Witness for the Prosecution Review

While the worlds of writing Agatha Christie created expanded far beyond Hercule Poirot, her stage play, Witness for the Prosecution, is the exact, titillating style a feature adaptation would demand. Billy Wilder is the man that oversees this third and final state of Christie’s classic. From short story to stage play to feature film. What a life it has led. All roads lead to feature adaptations though, and Witness for the Prosecution is in safe hands. Wilder spins a magnificent courtroom drama that, crucially, has character at its heart. It is not good enough to place us within the confines of the court, we must feel an attachment to defence, witnesses and prosecution.

Wilder works that wonderfully. He is in tune with the tired, ageing lawyer that shouldn’t take the case, for his health couldn’t handle it. Sir Wilfred Robarts (Charles Laughton) is a fascinating character and well-performed too. Robarts is a man dedicated to his job. He has no time for life or whatever it could offer him, he is bound to his work and desperately affects his health. That much is well-realised and provides a nice, underlying tension to what should be a simple court drama. With these simple, yet thoroughly effective lingering details, there is a detail provided that sets Witness for the Prosecution apart from those other courtroom dramas.

It does feel rather similar to The Witness, which features a leading protagonist mired by other problems of health and mind. Paul Newman and Laughton differ in performance, but not in the anguish they share. Their minds are brittle and their bodies are weak, but they are dedicated to serving and protecting who they deem innocent. Wilder is enchanting with this collaboration between himself and Laughton, whose chemistry together oozes off of the screen with a natural charm and an earnestness present to the moral ramifications of such a story. It is not all as it should seem is the lead Wilder takes, and it works rather well for him. He is in his element with such a story, and presenting the remit of law and order under the strain of personal struggle is an inevitable, but strongly laid-out story.

What Witness for the Prosecution excels in is its ability and desire to stay faithful to the confines of a court, and the processes by which audiences have come to find themselves enthralled. Wilder is no stranger to how stuffy rooms and swindled characters can impact an audience. He worked his magic during One, Two, Three, and those same traits and tropes of good-hearted yet overworked leading lads ring true between the two. Christie adaptations are relatively flexible and manage their source material well enough not to alienate the audience, but different enough to create an incredibly unique experience. Wilder, as expected, does it best. He crafts a narrative interlaced with a commendable shock factor, brought about succinctly with strong performances and that ever-present keen eye for direction.

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