MISS MARPLE: 4:50 FROM PADDINGTON

“I can see how irritating this must be for you, Inspector…

… so I’ll ignore what you just said. After all, we may both be involved in this business at a later date. When one of us is clever enough to find the body.”

There she sits: A white-haired elderly spinster, dressed in tweeds and a pair of knitting needles in her lap, seemingly more interested in village gossip than in the goings-on of the world at large. But when told by Milchester C.I.D. Inspector Slack (David Horovitch) that no further investigation is to take place into her friend Elspeth McGillicuddy’s (Mona Bruce’s) report of having witnessed a murder in a passing train, because there doesn’t seem to be any corpse to substantiate that report, and that in fact any insistence on further police action will bring her close to charges for “wasting police time,” Miss Marple’s answer (quoted above) quickly reveals that her placid appearance conceals not only an incredibly sharp mind but also, on occasion, an equally sharp tongue. “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 her first adventure, 1930’s Murder at the Vicarage.

And of course Mrs. McGillicuddy was not wrong, and Miss Marple knows her friend too well not to realize this at once and initiate an investigation of her own. (“She saw what she saw,” she insists vis-à-vis Inspector Slack.) Realizing that the dead body must have been thrown from the train onto the grounds of the nearby Crackenthorpe family estate of Rutherford Hall, she convinces another friend, young professional housekeeper Lucy Eyelesbarrow (Jill Meager) to seek a position with the Crackenthorpe family and thus become her eyes and ears. But Lucy quickly shows that she is much more than that – not only doesn’t it take her long to discover the body; she also provides much-needed assistance to beleaguered Emma Crackenthorpe (Joanna David) in organizing the household in general and an upcoming family gathering in particular, and she gains the respect of cranky old pater familias Luther Crackenthorpe (Maurice Denham) and the particular attention of one of his sons, philandering Cedric Crackenthorpe (John Hallam) and of Luther’s widowed son in law, former Royal Air Force pilot Bryan Eastley (David Beams). And while Inspector Slack, as always when he chooses to disregard Miss Marple’s “ramblings,” is hot on the pursuit of the wrong suspect(s), St. Mary Mead’s elderly spinster and her friend Lucy find the solution – relying on Lucy’s observations as much as on Miss Marple’s ever-unfailing “village parallels;” those seemingly innocuous incidents of village life that make up the sum of her knowledge of human nature, and to which she routinely turns in unmasking even the cleverest killer.

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 versions, 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.

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; including this 1987 adaptation of 4:50 From Paddington (a/k/a What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!, written 1957), which actually features a Scotland Yard Inspector named Craddock (who in turn also appears in A Murder Is Announced – written 1950, BBC adaptation 1985 – and The Mirror Crack’d – written 1962, BBC adaptation 1992). 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.” So even if this made-for-TV movie takes some liberties in adapting Christie‘s novel, it is still a delight to watch, and a highly recommended entry in the Miss Marple canon.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: BBC (1987)
  • Director: Martyn Friend
  • Producer: George Gallaccio
  • Screenplay: T.R. Bowen
  • Based on a novel by: Agatha Christie
Recurring Cast
  • Joan Hickson: Miss Jane Marple
  • David Horovitch: Detective Inspector Slack
  • Ian Brimble: Detective Sergeant Lake
  • Jill Meager: Lucy Eyelesbarrow
  • Joanna David: Emma Crackenthorpe
  • Maurice Denham: Luther Crackenthorpe
  • David Beames: Bryan Eastley
  • Andrew Burt: Dr. John Quimper
  • John Hallam: Cedric Crackenthorpe
  • Bernard Brown: Harold Crackenthorpe
  • Robert East: Alfred Crackenthorpe
  • Christopher Haley: Alexander Eastley
  • Daniele Steel: James Stoddart-West
  • Pamela Pitchford: Mrs. Kidder
  • Mona Bruce: Mrs. McGillicuddy
  • David Waller: Chief Inspector Duckham
  • Will Tacey: Arthur Wimborne
  • Jean Boht: Madame Joliet
  • Juliette Mole: Anna Stravinska

 

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