Many Marples on TV and in Film
This featured article discusses the principle portrayals of Marple on television and film. Not included are such performances by British actress Gracie Fields for a TV adaptation of A Murder is Announced, the Estonian stage and film actress Ita Ever in A Pocket Full of Rye, or even the Japanese anime series with Marple titled Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple.
Miss Marple first appeared on screen in the form of Margaret Rutherford, an English and Academy Award-winning actress, in 1961's Murder, She Said. This film was the first of the four Murder series starring Miss Marple. The films (comedic, really) were loosely based on the novels written by Agatha Christie and were all produced by MGM. Rutherford's real-life husband, Stringer Davis, appears in all four films as Marple's friend Mr. Stringer.
The first film was based on 4:50 from Paddington, the only Marple novel used for any of the films! The film eliminates both the characters of Elspeth McGillicuddy (the witness of the murder) and Lucy Eyelesbarrow (Marple's ally in the investigation); Marple takes place of both characters in the movie. The second movie was Murder at the Gallop (1963), based on the story After the Funeral. This movie made the Marple film series distance itself farther and farther away from Christie's original work. The movie changed its characters and scenes (now set at a horse-riding academy) and the filmmakers changed the sleuth: Hercule Poirot was replaced in the movie with Miss Marple!
In 1964, two more Marple movies were released: Murder Most Foul and Murder Ahoy!. Murder Most Foul is not at all like the Poirot story Mrs. McGinty's Dead, the novel the film was "based" on. Marple is a juror in a murder trial and is troubled by the verdict of "guilty"--so, she joins a third-rate repertory company to uncover the murderer of a blackmailing actress. The entire purpose of Poirot's investigations and his actions are completely left out. The final film Murder Ahoy! is all original: the screenplay is not based on any Christie novel (although the film utilizes an idea or two from the Marple novel They Do It With Mirrors). The movie takes place on a marine training vessel that rehabilitates young criminals; we find Miss Marple investigating the death of a trustee of this rehabilitation program.
In 1980, audiences were ready for Miss Marple's return to the big screen. The latest actress to take on the role was Angela Lansbury. She starred in one film by EMI: The Mirror Crack'd, obviously based on the Marple story The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. It featured an all-star cast including Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak, Rock Hudson, and Tony Curtis. The story takes place in 1953 and stays on track plot-wise like that of the novel.
The events take place in St. Mary Mead, where Marple lives. A film crew and its cast come here to create a film about Mary, Queen of Scots. At the village fete, a Mrs. Badcock drinks a poisoned cocktail meant for the movie actress Marina Gregg (played by Taylor). Marina's return to the cinema is accomplished by director Jason Rudd (played by Hudson) who is also the latest husband of the well-known actress. Tony Curtis appears as the film's producer and Kim Novak plays rival actress Lola Brewster and Marina's nemesis. It's up to Jane Marple to uncover different secrets that the many suspects are keeping.
The American stage actress Helen Hayes played Miss Marple in two made-for-television movies, first A Caribbean Mystery (1983) and then Murder with Mirrors (1985). She appeared in the first movie at the age of 83 years, older than her counterpart of the novels. The two-time Oscar winner starred with a well-known cast in Murder with Mirrors: Bette Davis, Leo McKern, John Mills, Frances de la Tour, and Tim Roth.
In A Caribbean Mystery, Marple makes a new friend while on holiday there, only to then investigate his murder. The Major (Maurice Evans) reveals to Marple that another visitor to the hotel is a murderer, but is killed himself and it is up to Marple to found out whodunit. The majority of the film Murder with Mirrors takes place at Stoneygates, a Victorian Gothic mansion also home to a rehabilitation center for delinquent boys. She's there to find out who is slowly poisoning her friend Carrie Louise (Bette Davis) while helping the police discover the murderer of the stepson Mr. Gilbranson (John Woodvine).
The next Marple came in the form of Joan Hickson, an actress who first performed on stage at the age of 20 and later appeared in films. Her stage work included the role of Miss Pryce in the play "Appointment with Death". That performance impressed Agatha Christie so much that it occasioned her to write Miss Hickson: "I hope you will play my dear Miss Marple." Obviously, Miss Hickson did--the BBC television series Miss Marple ran from 1984 to 1992. Many felt that finally there was a Miss Marple done correctly for audiences--not just Joan Hickson's portrayal of Marple, but the stories closely resembled the novels.
Hickson has portrayed Miss Marple in audio books besides the TV episodes produced by the BBC. The 10 titles Miss Hickson read were for Audio Editions Books (which included Marple short stories) . For the TV series, Hickson played Marple in all 12 episodes based on each of the Marple novels. They are:
- The Body in the Library (1984)
- The Moving Finger (1985)
- A Pocket Full of Rye (1985)
- A Murder is Announced (1985)
- Sleeping Murder (1986)
- At Bertram's Hotel (1987)
- Nemesis (1987)
- Murder at the Vicarage (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)
Curious to hear a sound clip of Joan Hickson narrating A Caribbean Mystery from the audio book?Please click here to listen!
The 2000s saw a new Miss Marple come to television screens, portrayed by Geraldine McEwan first. Agatha Christie's Marple started in 2004 with McEwan playing the character through the third season, which ended in 2007.
The show is known for two things: the well-known co-stars on the show and the changes made from the novels. The changes include different identities for the murderers, changed motives, removal of characters, introduction of lesbianism, and including Marple into stories that were not written as such. Not since the films of Margaret Rutherford's has Marple been appearing in stories that she--ahem--frankly does not belong. For example, in By the Pricking of My Thumbs, Miss Marple replaced Tommy Beresford in the story. At least we can take comfort in the fact that a Poirot story won't be adapted for the Marple production, since the Poirot series has already ended.
The episodes for Marple, starring Geraldine McEwan:
- The Body in the Library
- The Murder at the Vicarage
- 4:50 from Paddington
- A Murder is Announced
- Sleeping Murder
- The Moving Finger
- By the Pricking of My Thumbs
- The Sittaford Mystery
- At Bertram's Hotel
- Ordeal by Innocence
- Towards Zero
On February 11, 2008, Granada International announced that actress Julia McKenzie would be replacing McEwan. Mrs. McKenzie's last film role was a minor part in Notes on a Scandal, in 2006. Mathew Prichard, grandson of Agatha Christie and Chairman of Agatha Christie Ltd, said this about the change: "I can imagine Julia McKenzie playing Miss Marple with exactly the right balance of sympathy and intelligence, and I confidently predict that she will become a Miss Marple to rank with the very best!"
- A Pocket Full of Rye
- Murder is Easy
- They Do It with Mirrors
- Why Didn't They Ask Evans?
- The Pale Horse
- The Secret of Chimneys
- The Blue Geranium
- The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side
- A Caribbean Mystery
- Greenshaw's Folly
- Endless Night