Jump to content

The Witness for the Prosecution

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"The Witness for the Prosecution" is a short story and play by British author Agatha Christie. The story was initially published as "Traitor's Hands" in Flynn's, a weekly pulp magazine, in the edition of 31 January 1925.[1]

In 1933, the story was published for the first time as "The Witness for the Prosecution" in the collection The Hound of Death that appeared only in the United Kingdom. In 1948, it was finally published in the United States under that title in the collection The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories. The story has been adapted for stage, film and television.



Leonard Vole is arrested for the murder of Emily French, a wealthy older woman. Unaware that he was a married man, Miss French made him her principal heir, casting suspicion on Leonard. When his wife, Romaine, agrees to testify, she does so not in Leonard's defence but as a witness for the prosecution. Romaine's decision is part of a complicated plan to free her husband. She first gives the prosecution its strongest evidence, then fabricates new evidence that discredits her testimony, believing, correctly as it turns out, that her impeachment as an unfaithful wife would improve Leonard's chances of acquittal far more than her testimony for the defence. It is then revealed that Leonard Vole in fact killed Emily French.



The original short story ended abruptly with the major twist—Romaine's revelation that Leonard Vole was in fact guilty. Over time, Christie grew dissatisfied with this abrupt and dystopian ending (one of the few Christie endings in which a murderer escapes punishment), which would have had to be sanitised in any event for stage and film versions where such a brutal crime going unpunished would have been unthinkable at the time.

In her subsequent rewriting of the story as a play she added a young mistress for Leonard, who does not appear until the end of the play. The mistress and Leonard are about to leave Romaine (called "Christine" in all film and television versions, and most stage productions after the original Broadway production, until the 2016 television version) to be arrested for perjury, when Romaine grabs a knife,[2] and stabs and kills Leonard. She will be defended by the same attorney she tricked into getting Leonard acquitted in the first place. This remained the standard production format until Sarah Phelps' 2016 television version, which restored the original ending but changed the fates of other characters.

Characters (play)

  • Leonard Vole, the accused
  • Emily French, the victim
  • Janet Mackenzie, Emily French's maid
  • Romaine (subsequently renamed as Christine) Heilger/Vole, "wife" of the accused
  • Mr Mayhew / Mayherne, the solicitor of the accused
  • Sir Wilfrid Robarts, QC, senior counsel of the accused
  • Mr Myers, QC, the Crown prosecutor
  • Mr Justice Wainwright, the judge
  • Inspector Hearne, the arresting officer
  • Greta, Sir Wilfrid's typist
  • Carter, Sir Wilfrid's clerk

Publishing history


In other media









  1. ^ a b "Witness for the Prosecution (1958), History". American Film Institute Catalog of Feature Films, The First 100 Years 1893-1993. 2019. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  2. ^ Christie, Agatha (2000). The Mousetrap, & other plays. New York: Penguin Putnam Books. ISBN 978-0-451-20114-0.
  3. ^ "Witness for the Prosecution (1954 Broadway play)". IBDB.com. Internet Broadway Database.
  4. ^ McNary, Dave (19 August 2016). "Ben Affleck Directing, Starring in 'Witness for the Prosecution' Remake".
  5. ^ "The Witness for the Prosecution". IMDb.
  6. ^ "Witness for the Prosecution (1949)". BFI. Archived from the original on 8 May 2022.
  7. ^ Aldridge, Mark (2016). Agatha Christie on screen. Crime files. London: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 48. ISBN 978-1-137-37292-5.
  8. ^ "Pick of the Programs". The Record. New Jersey, Hackensack. 7 November 1950. p. 29. Retrieved 4 June 2024 – via Newspapers.com.
  9. ^ "Witness for the Prosecution". The Official Andrea King Website. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  10. ^ Witness for the Prosecution (1953) at IMDb
  11. ^ O'Connor, John J. (3 December 1982). "LIVELY 'WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION'" – via NYTimes.com.
  12. ^ Dowell, Ben (15 August 2016). "Kim Cattrall, Toby Jones and Andrea Riseborough cast in Agatha Christie's The Witness for the Prosecution". Radio Times.