MISS MARPLE

The Miss Marple Collection: “It is dangerous to believe people.  I haven’t for years …”

There she sits: A white-haired lady dressed in tweeds, a pair of knitting needles in her lap, more interested in village gossip than in the goings-on of the world at large – and out of nothing, she utters sentences like that.

For more likely than not, another murder has been committed; and Miss Jane Marple, elderly spinster from the village of St. Mary Mead, just happens to find herself near the scene of the crime. And also more likely than not, while the police are still toddling around searching for clues she’ll find the solution – relying on her ever-unfailing “village parallels;” those seemingly innocuous incidents of village life making up the sum of Miss Marple’s knowledge of human nature, to which she routinely turns in unmasking even the cleverest killer. “Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner – Miss Wetherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is the more dangerous,” already observes Vicar Clement, the narrator of Miss Marple’s very first adventure, 1930’s Murder at the Vicarage.

Originally airing on TV between 1984 and 1992, the BBC’s adaptations of Agatha Christie‘s twelve Miss Marple novels featured Joan Hickson in the title role; quickly establishing her as the quintessential Miss Marple even in the view of the creator of the grandmother (or rather, grand-aunt) of all village sleuths and “noticing kinds of persons,” Dame Agatha herself. (In fact, after seeing Hickson in a stage production of her Appointment With Death, as early as 1946 Christie had already sent her a note expressing the hope she would one day “play my dear Miss Marple.”) Prior realizations, partly involving rather high-octane casts, had seen as Miss Marple, inter alia, Angela Lansbury and Margaret Rutherford, but had been decidedly less faithful to Christie‘s books. While Lansbury holds her own fairly well when compared to the character’s literary original in 1980’s “Hollywood does Christie” version of The Mirror Crack’d (and that movie’s ageing actresses’ camp showdown featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak is a delight to watch), the four movies starring Rutherford are only loosely based on Christie‘s books: Dame Margaret’s Miss Marple, although itself likewise a splendid performance, has about as much to do with Agatha Christie‘s demure and seemingly scatterbrained village sleuth as Big Ben does with the English countryside, and of the scripts, only Murder, She Said is at least loosely based on an actual Miss Marple mystery (4:50 From Paddington), whereas two of the others – Murder at the Gallop and Murder Most Foul – are, instead, inspired by Hercule Poirot stories (After the Funeral and Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, respectively), and Murder Ahoy is based on a completely independent screenplay.

Miss Marple Opening Credits:

Following the rule that ever since Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Lestrade every great private detective needs a policeman he can outwit, the creators of the BBC series inserted the character of Inspector Slack (David Horovitch) into almost all of the storylines – hardly in keeping with the literary originals, which are set over a period of more than 30 years and thus, exceed the career span of a policeman already advanced on his professional path at the time of his first encounter with Miss Marple; even if the BBC’s Slack is promoted from D.I. in Murder at the Vicarage and The Body in the Library to Superintendent in The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side. Yet, Hickson‘s and Horovitch’s face-offs are a fun addition; and one is almost ready to pity Slack, who hardly ever gets a foot down vis-à-vis Miss Marple’s quick rejoinders and, in the words of her friend, retired Scotland Yard chief Sir Henry Clithering, “wonderful gift to state the obvious.” (During a conversation with Inspector Craddock in The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, Slack – whom Miss Marple herself, in the TV adaptation of Murder at the Vicarage, has already likened to a railway diesel engine, or in that story’s literary original to a shoe vendor intent on selling you patent leather boots while completely ignoring your request for brown calf leather instead – unaware that he is talking to one of Aunt Jane’s many nephews, rather unsubtly credits her with having “a mind like a meat cleaver.”)

  Miss Marple Opening Credits  Miss Marple Opening Credits  Miss Marple Opening Credits

  Miss Marple Opening Credits  Miss Marple Opening Credits  Miss Marple Opening Credits

 

The Body in the Library

(novel 1942, BBC adaptation 1984)

In response to a friend’s request, Christie makes a mysterious dead platinum blonde appear in the library of Miss Marple’s friends, St. Mary Mead’s squire Colonel Bantry and his wife Dolly.  The horror! The scandal! – The BBC’s first adaptation starring Joan Hickson: Inspector Slack’s “good old policework” vs. Miss Marple’s “village parallels” … guess who carries the day?
Separate review here.

