I mentioned last week that I had purchased the complete series of Miss Marple on DVD. I have watched a few of these over the last few days and though I have seen them many times, I never tire of watching them again. Though there have been many Miss Marples, Joan Hickson is the one for me.
The redoubtable Margaret Rutherford played this character in several films, one of which was called Murder at the Gallop. While she was wonderful, she was, well, Margaret Rutherford not Miss Marple. Angela Lansbury had a crack at the role in a dreadful film version of the Mirror Cracked from Side to Side starring Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson (words fail) in which we saw Miss Marple with a fag in one hand and a gin and tonic in the other. Not a knitting needle in sight. She then went on to make a television series Murder She Wrote as a quasi Jane Marple which ran for several years.
Helen Hayes also appeared in one film, no more thankfully, and then we recently had Geraldine McEwan essay the role. Now I think she is an excellent actress, good at everything she does and her portrayal of Mrs Proudie in the Barchester Chronicles is a performance to be cherished, but though she does a brilliant job as the eponymous heroine (in this series called for some peculiar reason Agatha Christie's Marple - what happened to the Miss?), she does not have the character right, though this is more the fault of the script rather than anything else. She is not helped by the fact that some of the plot lines have been changed, characters such as Tommy and Tuppence who appear in another series of Dame A's books, are thrown into the story, and also in one case, the actual murderer's identity has been altered for no apparent reason at all. So though this series can be enjoyed very much, it cannot be regarded as a serious attempt to portray the character as Agatha Christie created it. .
Last night I watched At Bertram's Hotel. Miss Marple is staying at this hotel for a two week holiday, paid for by her nephew Raymond, and it is just how she remembered it as a child. Crumpets for tea, scones and cream, cucumber sandwiches, chambermaids in uniform with frilly aprons, impeccable English upper crust accents and guests include lords and ladies and bishops and clergy.
Production values are high in this series and great care has been taken in recreating the ambiance of Bertrams. One scene in a cafe has the background singing of Tommy Steele Rock with the Caveman and this immediately places the time, for those of us who remember and I sadly am one, in the late 1950's and also serves as a contrast to the old fashioned genteel atmosphere of the hotel. Miss Marple becomes increasingly uneasy as she feels it is almost 'too good to be true' and indeed it is as we find out as the story unfolds.
This is one of the best of the dozen or so that were filmed and has the bonus of seeing George Baker playing a police inspector which surely must have been a dry run for his future portrayal of Inspector Wexford.
Tonight, I think I might watch Nemesis again. Though this was one of Dame Agatha's later books and not one of her best, she tended to ramble a bit in her latter writing days, this is the dramatisation that is far and away the finest of this entire series. There is one cameo scene which never fails to move me. Liz Fraser, a British actress who used to appear in the Carry On films and therefore, somewhat undervalued, plays the part of a mother whose daughter had vanished some years earlier. She sits alone in her house with a bottle of gin for company and a bright smile on her face talking about her daughter 'poor cow, someone's got her haven't they' and hiding the heartbreak underneath. It is a simply stupendous piece of TV acting from a much under rated actress and I am looking forward to seeing it again.
In David Suchet we have the perfect Hercule Poirot and in Joan Hickson the perfect Miss Marple. I cannot see anybody else ever doing any better.