Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Losing her Marples

I have never wholly taken to Geraldine McEwan in the title role of Agatha Christie's Marple. It is an odd title, anyway, and suggests that there might be other writers who have dabbled with the character - Barbara Cartland's Marple would surely have had enormous fake eyelashes, and been extremely pink and fluffy.
I think it is not so much McEwan, who is actually rather good, but the fact that so many of the stories bear only a tenuous relationship to the original books. The BBC's Miss Marple, with Joan Hickson, was a very faithful adaptation, but the ITV versions almost violate the trade's description act, as apart from the titles, very little remains of the original book, and it is often rewritten in quite extraordinary ways.
Nowhere was that more apparent than in "The Sittaford Mystery", which had an excellent cast, including Timothy Dalton and Mel Smith (very good in a straight part), with Robert Hardy doing a cameo turn at the start with Winston Churchill.
The snowbound nature of the location remains the same, but Inspector Narracott has vanished from the scene, and Miss Marple, who doesn't even feature in the original book, turns up to solve the case. And just in case you had read the story, the killer's identity is different from the one in the novel.
Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable way of spending an hour or so, as long as you put the original completely out of your mind, except for the plot point of the snow, which I am not going to explain here lest the reader has not read or seen this. Spoilers!
Of course, there is a strong tradition of straying from the plot. The Miss Marple films with Margaret Rutherford were often original creations, in which Margaret Rutherford would give her standard performance as Margaret Rutherford, and everyone would call her Miss Marple.  There were never any books on which "Murder Ahoy" was based, and "Murder at the Gallop" and "Murder Most Foul" were actually derived from Poirot stories.
I remember the reading some old film reviews which said that Margaret Rutherford bore a remarkable resemblance to Agatha Christie. I always remember thinking that Agatha Christie would have hated that comparison. I liked Rutherford very much in the VIPs, but she was altogether the wrong performer for Miss Marple, especially with her tendency to use gurning to convey emotions. And small and bird-like, she was most assuredly not!
The Mirror Crack'd, the film starring Angela Lansbury, had a decidedly odd Miss Marple, who actually smoked, something the original novels never did. The plot did follow the book quite faithfully, despite that. It was, like the near contemporary Poirot films "Murder on the Orient Express" and "Death on the Nile" done in a very Hollywood way, with pretty well all the main suspects played by well-known Hollywood stars. It was all a very glossy kind of fun.
The BBC adaptations are unusual, in that they represent a good attempt to remain faithful to the original stories, and usually did not rely on star names, but jobbing (but excellent) character actors, which made it more realistic, less glossy.
I think that, for me, Joan Hickson will be the definitive Miss Marple.

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