The actor Christian Cooke who saved the BBC flagship drama production Agatha Christie’s Ordeal By Innocence, which finally screens on BBC One on Easter Sunday after being pulled from the Christmas schedule, described the process of starring in the reshoot as “surprisingly seamless”.
A crucial 35 minutes had to be reshot over 12 days in Scotland in bitter January weather and stitched together with the original scenes that were filmed in summer sunshine. The sharp-eyed may spot that at one point while Cooke is manfully not shivering, his breath is steaming in the icy air.
The series was completed in November and was expected to be a highlight of the Christmas schedule but was pulled after allegations of historic sexual assault in the US were made against the actor Ed Westwick, best known for his role in the US series Gossip Girl. Westwick has vehemently denied the accusations but the decision was taken to pull the series and reshoot all his scenes.
Cooke was recast as Mickey Argyll, one of five adopted children of a wealthy philanthropist – played by Anna Chancellor – whose murder sparks the drama. All the cast involved in Westwick’s scenes, including Bill Nighy and Anthony Boyle, who had to fly back from rehearsals for the Broadway opening of JK Rowling’s stage hit The Cursed Child, had to return to Ardgowan, a mansion and estate on the west coast of Scotland.
Alice Eve was unable to join the rest of the cast and so her original scenes were merged with new ones with Cooke using split-screen technology. All the props had to be reassembled to re-dress the rooms in 1950s style, and costumes were flown back from other productions in Paris and Rome. The 12-day shooting and post-production work are believed to have cost the BBC around £2m.
Cooke told BBC Breakfast: “It was surprisingly seamless, which is a credit to the producers and the director. I think they had worked tirelessly behind the scenes to get everybody back together and logistically I’m sure it was difficult for them, but they were very sensitive towards the fact that they wanted it to be a fresh experience for me and the cast were more than welcoming. To be honest, it felt like the first time for everybody.”
Cooke said he had no idea how his role had originally been played. “I didn’t have a clue and I wouldn’t have wanted to know. Every actor would perform a role differently and so a prerequisite for me was that I could come in and make it my own and interpret it my own way.”
The reshoot had the blessing of the Agatha Christie estate. The author’s great grandson, James Pritchard, told the Telegraph: “We didn’t want to lose it. It’s as simple as that. What seemed an impossible idea – that you may be able to get a bunch of actors back, however much later, and that you can film July in January in Scotland – was actually achievable.”
The series was written by Sarah Phelps, a former Eastenders script writer, who had never read an Agatha Christie novel before her successful adaptations of And Then There Were None in 2015, and Witness for the Prosecution in 2016.
Phelps set this series in 1956, in a Britain which she sees as still haunted by the horrors of the second world war, and she also changed Christie’s original ending.
The screenwriter cheerfully shrugged off any possible protest from Christie’s legions of devoted fans, telling the Observer: “I don’t give a bollocks about people saying it has to be pure. No, it doesn’t. If you want a pure adaptation, go and get someone else to do it.”
Ordeal by Innocence begins on BBC One on Sunday 1 April at 9pm