“Fear follows crime and is its punishment.” – Voltaire
We have been watching some episodes of the Miss Marple telemovies starring Geraldine McEwan and some of them we have been enjoying. I was always a fan of Agatha Christie and have read just under 90 of her books, so whenever there is a transfer of these to screen, I look at the finished product with interest. There have been numerous Miss Marples in the movies and I have seen several films. Geraldine McEwan does a good job as the woolly but astute sleuth.
Jane Marple, usually referred to as Miss Marple, appears in twelve of Agatha Christie’s crime novels and in twenty short stories. Miss Marple is an elderly spinster who lives in the village of St. Mary Mead and acts as an amateur detective. Alongside Hercule Poirot, she is one of the most famous of Christie’s characters. Her first appearance was in a short story published in The Sketch magazine in 1926, “The Tuesday Night Club”, which later became the first chapter of The Thirteen Problems (1932). Her first appearance in a full-length novel was in The “Murder at the Vicarage” in 1930.
Margaret Rutherford was a memorable Miss Marple in the 1960s films. “Murder, She Said” (1961, directed by George Pollock) was the first of four British MGM productions starring Rutherford. Most viewers of the films agree that Rutherford was a delightful Miss Marple exemplifying the innocent, wide-eyed exterior that hides the astute and highly intelligent brain that keeps on working underneath the sweetness.
In 1980, Angela Lansbury played Miss Marple in “The Mirror Crack’d” (EMI, directed by Guy Hamilton), based on Christie’s 1962 novel. The film featured an all-star cast that included Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Geraldine Chaplin, Tony Curtis, and Kim Novak. Edward Fox appeared as Inspector Craddock, who did Miss Marple’s legwork. Lansbury’s Marple was a crisp, intelligent woman who moved stiffly and spoke in clipped tones. Unlike most incarnations of Miss Marple, this one smoked cigarettes.
American TV was the setting for the first dramatic portrayal of Miss Marple with Gracie Fields, the legendary British actress, playing her in a 1956 episode of Goodyear TV Playhouse based on “A Murder Is Announced”, the 1950 Christie novel.
American stage and screen legend Helen Hayes portrayed Miss Marple in two American made-for-TV movies, both for CBS: “A Caribbean Mystery” (1983) and “Murder with Mirrors” (1984). Sue Grafton contributed to the screenplay of the former. Hayes’s Marple was benign and chirpy. From 1984 to 1992, the BBC adapted all of the original Miss Marple novels as a series titled Miss Marple. Joan Hickson played the lead role. (Coincidentally, Hickson had played a housekeeper in the first film in which Margaret Rutherford played Miss Marple).
Beginning in 2004, ITV broadcast a series of adaptations of Agatha Christie’s books under the title “Agatha Christie’s Marple”, usually referred to as “Marple”. Geraldine McEwan starred in the first three series. One other TV movie called “At Bertram’s Hotel” (2007). Julia McKenzie took over the role in the fourth season. The adaptions are notable for changing the plots and characters of the original books (e.g., incorporating lesbian affairs, changing killer identities, renaming or removing significant characters, and even using stories from other books in which Miss Marple did not originally feature). The purists would shudder, but once again, if one sees the finished products as cinema and judges them as that, they are fine.
And just for the quirkiness of it, from 2004 to 2005, Japanese TV network NHK produced a 39 episode animé series titled “Agatha Christie’s Great Detectives Poirot and Marple”, which features both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Miss Marple’s voice is provided by Kaoru Yachigusa. I haven’t seen these but I would dearly love to cast a critical eye over an episode as I cannot imagine Miss Marple as an animé heroine!
The most recent film we saw was Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2007 “Nemesis” starring Geraldine McEwan, Laura Michelle Kelly and Dan Stevens. The novel is a classic Christie whodunit full of memorable characters, twists and turns of plot and some poignant moments. Unfortunately, this version is sadly mangled and the production is a little scratchy with an overpowering soundtrack and jerky camera work. The screenplay has also been “tampered with” due to no good reason! The 1987 Joan Hickson version stayed much closer to the book and was much better.
Having said all of that, I still prefer reading the Christie books, as they are the original and the best and a reader with an imagination will certainly construct in their mind the “perfect” Miss Marple and any actress that portrays her will disappoint compared to the one in one’s mind!