The Moving Finger

(novel 1942, BBC adaptation 1985)

One of the stories that, according to Christie‘s own opinion, have stood the test of time particularly well. – Lymston village is haunted by poison pen letters; and when people begin to die, there is no shortage of suspects. But Miss Marple, on a visit to a friend, sees through the killer’s cruel game.

A Murder Is Announced

(novel 1950, BBC adaptation 1985)

… and will take place on Friday, October 29, at 6:30 P.M.” But the person who ends up dead is the advertisement’s author himself. So who is he and what’s he got to do with the apparently intended victim, Miss Letitia Blacklog of Little Paddocks in Chipping Cleghorn?
Separate review here.

A Pocket Full of Rye

(novel 1953, BBC adaptation 1985)

“Sing a song of sixpence …” While the police are still in the dark and the press is beginning to speculate about black magic, Miss Marple finds clues to a string of murders in a children’s nursery rhyme. (And the murderer’s motive? “Oh, it was greed, of course. One knows that naturally …”)
Separate review here.

Murder at the Vicarage

(novel 1930, BBC adaptation 1986)

Christie‘s first Miss Marple mystery: Disagreeable Colonel Protheroe is murdered, and both his wife and her lover instantly confess – but actually, half the population of St. Mary Mead would have had a motive to kill him.
Separate review here.

Sleeping Murder

(novel 1976, BBC adaptation 1987)

The last published (though not last written) Miss Marple story. Here it is less the old lady herself than newly-weds Giles and Gwenda Reed who act as detectives, with Miss Marple’s help trying to get to the bottom of Gwenda’s unsettling visions relating to their new home, which she conceivably cannot have known previously, and a murder occurring there over 20 years earlier.

At Bertram’s Hotel

(novel 1965; BBC adaptation 1987)

Miss Marple deconstructs the all-too-respectable façade of a seemingly venerable London hotel, and the somewhat less respectable façade of a notorious lady of society.

Nemesis

(novel 1971, BBC adaptation 1987)

Actually the sequel to A Caribbean Mystery, though the earlier novel would only come to be adapted for the screen two years later (see below). – From his grave, rich old Mr. Rafiel sends Miss Marple on a bus tour of historic homes, to either clear his estranged son of a long-ago murder, or prove him guilty.
Separate review here.

4:50 From Paddington

(novel 1957, BBC adaptation 1987; a/k/a What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!)

Miss Marple seeks the help of professional housekeeper Lucy Eyelesbarrow to investigate the murder of a woman, whom the village sleuth’s friend Mrs. McGillicuddy has seen being strangled from a passing train, and whose body must have disappeared somewhere on the grounds of the Crackenthorpe family estate Rutherford Hall. (In the original this, like A Murder Is Announced (above) and The Mirror Crack’d (below), is a story featuring Inspector Craddock, not Slack.)
Separate review here.

A Caribbean Mystery

(novel 1965, BBC adaptation 1989)

Transplanted to a, for her, most unusual West Indian setting, Miss Marple solves the murder of Major Palgrave, who was killed in an attempt to prevent him from foiling his murderer’s even more sinister intentions. – This episode also establishes the title of its sequel Nemesis (see above), although it is actually Miss Marple herself, not her new friend, rich old Mr. Rafiel, who names her thus.

They Do It With Mirrors

(novel 1952, BBC adaptation 1991; a/k/a “Murder with Mirrors”)

Inspector Slack’s secret hobby provides a vital clue to the ungodly doings at the estate of Miss Marple’s old friend Carrie-Louise Serrocold, which Carrie-Louise’s third husband has transformed into a reformatory for young criminals.

