Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Spider's Web, The (1982)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Spider's Web, The (1982)
BBC, tx. 26/12/1982, 104 mins, colour
DirectorBasil Coleman
Production CompanyBBC TV
ProducerCedric Messina
Original playAgatha Christie
MusicNorman Kay

Cast: Penelope Keith (Clarissa Hailsham-Brown); Robert Flemyng (Sir Rowland); Thorley Walters (Hugo Birch); David Yelland (Jeremy Warrender); Elizabeth Spriggs (Mildred Peake); Holly Aird (Pippa Hailsham-Brown)

Show full cast and credits

Fantasist Clarissa Hailsham-Brown finds herself enmeshed in a real murder mystery.

Show full synopsis

More in keeping with the haphazard comedy of Brian Rix's 1950s Whitehall farces than the customarily earnest Agatha Christie whodunits (this one was written for the stage, opening in December 1954 at the Savoy Theatre, London), The Spider's Web offered TV director Basil Coleman little more than an opportunity to carpenter a neat piece of television theatre.

Ghoulishly and irreverently parodying the conventions of the typical Christie murder mystery (with jolly title music setting the lighthearted tone), this comedie noire maintains a precarious balance between whimsy and an old-fashioned comedy of manners. The opening scene set the play's ruthless mood: death (the discovery of a corpse) becomes no more than an inconvenience, the question of who killed the odious Oliver Costello setting only a mildly intriguing puzzle, and the business of dealing with the corpse is undertaken with matter-of-fact brusqueness.

The characters, existing on their own unconventional but rational terms, remain emotionally synthetic. The sharpest performance comes from Penelope Keith - hot off the back of her television success as Margo Leadbetter in The Good Life (BBC, 1975-77) and as Audrey fforbes-Hamilton in To the Manor Born (BBC, 1979-81) - as the dizzy amateur sleuth Clarissa Hailsham-Brown. Her Clarissa, the fluffy but capable wife of a diplomat, is the centre of the action (indeed, Keith commands virtually every scene she appears in); discovering a dead body in the lounge one morning, hiding it before her husband returns with an important foreign diplomat, then having it turn up somewhere else in the house; choreographing her various guests around the rooms and trying to convince an unexpected police inspector that there has been no murder. To be sure, Keith's expertise was in the art of performing comedy as if it wasn't comedy at all.

Most of the other players have their moments too, although these are perhaps too few for some old stalwarts like Robert Flemyng and Thorley Walters; while a young Holly Aird adds an enjoyably macabre streak to her role as the frightfully chipper young daughter Pippa ("Just the spot for stashing away a dead body, don't you think?"). Second only to Keith's centre-stage presence, the delightfully hearty Elizabeth Spriggs has a whale of a time as the bluff gardener Mildred Peake, clumping, growling, stamping about the set like an old rag-bag on legs, doing everything but chew the scenery and obviously enjoying every instant of an irresistible performance.

Tise Vahimagi

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. A glass of port (2:43)
2. Disposing of the body (8:30)
3. Murder will out (6:56)
Agatha Christie on Television