Thursday, April 21, 2011

This 'n That Thursdays: Miss Marple Movies

Margaret Rutherford

Joan Hickson

There have been a fair number of Miss Marple films made over the years, for both the big and small screens.  The very first Miss Marple movie was made for television.  A 1956 adaptation of A Murder Is Announced was produced for the Goodyear Television Playhouse.  It starred Gracie Fields, a well-known British actress at the time, as the main character.

In 1961, the first Miss Marple movie starring the redoubtable Margaret Rutherford debuted.  "Murder She Said" is based on the novel 4:50 from Paddington.  Margaret Rutherford did not at all resemble Agatha Christie's description of Jane Marple, and the actress portrayed her character as a rather forceful woman instead of the gentle and dithery soul in Christie's novels.  Many Miss Marple fans were disappointed by this portrayal, as was Agatha Christie herself, although she knew and liked Margaret Rutherford (she even dedicated The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side to the actress).  Nevertheless, the movie was popular and three more were made: "Murder at the Gallop" (1963), based on the Hercule Poirot novel After the Funeral;  "Murder Most Foul" (1964), based on the Poirot novel Mrs. McGinty's Dead; and "Murder Ahoy" (1964), which is not based on any specific Christie novel.  All of the movies include Margaret Rutherford's real-life husband, Stringer Davis, as Miss Marple's dear friend Mr. Stringer, a character who did not appear in the Christie novels.  Margaret Rutherford also made a brief appearance as Miss Marple in the Poirot spoof "The Alphabet Murders" (1965).  While these movies may not be faithful to the original stories or characters, they are fun to watch and are even preferred by many who are not Miss Marple purists.

In 1980, Angela Lansbury starred as Miss Marple in "The Mirror Crack'd", based on the novel of the same name.  The all-star cast included Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Kim Novak, Tony Curtis, and Geraldine Chaplin.  Although much too young for the role, Lansbury did a fine job and her portrayal was a little more in line with the original character of Miss Marple, although still more of a modern woman than Christie's version.

The legendary Helen Hayes portrayed Miss Marple in two CBS made-for-television movies.  The first was "A Caribbean Mystery" (1983), which also starred several then-popular TV actors, including Jameson Parker and Season Hubley.  This was followed by "Murder with Mirrors" (1985), with veteran screen legends Bette Davis and John Mills playing supporting roles.

From 1984 to 1992, the BBC produced the "Miss Marple" series which adapted all twelve novels for television.  The title character was portrayed by Joan Hickson, who has generally come to be regarded as the definitive Miss Marple.  Coincidentally, years earlier Joan Hickson had played the housekeeper in the movie "Murder She Said".  Agatha Christie had seen Hickson in a stage version of one of her plays in the 1940s, and reportedly sent her a note which read "I hope one day you will play my dear Miss Marple".  Christie certainly got her wish!  The following is a chronological list of the movies in the BBC series:

  • The Body in the Library (1984)
  • The Moving Finger (1985)
  • A Murder Is Announced (1985)
  • A Pocket Full of Rye (1985)
  • The Murder at the Vicarage (1986)
  • Sleeping Murder (1987)
  • At Bertram's Hotel (1987)
  • Nemesis (1987)
  • 4:50 from Paddington (1987)
  • A Caribbean Mystery (1989)
  • They Do It with Mirrors (1991)
  • The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side (1992)

In 2004, ITV began another series of adaptations of  called "Agatha Christie's Marple", beginning with "The Body in the Library" (2004).  Geraldine McEwan starred as the sleuth for the first three seasons and Julia McKenzie took over the role in the fourth season.  This series made many changes to the original works, and many are stories which did not actually feature Miss Marple at all.  The most recent adaptation was "The Pale Horse" (2010).

In March of this year The Walt Disney Company announced that it was planning to produce a new Miss Marple movie, which would be set in the United States in a more updated time period.  The Miss Marple character would be much younger, and would be portrayed by the actress Jennifer Garner.  There has been some public concern over this drastic change to the beloved sleuth, and it remains to be seen if Disney will be able to pull this off successfully.

Jennifer Garner

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