‘Murder is Easy’ is a Sublime Diverse Agatha Christie Adaptation

David Jonsson as FitzWilliam in a jaunty hat in Murder is Easy

David Jonsson as FitzWilliam in Murder is Easy

BBC/Mammoth Screen/Anne Binckebanck

In 1954, Luke Fitzwilliam (David Jonsson) meets Miss Pinkerton (Penelope Wilton) on a London-bound train and learns of suspicious deaths in the opening scenes of Murder is Easy, the newest Agatha Christie adaptation from the BBC and BritBox. A sumptuous visual feast, this two-part limited series excels at adapting a Christie tale from its original post-WWI period. It also infuses the story with themes of national identity, racial and class relations, and gender disparity while teasing out a fun and clever mystery.

Luke is a charming gentleman Miss Pinkerton trusts early and to whom she eagerly confides her suspicions: she’s headed to Scotland Yard to report what she believes are murders. Luke becomes personally involved when Miss Pinkerton is abruptly killed, and he travels to her hometown of Wychwood to investigate the other deaths. Unlike more standard Christie fare, this story is helmed by an amateur sleuth, but one who nevertheless falls into the same category of othered, marginalized persons Christie liked to feature as her main characters.

Wychwood’s residents treat Luke with caution, but that is more about him being an outsider than because he is a black man. He pretends to be writing a book comparing rural English folklore to his own Nigerian stories and customs. In Christie’s book, Wychwood has a supernatural element, which is rightly excised in this adaptation; it has no place in the current story, couched firmly in the “modern-day” sensibility of the 1950s.

Penelope Wilton as Miss Pinkerton and David Jonsson as Fitzwilliam ride this train in 'Murder is Easy'

Penelope Wilton as Miss Pinkerton and David Jonsson as Fitzwilliam in 'Murder is Easy'

BBC/Mammoth Screen/Anne Binckebanck

Luke is a man with a conviction for justice, but it’s his sense of curiosity that keeps him embroiled in the mystery – at first. He lights flirtatious sparks and makes a fast friend in savvy, stylish Bridget Conway (Morfydd Clark) when they meet at the coroner’s inquest of the two victims Miss Pinkerton mentioned. Although Luke easily ekes out details of those deaths from other Wychwood residents, it doesn’t take Bridget long to deconstruct his cover story and demand to know the truth. Once Luke enlightens her about his real purpose of investigating potential murder, she becomes his sleuthing partner.

The first two suspicious deaths – a drowning and a fall from a window – get ruled accidental. Soon, a third death transpires: a maid in town mistakenly drinks red hat paint instead of a bottle of medicine. When Luke asks the town doctor, Dr. Thomas (Mathew Baynton), if she could have been poisoned, he gets a condescending answer: “A very silly girl had a very silly accident.”  

Bridget – who rides around town in a stunning red car, dressed to the nines – is just as insightful as Luke as they delve into the maid’s death. She points out that no one’s used that paint since the war and that redheads don’t wear red hats. Bridget remarks these details were easily lost on a man and would only be noticed by a woman. Both she and Luke realize the victims are all from the lower-class neighboring town of Ashe Bottom, and it seems the Wychwood police are ignoring the deaths of the less privileged people. Luke visits Ashe Bottom’s local pub and learns that most of the town has a bone to pick with Wychwood’s capitalist benefactor, Lord Whitfield (Tom Riley). Whitfield, who is Bridget’s arrogant fiancé, grew up there but purchased his station through war profiteering.

Morfydd Clark as Bridget and Tom Riley as Lord Whitfield lounge boredly by the piano in 'Murder is Easy'

Morfydd Clark as Bridget and Tom Riley as Lord Whitfield in 'Murder is Easy'

BBC/Mammoth Screen/Mark Mainz

Together, Luke and Bridget investigate an increasing number of the murderer’s victims, all while continuing their flirtations. The chemistry between the two leads is palpable, and Jonsson shows us he didn’t skip ab day in a shirtless scene that will likely see him getting more work as a romantic lead. Although this is an attraction between a black man and a white woman, there is no sense of racial tension between the two of them. Instead, that occurs in Luke’s interactions with Whitfield and Dr. Thomas: Whitfield refers to Luke’s village having mud huts, while Dr. Thomas proudly shows Luke his books on eugenics and “race hygiene.”

Throughout the story, Luke has a recurring dream of running through the woods while holding and then dropping an Ikenga statue. He is a man torn between two worlds – his Nigerian home, which he feels guilty for abandoning during their fight for independence, and England, where he is planning to accept a diplomatic post in Whitehall. His feelings for Bridget only complicate this internal war.

Luke and Bridget’s sleuthing puts them in the path of danger and leads to a truly satisfying conclusion. In addition to the richly crafted tale of murder and intrigue, this series is just plain gorgeous. The lighting, cinematography, costuming, camera angles – it’s visually stunning. Still after still is worth framing. There are iconic shots happening here.

Don’t miss Murder is Easy; both episodes arrive on Friday, March 1, 2024, on BritBox.

Marni Cerise headshot

A writer since her childhood introduction to Shel Silverstein, Marni adores film, cats, Brits, and the Oxford comma. She studied screenwriting at UARTS and has written movie, TV, and pop culture reviews for Ani-Izzy.com, and Wizards and Whatnot. You can usually catch her watching Hot Fuzz for the thousandth time. Find her very sparse social media presence on Twitter: @CeriseMarni

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