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Miss Marple (1984-92)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Miss Marple (1984-92)
BBC, 26/12/1984- 27/12/92
16x50 mins, 1x115 mins, 3x110 mins, 1x100 mins, colour
Writers includeT.R. Bowen
 Alan Plater
Directors includeDavid Tucker
 Norman Stone
ProducersGuy Slater
 George Gallaccio

Cast: Joan Hickson (Miss Marple); David Horovitch (Inspector Slack); Ian Brimble (Sergeant Lake)

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Miss Jane Marple, an aged spinster from the village of St Mary Mead, uses her intuition and knowledge of human nature to solve crimes in 1950s Britain.

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Despite many attempts over the decades, faithful adaptations of Agatha Christie's sedate Miss Marple stories either for film or TV proved highly elusive, unlike some of those made from the author's more dynamic and densely plotted Poirot adventures. Gracie Fields was the rather unlikely star of a live broadcast of A Murder Is Announced made by CBS in 1956, while Margaret Rutherford's popular cinema incarnation in four 1960s comedy-thrillers strayed far from their literary source.

The late Joan Hickson, however, proved perfectly cast when, at age 78, she took on the role for the BBC. Physically, she brilliantly embodied the shrewd, sharp-eyed, owlish spinster, while also conveying her intuitive acumen and razor-sharp mind. The handsomely mounted, leisurely paced productions closely follow the books, spreading the stories across several episodes, the emphasis placed squarely on atmosphere and design. Although Christie's stories were published over 40 years, the series relocated them all to the late 1940s/early 50s, when Britain was finally getting over the years of post-war austerity.

The first serial was T.R. Bowen's three-part adaptation of The Body in the Library (1984), which opens brilliantly with Dolly Bantree (Gwen Watford) coercing her husband out of bed to see if there really is a corpse in their house. This story also introduced the ever-grumpy Detective Inspector (later Superintendent) Slack (David Horovitch); Marple's nephew, Inspector Craddock (John Castle), would appear in later stories.

A Murder is Announced (1985), adapted by Alan Plater, vividly brings to life the small village of St Mary Mead (actually Nether Wallop, Hampshire), also providing a highly sympathetic role for Joan Sims as a meek lesbian. When the character is murdered, the moment is genuinely upsetting. At Bertram's Hotel (1987), featuring Joan Greenwood as a gossiping old acquaintance of Miss Marple's, has an uncharacteristic action climax in which a villain tries to escape, but also cleverly highlights the trap of easy nostalgia, an accusation that was occasionally levelled at the series.

Although inherently conservative, the twelve novels were intelligently adapted so as to appeal to a broad audience, while remaining essentially true to Christie's original intentions. The last of the Marple mysteries to be filmed was The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side (1992), which appropriately enough reunited Miss Marple, Slack, Craddock and Dolly Bantree to solve a double murder in St Mary Mead.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Village tea (3:29)
2. Doctors orders (3:31)
3. Whodunit? (2:48)
4. Miss Marple's flame (2:33)
Agatha Christie on Television
TV Sleuths