Take 3: Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Witness for the Prosecution (1982) Review

In my list of the Top 10 Movies I’d Love to Review, I mentioned finding Oliver 2: Let’s Twist Again on Diana Rigg’s IMDB filmography. During that trip on IMDB, I found another film I could review for the Other Than A Bond Girl Blogathon. As the title of this review says, that movie is the 1982 Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation, Witness for the Prosecution! I’ve gone on record to state how I’d like to watch as many Hallmark Hall of Fame titles as realistically possible. If I’m going to be honest, I didn’t think I would ever see Witness for the Prosecution. That’s because the film not only didn’t receive a DVD release, but it doesn’t seem to have received a VHS release either. So, imagine my shock when I found the full movie on Youtube! Mysteries are, arguably, the most popular genre on my blog. This is also not the first time I’ve reviewed an Agatha Christie adaptation. Back in April, I wrote about the 2022 film, Death on the Nile. In that review, I said the movie had a weaker execution than its 2017 predecessor, Murder on the Orient Express. How will Witness for the Prosecution fare against these aforementioned adaptations? All rise, as this review is now in session!

Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Witness for the Prosecution poster created by CBS Entertainment Production, Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions, Rosemont Productions, and United Artists Television

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: Diana Rigg is one of the eligible Bond Girls for the Other Than A Bond Girl Blogathon. Therefore, I will talk about her performance first. In Witness for the Prosecution, Diana portrayed Christine Vole, the wife of the accused party. Throughout the film, she carried her character as a woman from stories in the 1920s. What I mean by this is Christine held her own with confidence, never shaken by the probing of those involved in the legal side of the case. Even when she took the stand, Christine adopted a serious demeanor, as if putting on a “poker face” and refusing to show her deck of cards too early. These acting choices and the consistency of her performance allowed Diana to pull off a captivating and memorable portrayal!

Deborah Kerr is an actress I’ve talked about before on 18 Cinema Lane. While I have seen and reviewed five of her films, none of them were from the mystery genre. Despite this, Deborah held her own, acting wise, among the cast! She portrays Nurse Plimsoll in Witness for the Prosecution. While watching the 1982 production, her performance reminded me a bit of Donna Reed’s portrayal of Mary from It’s a Wonderful Life. Nurse Plimsoll cares about the health and well-being of the film’s protagonist, Sir Wilfred Robarts. Though Wilfred finds her overall nursing approach annoying, Nurse Plimsoll doesn’t give up on her mission. Even though she is stricter than other on-screen nurses, her heart is always in the right place. This can be seen through Deborah’s facial expressions, body language, and emotions.

Even though the cast as a whole was strong, there was one performance that stole the show. This came from Beau Bridges! Witness for the Prosecution shows Beau portraying an American named Leonard. Because his case is presented in a British/U.K. court system, he is a “fish out of water”. The situation itself provides an interesting dynamic for the cast, including Beau, to work with. It also gave Beau an opportunity to utilize a variety of emotions. During the case, one of the witnesses causes Leonard to have an emotional reaction. At the start of the witness’ questioning, Leonard presents a calm “resting face”. But as the questioning continues, he slowly becomes sadder, adopting a growing frown and his eyes filling with tears. This transformation was gradual, allowing Beau to adapt to the on-screen situation.

The set design: The majority of Witness for the Prosecution takes place within a British/U.K. court room. Despite the limited locations, there were some examples of set design that I liked! Inside the court room, the ceiling was domed, with clear glass exposing a view of the sky. Surrounding the dome are etched, white arches. With a green light shown on these arches, they gave the appearance of boasting an antique limestone material, which complimented the dark wood of the court room’s walls and furniture. In the lobby of the court room, painted murals are shown near the ceiling. The lobby’s walls appear to be covered in a two-tone marble material, with the floor revealing a black-and-white tile design. My favorite set in Witness for the Prosecution was Wilfred’s office! The room’s color scheme was brown, beige, and red. When this set was first introduced, a large, dark wood bookcase proudly stood. It was guarded by a dark wood table and two dark brown armchairs. While the walls were beige, the curtains on the window were red, giving the room a pop of color. The more time Wilfred spent in this space, the more the sophisticated, professional, and intelligent appearance of the office complimented his personality.

An in-depth look at the British/U.K. court system: As I mentioned in my point about the film’s set design, the majority of this story takes place in a British/U.K. court room. That part of the movie exposed the audience to the British/U.K. court system. Even though Witness for the Prosecution is not the “end all, be all” when it comes to this specific court system’s portrayal in entertainment media, it gives viewers a chance to compare and contrast it to other court systems in other productions. The layout of the court room itself provides one example. Toward the front of the court room, the witness stand is located at the judge’s right-hand side. This part of the court room is separate from the judge’s stand. Meanwhile, in court room productions taking place in the United States, the witness stand can either be located at the judge’s left or right-hand side. It is also connected to the judge’s stand.  

The Other Than A Bond Girl Blogathon banner created by Gabriela from Pale Writer and Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews

What I didn’t like about the film:

The magical monocle: While working on the case, Wilfred wore a monocle when he was questioning the accused party and his wife. As he questioned them, a light shone through the monocle and directly landed on Leonard and Christine. But these were the only two times Wilfred used the magical monocle. The purpose of the monocle or Wilfred’s reason for using it was never explained. Was this monocle truly magical or was the monocle used as foreshadowing? I wish this part of Wilfred’s character was more consistent.

A dialogue heavy story: With any movie or tv show episode featuring a court case, there’s going to be a certain amount of dialogue within the story. But because Witness for the Prosecution mostly revolved around a court case, the 1982 production feels more dialogue heavy compared to Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express. Before watching Witness for the Prosecution, I had expected more showing than telling when it came to the mystery. Instead of watching the characters making discoveries related to the mystery, I heard about it through the questioning in court. Because of this creative decision, I didn’t find the movie’s mystery as engaging as it could have been.

An inactive detective: In a story where a detective, amateur or professional, is the protagonist, the audience expects to see this character actively solve their respective film’s mystery. Sadly, the viewers won’t witness that in Witness for the Prosecution. Wilfred is a lawyer defending Leonard in his case. However, Wilfred places more emphasis in resolving the case than playing detective. Even though this movie’s mystery was solved, it felt like Wilfred was served the answer on a silver platter instead of discovering it himself. Similar to what I said about the dialogue-heavy story, I didn’t find the mystery engaging because of Wilfred’s inactive detective role.

Sketch of London image created by Archjoe at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/hand-drawn-houses-of-parliament_1133950.htm’>Designed by Archjoe</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by Archjoe – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Witness for the Prosecution shares a similar plot with 1997’s Red Corner: an American man is accused of murder, with his case in a court system outside of the United States. But where Red Corner succeeded and Witness for the Prosecution didn’t is how Shen, Jack’s lawyer in Red Corner, not only played a role in the court case, but also went above and beyond in attempting to solve the mystery surrounding the case. This allowed Red Corner’s story to be intriguing and engaging for the audience. With the 1982 production, Wilfred spends more time on the court case than the mystery wrapped around it. This decreases the audience’s engagement. The dialogue heavy nature of Witness for the Prosecution’s story also affected the mystery’s intrigue. Hallmark Hall of Fame’s presentation is the third Agatha Christie adaptation I’ve seen, which I wasn’t overly thrilled with. I still want to, one day, read her literary work. But based on my reactions to the three adaptations I have watched so far, I’m starting to wonder if I’ll find an Agatha Christie story I like?

Overall score: 6.1-6.2 out of 10

Have you seen any of Agatha Christie’s adaptations? Do you have a favorite Agatha Christie story? Let me know in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen