Agatha Christie's Miss Marple

Reviewer: Rissi C.

Unfortunately, Miss Marple is not a character I’ve acquainted myself with. Oh, she was a familiar name, but as far as her savvy crime solving, well, that was unknown. When I learned that the new series wasn’t afraid to put a host of popular British actors in one episode but gave a more “worldly” view of things, it cautioned me as to whether or not they should be viewed. Having seen these advertise on various different A&E programs, I thought they looked entertaining enough to deserve a look, but hadn’t attempted to see them. When my mom found them at the video store, we decided to give them a try.  


A Caribbean Mystery 

Jane Marple (Joan Hickson) is a pleasant proper lady who has quietly lived in her small cottage for ages, which is one reason why her detective nephew sends her to a Caribbean resort for a vacation.  Poor Miss Marple is beside herself with boredom; she spends her afternoons just quietly sitting and clinking away with her knitting needles. She does befriend the young couple who owns the resort particularly the man’s (Adrian Lukis) new bride, Molly (Sophie Ward). With an array of guests staying at the new resort, Miss Marple becomes acquainted with many of them, one being Major Palgrave (Frank Middlemass). Retired, the Major could just sit all day long and talk of small things of no great importance, which is why it’s such a shock when he’s found dead in his room the next morning.


Soon Miss Marple is involved in a new case and she scarcely has time for knitting. Slowly she pieces things together as more mysterious happenings occur. When another body is discovered, Molly begins to feel as if she’s going mad; she forgets things and for some reason thinks she committed a murder…but is she really losing it or is something sinister happening at the popular resort?  


The Mirror Cracked from side to side


The small English countryside of Merry Mead is all aflutter with anticipation. A movie star has moved to their small town and a popular one at that.  Her name is, Marina Gregg (Claire Bloom) and she’s just started filming a new prduction, but has been bemoaning the fact that she’s aging and the producer doesn’t really want her to play the part. Something that has caused a strained few days with her fourth director husband, Jason Rudd (Barry Newman), who has been trying to ease Marina’s fears. In the bustle of the village, Miss Jane Marple must wait at a neighbor’s while having a repair done to her shoe. The friendly folks are Heather and Arthur Badcock (Judy Cromwell, Christopher Hancock).


Heather is a chatter-box and during Miss Marple’s visit, she can do nothing but discuss the one time when she met Miss Gregg. After settling into her new home, Miss Gregg holds a delightful party, everyone turns out hoping to meet the famous lady. But no one is more thrilled with the prospect than Heather Badcock herself, saying she knows that Miss Gregg won’t remember her; she can’t help but anticipate that maybe she might. Before the end of the party though Heather takes ill and by the time the doctor arrives, she has died. Miss Marple is called in yet again as the mysteries start to unfold; we have a mystifying photographer, a jilted secretary (Elizabeth Garvie), a seemingly attentive doctor as well as other mysterious characters.


Sleeping Murder


Just recently married and very much in love Giles and Gwenda Reed (John Moulder-Brown, Geraldine Alexander) are looking for a home. Having lived in New Zealand since she was a little girl, Gwenda remembers nothing of England. Once they’ve purchased the house that Gwenda feels the most at home with, she begins to make improvements to it and can’t help but feeling a bit of déjà vu. Feeling as if there should have been a door somewhere only to learn that there once was, wanting steps off the veranda and learning that they are there but were covered all add to Gwenda’s growing sense of apprehension. When Giles leaves to see his friend in London, Gwenda decides to follow a few days later, not feeling comfortable alone.


During the Reed’s stay in London they meet Miss Marple. Later that evening, the Reed’s, their hosts and Miss Marple attend the theatre and after a line in the play is read, Gwenda has an unexplainable reaction and leaves quite shaken. Thinking she must be going mad, Miss Marple tries to put her fears to rest, saying that there is likely some reason for all this. The most liable cause would be that these so called episodes are really a childhood memory. Something Gwenda intends to discover…even if it may stir up unwanted attentions.


4:50 from Paddington


As a woman travels to visit a friend by train, she mistakenly sees a murder being committed. The woman just happens to be a very dear friend of Miss Jane Marple’s, Miss Marple believes her old friend, but the police detectives aren’t as convinced; they feel that the rumors about the woman’s mental health may be playing a role in her story. So, Miss Marple does the only thing she can, she finds someone who is willing to do a little snooping around. She recruits a young friend Lucy (Jill Meager) to play her niece while obtaining a job at a rich family’s manor.


The family is from old money and needless to say is a bit eccentric. There is the head patriarch who is supposedly ill and needs constant care through doctor’s and a companion. The rest of the family consists of his devoted kind-hearted daughter (Joanna David), his greedy sons and a widowed son-in-law (David Beames), whom no one likes, but tolerates due to his son; their nephew and grandson. Added to the mix is a doctor who seems a little too attentive…or is he really just concerned with his patients’ welfare? As Lucy begins to earn most of this families trust and eventually begins to befriend them, she finds it increasingly difficult to suspect them…even when she discovers a body.


Of all the films in this four part set, the best crafted, best screenplay and acting come from Sleeping Murder with 4:50 from Paddington coming in a close second.  It has an altogether pleasant and most intriguing tale.  Aside from these being quite dated, the biggest fault of this 1980 series comes from the fact that they are slow-moving. The second two do pick up a bit, but it takes forever for us to even get into the first two and when we do the film is basically over. These Miss Marple episodes may not have the great performances as the newer films do, but there are some bright spots, such as seeing actors from later A&E productions particularly George Wickham from Pride & Prejudice.   It was surprising to see Elizabeth Garvie in one. While her performance as Lizzie in the 1980’s Pride & Prejudice wasn’t near as inspiring as Jennifer Ehle, it was still interesting to see her again in something.


These have little to be concerned with in the content department. There is the occasional innuendo and we get vibes that a secretary wants a personal relationship with her married employer (The Mirror Cracked from Side to Side). Generally we see the body; the victims all die in numerous different ways. I can’t recall any language that would be offensive or strong. There is some tense scenes; one is particular in the third episode comes to mind about ten minutes before the end. There is very little romance, so the sexual content is basically non-existent; although in the concluding episode we do have an underlying sweet romance. These aren’t superb and I’m certain that if there wasn’t some disturbing content in the newer series, I’d find them to be much better productions. This series has nice plots and decent acting, but I don’t agree with most people that Hickson is the best Miss Marple; I’ve no one to compare her to though.


I’m pleased to report that none of the “likable” characters turn out to be the “bad guy”—well at least in my opinion. There were a few times that some character would seem a little strange and I’d wonder whether or not they would turn out bad, but generally the bad character is unlikable and we are glad to be rid of them through police custody. If you enjoy Murder, She Wrote then you may find these endearing, my preference tends more to the aforementioned. If you do intend to see some classic mysteries, I’d be more apt to recommend Columbo or the previous, but if you have your heart set on seeing some classic Miss Marple’s than I’d say skip at least episode one if not two and go right to the best mysteries, you’re really not missing out on anything by skipping them over. 


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