The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side

(novel 1962, BBC adaptation 1992)

The last entry in the BBC series (though not the last Miss Marple novel written and published), this mystery, which is based on real events involving Hollywood actress Jean Tierney and whose title is based on a line from Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott, revisits the grounds of Gossington Hall, erstwhile home to Miss Marple’s friends Colonel and Mrs. Bantry (where the BBC series had also opened with The Body in the Library). – After her husband’s death, Mrs. Bantry has sold the estate to ageing Hollywood star Marina Gregg. At a charity benefit, the charity’s secretary, who also happens to be a major fan of Miss Gregg’s, is found dead … and much points to Miss Gregg herself as the intended victim.

 

   Miss Marple: The Complete Collection   Miss Marple: Volume One     Miss Marple: Volume Three

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: BBC (1984 – 1992)
  • Directors: various
  • Producers: Guy Slater & George Gallaccio
  • Screenplays: various
  • Based on novels by: Agatha Christie
Recurring Cast
  • Joan Hickson: Miss Jane Marple
  • David Horovitch: Detective Inspector (later Superintendent) Slack
  • Ian Brimble: Detective Constable (later Seargant) Lake
  • John Castle: Detective Inspector Craddock
  • Gwen Watford: Dolly Bantry
  • T.R. (Trevor) Bowen: Raymond West

 

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Links

 

24 thoughts on “MISS MARPLE

  1. cathyc says:

    Having always thought Joan Hickson the perfect (and best by far) Marple, it’s pleasing to discover that Agatha Christie thought so herself. How wonderful.

    What do you think of Geraldine McEwan in the role? I tried hard to give her a chance, but it’s a bit like Poirot: having seen David Suchet play the part, it’s hard to forgive anybody else for having the temerity.

    Liked by 1 person

      • cathyc says:

        That said, when we were primary school age, my siblings and I all loved Margaret Rutherford – and I read many Christies back then so I must have known the inappropriateness of the interpretation. I do wonder what she might have made of the role if permitted, since she wanted to do roles which she wasn’t allowed to. She wanted to play Juliet.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ThemisAthena says:

        Seriously … Rutherford as Juliet? That must have been a VERY long time before Miss Marple! I grew up with those movies, too, and still have a soft spot for them … I just don‘t see them as portraying Agatha Christie‘s Miss Marple but, rather, the adventures of a completely different character who just happens to have the same name (but who also has a sidekick named Mr. Stringer and whose world is entirely different from that of Agatha Christie‘s Miss Marple in numerous other respects, too — to the point that any exceedingly rare similarities in their adventures, or those of Rutherford‘s Marple and those of a certain M. Poirot are a mere coincidence. 🙂 )

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  2. cathyc says:

    No, I think she was a mature person. The thing is, we let Ian McKellan play Hamlet at age 81. But we don’t let females take the same liberties. It is just a suspension of disbelief, after all, on our part. She was stereotyped by her looks rather than by her age (back then, at least, one could be older and play Juliet) and for all I know might have made a wonderful Juliet. Imagine the radio production perhaps.

    It is something audiences routinely do at the Opera, though fat female singers are not as accepted as they used to be….

    I’m not saying it would work, but might it? And if it didn’t would we be able to look critically at our own prejudices and say was that our fault? Didn’t we think McKellan’s Hamlet was fabulous? Just theoretical since it hasn’t come to the stage yet.

    https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2020/jun/28/ian-mckellens-hamlet-aged-81-its-madness-but-theres-method-in-it

    Shakespeare, finally, is so astonishingly robust. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a production of any Shakespeare play which could completely ruin the work itself.

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    • ThemisAthena says:

      I do care about age-“appropriate” representation, regardless whether male and female — I have at least as much of a problem with Ian McKellen doing Hamlet at his age (or even John Gielgud at age 50, for that matter) as I have with mature female actors playing juveniles (Juliet is 13 years old, for crying out loud … she’s in her early teens!). Both Gielgud and McKellen actually did have their moment as Hamlet when they were much younger, so however much I understand their personal desire to have another go at it, I really think they should have moved on … and I’m saying that as a huge fan of both. They say that 35 or 40 is the “ideal” age to play the Prince of Denmark, and virtually all of my favorite performances are by actors who were that age at the time (and even that is some 5-10 years older than Hamlet’s real age in the play, but I do get that it takes a certain amount of maturity to actually “get” the role and fully inhabit the Prince; and that’s something I can easily understand). (And if you havenn’t seen a Shakespeare play being murdered yet, all I’ll say is color yourself lucky. I have, and it hurt like hell, deep down inside.)

