Never trust an estate agent, mutter some people. While you’re about it, don’t accept sweets from strangers. And certainly not love, even when blessed by law and church. Agatha Christie’s short story was written 77 years ago and has previously been dramatised for both stage and screen. Louise Page’s adaptation is a new one.
The action covers several months and is set throughout in one of those rural-idyll cottages which feature in Helen Allingham’s pictures. It has roses around the door and a beamed interior. What more could a dashing photographer with a slightly mysterious past need? Especially when both girls from the local estate agency find him immensely attractive and at least one of them is prepared to accept a proposal of marriage on the spot?
More red herrings than could fit into the most outsize tin are salted as the plot unfolds. At least six potential murder weapons appear, or are mentioned with significance, even before the interval arrives. Director Richard Frost plays it straight, with no attempt to send-up the period setting; Miri Birch’s costumes for the two women are excellent.
Viss Elliot-Safavi is flirtatious Fran, a girl who may have had a lucky escape. Penelope Rawlins is very good as apparently buttoned-up Alix, a cool blonde in Hitchcock mode who makes her development from the first to the last scene entirely credible. I would have liked Michael Shaw’s Gerald to be perhaps just a little more debonair at the beginning, with that odd background which includes South Africa as well as the Wild West.
Philomel Cottage has a resident salt-of-the-earth gardener, George Clive Flint. He brings a sense of the down-side of country living in the 1930s when he steps over the threshold. Other than George, the only other straight-forward character is the young estate agent Dick (Jamie Chapman). He tries so hard to do the right thing, but may only succeed in the end in baiting his own trap. An open-ended story…the jury is still out.