Our rating: 4 out of 5
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Agatha Christie's novels have sold millions of copies worldwide and found a dedicated fan following in the decades since they were first published. One of her most popular inventions is Miss Marple, here represented in a series that has earned interest and scorn alike from book fans...
St. Mary Mead has not seen such a glamorous inhabitant in many years! The latest resident of the picturesque hamlet is none other than popular screen actress Mariana Gregg (Lindsay Duncan). Retreating from the scandal and interest surrounding her marriage to a younger man, Mariana decides to throw a gala to benefit a popular charitable organization and generate positive publicity. But she earns more attention than she bargained for when one of her guests turns up dead midway through the afternoon, the result of poisoning. But who would want the chatty but seemingly harmless Heather Babcock dead? Or was it meant for someone else? There are no end of suspects in the house, ranging from her husband's suspicious-behaving secretary to her personal assistant and even the beautiful journalist (Charlotte Riley) who seems interested in taking more than just photographs. It is up to the local amateur sleuth, Miss Marple (Julie McKenzie) to solve the case and prevent another death from taking place... if she can.
There has been a certain amount of frustration among book fans as to this new series. All of the seasons have deviated severely from the source material, often altering characters or writing them out completely and in many cases changing the motivation and identity of the murderer. Unfortunately, this season falls prey to the same tampering but at least is more coherent than previous installments, which often included befuddled conclusions and motivations for the various crimes. Miss Marple has been inserted into stories that had nothing to do with her as stand-alone novels, so puritans of the author's work may find these tales frustrating. What it does benefit from is a terrific cast. I much prefer Julie's quieter, more sincere depiction of the heroine to the last actress's portrayal and the mysteries this time around are more emotionally satisfying. While I enjoyed all three installments, my favorite was "The Secret of Chimneys," revolving around a missing diamond and secret passage; it features a guest appearance by Stephen Dillane (John Adams). The supporting cast is a great collaboration of well-known English personalities including Edward Fox, Jonas Armstrong, and Toby Stephens.
Where the former installments had content concerns here and there, this saga is fairly free of objectionable material. Occasional profanity intrudes in mild form and there are some implications of adultery and love affairs. We learn the identities of illegitimate children; in one episode, we see a brief flashback of a woman pushing a man against a wall, then down onto the bed for a tryst. Another implies a man has been a philanderer and carried on multiple affairs. The murders are generally bloodless, ranging from poisonings to accidents. A man is shot and killed; we see a trail of blood following his attempt to escape. We watch a woman briefly being strangled, and see blood covering the face of a woman who has seemingly died of fright. The final episode includes an emphasis on a woman who has become obsessed with fortune telling and horoscopes. She is visited by a fortune teller who informs her of impending death. Seemingly supernatural events surround her mysterious death, but in the end are all revealed to have a logical conclusions.
Admittedly, one of the most fun things about watching these is the delight of seeing popular actors interact with one another. If you are familiar with BBC productions you are going to recognize most of the cast -- either from Doctor Who, their wonderful costume drama installments, or The Tudors. It lends a charm and sense of fun in looking forward to recognizing fairly well known (and sometimes more obscure) talent. The series may seem a bit frustrating at times for those who love the books in their original form, but these retellings do not much offend casual fans of the series and in many ways provide a new excuse to return to the superior books for a fun summer read.