My 5 Favourite Episodes of ‘Marple’

If, like me, you’ve been watching the new Poirot and Marple episodes on ITV you will be as disappointed as me that they have stopped again. Months ago I looked at my favourite episodes of Poirot (and in case you were wondering, Elephants Can Remember wasn’t particularly close to making the list) so I thought it was time to look at my favourite Marple episodes. To start off I must say that I am only looking at the ITV series of Marple from 2004 – present, not any of the films or the Joan Hickson BBC adaptations. This series had a lot of criticism regarding blatant plot changing or the insertion of Miss Marple into stories that she was never written into. For me, I take them mostly as I find them. They are fun, hokey, sometimes accurate, mostly great performances and more Agatha Christie adaptations just make me happy. So I now give you my list of five favourite episodes. Spoiler alert, there are no Julia McKenzie episodes. This is just how the chips have fallen. 5. Towards Zero (2008) Towards Zero Coming up with my “final” favourite episode was hard (and yes this feels like it’s the reverse order to be talking about somehow) because I wanted to try and avoid choosing another episode from the first two series of Marple. I was very close to choosing Murder is Easy (might have something to do with Benedict Cumberbatch in it…but also I love Anna Chancellor), but I prefer the story in this one. Miss Marple doesn’t appear in the novel ‘Towards Zero’ but this only means that she plays a key part in solving the mystery – as you would expect with Miss Marple, and with a detective played by Alan Davies. When you really go into the plot of Towards Zero there is true malice and darkness to it which is greatly contrasted with the persona of Miss Marple. I like that comparison. And shallow reasons? Take a look at Kay and Audrey Strange’s dresses (played by Zoe Tapper and Saffron Burrows respectively). Mostly beautiful all of the time. Having the Marple episodes constantly set in the ’50s means that there is a sense of consistency with the show (compared with the books ageing with the time period) and allows for the differences with Poirot to exist. And preventing the two characters from ever meeting. We hope. 4. The Body in the Library (2004) The Body in the Library This was the first episode of the ITV series. It didn’t have great responses mostly because the murderer was changed at the end. Everything else was pretty much the same with a few omissions to allow for the running time. There were mixed feelings about McEwan as Jane Marple, mostly from people who hold Joan Hickson as “the” Miss Marple, but I love her. She’s cheeky, fun, and completely plays into the doddery old woman role – particularly around the policemen. The plot of ‘The Body in the Library’ is really interesting but is still fairly ridiculous when you think about it! Moving on from that, the cast is pretty great her. Joanna Lumley is so much fun as Dolly Bantry and steals most of the scenes – just watch her downing a cocktail for no apparent reason. I adore Jack Davenport as Superintendent Harper and Ben Miller playing it up as Basil Blake. Just watch and enjoy it! 3. Murder at the Vicarage (2004) Murder at the Vicarage This episode may have been intended as the first episode because the first shots seem to be setting up Miss Marple as a “new” character (and with the little fake back story they set up). As far as the general plot of the murder goes this adaptation is “faithful” – same motive, murderer and method. It also simplifies a few points;  to allow for the running time just like with The Body in the Library. Giving Miss Marple a romantic backstory seems to be a way of connecting her more emotionally with the murderer and giving her a stronger moral setting. It could also be seen as a further way of separating her from the Joan Hickson and Margaret Rutherford portrayal’s. The love story is only shown in this episode and never featured or mentioned again. When you take it in the context of this adaptation you can understand it. We also have another case of some great cast members and costumes. I am particularly fond of Lettice Protheroe (Christina Cole) and Griselda Clement’s (Rachael Stirling) costumes. And its fun seeing Jason Flemyng (as Lawrence Redding) in a period drama and not a Guy Ritchie/Matthew Vaughn film! It’s a little unexpected the first time you see him. This adaptation also does a good job of showing the nature of a little village like St Mary Mead with a particularly great performance by Miriam Margolyes (has she ever given a bad performance?) as Mrs Price-Ridley. This kind of atmosphere is what Agatha Christie’s Marple stories are famous for. There is always something going on in a village. Under the surface. 2. A Murder is Announced (2005) A Murder is Announced Another Zoe Wanamaker episode. But not as Ariadne Oliver this time. This is a great story if for the subtle clues. Once you know the ending you’re aware of them earlier on (just like with the book) but when you watch it cold I don’t think you’d guess. With these earlier episodes it’s funny to see the cast members who wouldn’t be appearing in this kind of drama now – I point you to Matthew Goode here. The surrounding characters were altered a little from the book but all the basics that allow for the murder plot to be solved are all present. 1. The Moving Finger (2006) The Moving Finger So now we’ve come to my favourite adaptation. Again, not massively faithful but also not wildly different. In the novel, Miss Marple doesn’t appear until well into the story. That just wouldn’t work for a TV adaptation about Miss Marple – she was also introduced much earlier in the Joan Hickson adaptation. The characters are all present and accounted for with Jerry and Joanna Burton (James D’Arcy and Emilia Fox) looking wonderfully out of place in Lymstock – Joanna particularly. This is probably why I enjoy her character so much. She is much more “shocking” than the Joanna in the Hickson adaptation. This episode may also be a case of the best cast members – Ken Russell as a Reverend, Frances de la Tour as his wife, Harry Enfield as a solicitor, Sean Pertwee as a country doctor, Jessica Stevenson as his sister and Keith Allen as the detective. And because of the importance of the female characters we once again have some more great costumes. Kelly Brook has some beautiful ’50s dresses, as does Emilia Fox and even Talulah Riley gets her moments. (I used to hate her final costume but it’s slowly been growing on me…) And James D’Arcy as the damaged war veteran with alcohol problems from London also gets some great suits – enough to continue to make him seem slightly too modern for Lymstock. Final points? Just about the costumes for Geraldine McEwan’s Jane Marple. I love them. There is a clear consistency throughout her episodes whether it’s just the general old-fashioned 1910/20s silhouette or particular features. Even in the photos I’ve chosen you can see the same cardigan with cross-over buttons, the same hats in different colours, her heart-shaped magnifying glass around her neck, similar blouses. This is all part of her character. To try to dress her in ’50s silhouettes would be ridiculous. A woman of her age wouldn’t be trying to be modern. She would continue to wear the clothes she has and she likes. It’s also worth pointing out that a similarly great job has been done with Julia McKenzie’s costume. Their portrayal of Miss Marple is different and so should their costumes. I quite enjoyed the adaptation of A Caribbean Mystery (but I still think it works better in book form – it always seems too obvious to me on screen), the Greenshaw’s Folly adaptation was interesting but not one of the bests. I ahve high hopes for Endless Night because it is one of my favourite Christie novels – but possibly very hard to pull off. Especially with the insertion of Miss Marple… Any thoughts about the Marple series? From fans of Agatha Christie or from those who have never read her books but like the show? S x

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