The Witness for the Prosecution

  • Short Story
  • 1925

1920s London. A murder, brutal and bloodthirsty, has stained the plush carpets of a handsome London townhouse. The victim is the glamorous and enormously rich Emily French. All the evidence points to Leonard Vole, a young chancer to whom the heiress left her vast fortune and who ruthlessly took her life. At least, this is the story that Emily’s dedicated housekeeper Janet Mackenzie stands by in court. Leonard however, is adamant that his partner, the enigmatic chorus girl Romaine, can prove his innocence.

Curious things habits. People themselves never knew they had them.

Agatha Christie, The Witness for the Prosecution

More about this story

Not previously known for her courtroom dramas, The Witness for the Prosecution has become one of Agatha Christie most adapted and best known stories. It was first published in 1925 in the USA under the title 'Traitor Hands' in Flynn's Weekly. Since its publication as a short story in the UK collection The Hound of Death in 1933, it has been adapted for film, TV and radio.

It was published in the US in the collection of the same title in 1948. The following year the first film adaptation was made, directed by John Glyn-Jones for UK TV. Persuaded by Peter Saunders, the producer of The Mousetrap, in 1953 Christie returned to the text and adapted the short story for the stage. She changed Romaine Vole's name to Christine and changed the ending - Christie felt theatre needed something more visually dramatic and violent. The play opened in London in October at the Winter Garden Theatre, and by 1954 Witness for the Prosecution was one of three Christie plays running simultaneously in the West End, a feat which she was the first female playwright to achieve.

In 1957 an American film version was made, starring Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton, and directed by long term Agatha Christie fan Billy Wilder. It was a high budget production with 145 extras and 38 stuntmen! The final credits ran with a request that viewers keep the plot twist a secret, as the posters said: "You'll talk about it, but please don't tell the ending."

Another TV adaptation was made in 1982, again in the US, starring Beau Bridges and Diana Rigg. In 2002, a Russian language version was made, titled Свидетель обвинения, followed in 2005 by a Marathi language version, Khara Sangaycha Tar. A Japanese version was also made in 2011.

2016 welcomed a new exciting adaptation of the short story for the small screen. Re-imagined by screenwriter Sarah Phelps and starring Toby Jones, Kim Cattrall, Andrea Riseborough, Billy Howle and Monica Dolan, the mini-series first aired in the UK on BBC One on Boxing Day 2016 and later in the US on Acorn TV on the 30th January 2017. Discover more about the adaptation here.

A major London production of the play officially opened on 23rd October 2017 in the spectacular setting of London County Hall. Lucy Bailey directs this gripping tale of justice, passion and betrayal, with the audience thrillingly placed in the thick of the action. Find out more.

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