"The Secret Adversary" and the short story collection "Partners in Crime" (both from 1922) were Agatha Christie's second and third-ever book, but their quirky protagonists, Tommy and "Tuppence" (Prudence) Beresford, were not to share the eventful career of their colleague Hercule Poirot, who had debuted two years earlier with "The Mysterious Affair at Styles;" nor that of Christie's almost equally well-loved (and personal favorite) village sleuth Miss Marple, whose first adventure ("Murder at the Vicarage") would not be published until 1930. Christie only authored three more Beresford mysteries: 1941's "N or M?" (a WWII spy thriller set in a coastal guesthouse), 1968's "By the Pricking of My Thumbs" (where a visit to a nursing home prompts them to track down the real-life object of a painting, only to find themselves hunting for a child murderer) and "Postern of Fate" (1973), the last book written by Christie (although not the last one published); more a postscript to the superior earlier stories.
Not as eccentric as Poirot and Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence are nevertheless immediately likeable, and perfectly cast in this 1980 - 1982 TV series with Francesca Annis and James Warwick, reprising their successful collaboration from the 1980 realization of Christie's "Why Didn't They Ask Evans?" Taking its title from the second entry in the Beresford cycle, originally only the short stories contained in "Partners in Crime" were developed for television; "The Secret Adversary," although set earlier in the literary originals' sequence and providing critical background information on the couple's friendship, was only adapted as a feature film two years later. (The original order is restored in this video and DVD release, which features the couple's first and longest adventure as part of Set 1.)
Although "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" had already proved Christie to be a writer of exceptional talent, her first Tommy and Tuppence adventures - penned for financial reasons as much as out of a desire to write - still show her style as a work in progress, sometimes lacking certainty as to what exactly works in terms of characterization and storylines. While she succeeds, like in the first Poirot mystery, to immediately draw in her audience, and the Beresfords are presented in as much detail as the little Belgian with the many gray cells, the plotlines sometimes stretch credibility and have a whiff of the kind of story that Arthur Conan Doyle could get away with 20 years earlier, but which Christie herself (wisely) only took up infrequently later (and generally with more solidly constructed plotlines and often with Poirot as the main character). Thus, if the televised versions of these early Tommy and Tuppence stories appear somewhat less convincing than the subsequent, more acclaimed adaptations of Christie's Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries, this is at least partly owing to the literary originals themselves: The creators of the TV series reproduced the mysteries' "swinging Twenties" setting successfully and with a fine eye for detail; and Francesca Annis and James Warwick give terriffic performances as the vivacious, hat-loving Tuppence and her (almost) equally witty, slightly more settled husband.
Tommy and Tuppence's boisterous young assistant Alfred is portrayed by Reece Dinsdale (best known, since, as Guildenstern in Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet" and D.I. Scott in the mid-1990s British cop show "Thief Takers"); and there are recurrent appearances by British TV regular Arthur Cox as Detective Inspector Marriott, in the televised version chiefly responsible for establishing the couple as owners of Blunt's International Detective Agency (in the books, the agency is a cover for the Beresfords' spy activities), who informally continues to consult them whenever he feels that Scotland Yard's official capacities have reached their limits.
Although not quite on the level of Christie's more famous mysteries and their recent TV adaptations, this series is an enjoyable romp through the the swinging 1920s' London. And who knows - maybe 20+ years after its initial airing we'll see a realization of one of Tommy and Tuppence's later adventures? Annis and Warwick might be about the right age for "N or M" now ... or even better, "By the Pricking of My Thumbs," which unlike the earlier mysteries easily stands up with the best of Christie's other works!
The Secret Adversary
Partners in Crime (Tommy and Tuppence Mysteries)
By The Pricking Of My Thumbs (Tommy and Tuppence)
The Secret of Chimneys
The Seven Dials Mystery (St. Martin's Minotaur Mysteries)
Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (St. Martin's Minotaur Mysteries)
Agatha Christie's Romantic Detectives (Tommy & Tuppence 1 & 2 / Why Didn't They Ask Evans? / Seven Dials Mystery / Agatha Christie A Life in Pictures)