      As a matter of fact, I very much do care about this in opera as well. There’s only so much that makeup can do (and even that, often only at a certain distance); but more importantly, many singers are vocally beyond their prime once they are beyond a certain age — only the very best of the best are really still at the top of their voice once they’re past 50-55 years of age (or even earlier). Like Hamlet, there are of course certain roles in opera that require a certain maturity to fully inhabit them (e.g., Tosca, Carmen or Aida), but my city’s opera has made a point of giving a chance to young singers for years now, and some of them (e.g., Julia Novikova and Sumi Hwang) have gone on to great international acclaim … and even when they were performing here, you could see their enormous talent, and they were easily the equal or better than many a more seasoned singer. The same is true for the Bregenz Opera Festival (one of Europe’s most distinguished opera festivals), which my mom and I attended for years. — So: there are opportunities enough for more mature singers to shine, both on the operatic stage and in concerts, etc. … I really wish they’d leave the “young ingénue” and other parts of really young characters to younger singers.

      [Sorry. * TA steps off the soap box. *]

      Liked by 1 person

      • cathyc says:

        No, stay on it! You are a good ranter!

        Re opera singers my point wasn’t age, it was fatness. I watched a documentary discussing this ages ago – did opera singers have to be fat in order to have the best voices? As soon as the ‘no you don’t’ win that one, then opera singers are going to be determined by looks. Ie we remove the suspension of disbelief which is part of all theatre, opera etc. Not that I’m arguing for or against, merely observing what happens.

        I am always curious to see new ways of interpreting Shakespeare. I said I hadn’t been to one that was completely ruined, but I have to say that the darling of the theatrical/operatic world right now, Barrie Kosky, including Germany did ruin my first King Lear. It was awful. Amongst his crimes, he left out small characters in order to add silly dances he made up. It was interesting to see how small characters can make sense of a story line.

        Some years later I hummed and haahed about whether to see Sir Ian do Lear (RTC), finally decided in favour and I thought it was terrific, though some of my theatrical friends hated it.

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      • ThemisAthena says:

        Re: opera, oh, I see what you mean. That’s an entirely different matter IMHO — singers can’t change their physical / genetic makeup; if their bodies respond to their day job by expanding not only their lungs but also their chests and the whole rest with it, then that’s the way it is! To argue against biology is just plain stupid. Besides, the “fat lady (and gentleman)” is beyond an opera cliché at this point … and costuming can do a lot about that, too. (True story, though, as told to me by a former colleague who was an eyewitness to the incident: In a Berlin production of Tosca, Pavarotti, as Caravadossi, in the first scene did a straight vertical tumble when the ladder on which he was standing and painting collapsed under him, landed on his bottom … and continued to sing throughout, as if nothing had happened, got up and still continued his aria as if the scene had always been staged with him standing on his own two feet.)

        McKellen as Lear just has to be an event, particularly when seen live, no matter the production! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • cathyc says:

        Irrelevant, but of anecdotes to do with Hamlet: I gather that somebody famous (can’t remember who, sorry) was doing Hamlet at a young age and Winston Churchill was in the front row. When it came to ‘To Be…’ Winston recited the whole thing out loud with the actor. I would love to have been there!

        Liked by 1 person

      • ThemisAthena says:

        LOL. I actually mouthe the words along with the actor, too … but *silently*, of course, especially when I know they might be able to see and / or hear me (such as during an open air production)! Had someone else from the audience who’d noticed it ask me on one occasion, though, whether I know the whole play by heart — at the time I almost did, and for the few bits where I didn‘t remember the complete words, I knew the prompts at least, so it didn‘t show. (I don‘t think I could still do that now, though.)

        Now, if you‘re Winston Churchill, of course … 😀

        Poor actor whoever he was … it must have taken him superhuman strength not to break the 4th wall in that situation! (Even if it was Olivier, who it just might have been, in terms of timing.)

        Like

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