find the kidnapped science genius and retrieve his extra special atom bomb before it blows up everything for 25 miles around. Tommy fits the bill, but whatever he does, he must not let Tuppence know what’s going on, for reasons of secrecy and, also, of course, because she’s a woman and needs to be shielded from danger. We all know how that goes.

This being Christie, everybody winds up at a seaside guesthouse populated by the usual assortment of suspicious and thoroughly innocent-seeming types. Is one of them the diabolical “N”?

Jessica Raine, known to PBS fans as Jenny Lee from Call the Midwife, is perfect as Tuppence. With her cute bob and pointy nose, she perks constantly along, provoking the plodding and reluctant Tommy, played with sympathetic ordinariness by David Walliams (top, with Raine), into peril. Walliams’ Tommy brings to mind Brendan Coyle’s John Bates on Downton Abbey.

It’s all very silly and veddy British, sure to fit in well on Acorn TV, which carries everything from The Brontes of Haworth to Upstairs, Downstairs and from London Irish to Lady Chatterley. It’s a pay service ($4.95 a month), but you can catch Tommy and Tuppence for free with the complementary one-month sign-up.

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