Agatha Christie Screen Spotlight: Hugh Laurie’s ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?’

In the U.S., Hugh Laurie is best known for playing the title character on the long-running medical drama House, an irascible doctor whose crankiness is matched only by his genius for diagnosing rare conditions. But Laurie began his career as a comedy star in his native Great Britain, in his sketch-comedy collaborations with Stephen Fry and as a co-star of the sitcom Black Adder. So it’s no surprise that he brings a lively sense of humor to Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, his three-part adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel.

Laurie plays only a small role, but he wrote and directed all three episodes, and he has a clear creative vision, channeling some of the wit and sophistication of movies from the 1930s into the 1936-set series. The key to it all is the chemistry between stars Will Poulter and Lucy Boynton as childhood friends Bobby Jones and Lady Frances “Frankie” Derwent, respectively, who reunite in the small Welsh town of Marchbolt after Bobby discovers a dying man on the beach adjacent to the local golf course.

Just before the unidentified man dies, he utters the titular question, which baffles Bobby and intrigues Frankie, who senses a mystery for the two of them to solve while rekindling their friendship — and possibly more. For their inquisitiveness, they seem to become targets for attack, which only strengthens their resolve. Frankie loves the excitement of solving the case, while Bobby is more focused on doing the right thing.

The mystery itself gets a bit convoluted over the course of the three episodes, with a final rush of exposition that connects all the dots but can be slightly hard to follow. Christie’s typically meticulous plotting holds up to scrutiny, but Laurie is less interested in putting all those pieces together than he is in exploring the central dynamic between Bobby and Frankie. They make such an entertaining detective duo that it’s almost a shame there aren’t any sequels for Laurie to adapt.

Laurie seamlessly integrates the couple’s flirting with their crime-solving, crafting sharp banter over both potential suspects and romantic possibilities. Frankie takes the lead in each area, but theirs is a true partnership, with genuine respect and concern on both sides. Even when they’ve been captured by nefarious forces and are facing seemingly imminent death, they’re parrying good-natured barbs back and forth along with ideas for how to escape.

Usually dressed in trousers, vests and ties, Frankie is a modern woman of the 1930s, effortlessly transcending the limitations placed on her gender and the expectations for a member of the aristocracy. The more subdued Bobby never questions her independence, and his masculine sense of honor is never threatened by a confident, intelligent woman.

The supporting cast is also strong, led by Daniel Ings as the rakish Roger Bassington-ffrench, who conveniently shows up just after Bobby has discovered the dying man, and whose country estate Frankie stealthily invades in order to gather intel. Laurie plays the sinister-seeming Dr. James Nicholson, head of the mental institution next door, tweaking his image as one of TV’s most famous doctors. Jim Broadbent and Emma Thompson are clearly having a good time putting in their cameos as Frankie’s quirky parents, and Laurie adds in other amusingly offbeat touches, including a pair of weird-looking twin brothers who are always hanging around in Marchbolt.

The modern trend with many Christie adaptations has been to make them more serious, from Sarah Phelps’ BBC miniseries like Ordeal by Innocence to Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot movies. By taking the opposite approach, Laurie comes up with a refreshingly lighthearted take on one of Christie’s most charming novels.

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He’s the former film editor of Las Vegas Weekly and the former TV comedies guide for He has written about movies, TV, and pop culture for Vulture, IndieWire, CBR, Inverse, Crooked Marquee, and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.