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Last week, I enjoyed Agatha Christie’s various first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It introduced Hercule Poirot and his sidekick, Hastings.
Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories have been made into major series twice. This earlier one starred Joan Hickson and aired on BBC from 1984 through 1992. Each season was broadcast a year or so later in the US on PBS Mystery.
I probably saw some of these at that time. PBS Mystery was a feature of my Thursday nights in those years, when I was available. This was back in the olden days when you watched a show when it aired, caught it during the summer re-run, or missed it entirely, so it was hit-or-miss for me. But, if I were home on a Thursday night, I watched Mystery. Miss Marple began in the years when Vincent Price hosted Mystery and carried on with Diana Riggs as host.
When I watched those documentaries about Agatha Christie a few weeks ago, I was intrigued when someone said that Agatha Christie wrote contemporary novels. Her career was very long. By the time she was writing her final books in the 1970s, her earliest books from the 1920s would have read like historical novels.
Of course, that’s not a practical way to run a TV series. The solution for this series was to set all the stories in the 1950s. The Wikipedia article has the timeline worked out, but you can tell by how often characters reference rationing and ask each other what they did during the war. The 1950s English village settings provided a suitably escapist, nostalgic, and cozy backdrop to the Miss Marple stories.
The episode “Nemesis” was of particular interest, since I just read the book. There were quite a few changes, but not so many that I didn’t know exactly what was going on. I was delighted that they began their tour at Blenheim Palace, just as they did in the book. The actual murder was more poetic than in the book. Christie’s treatment of the son of Miss Marple’s benefactor made more logical sense, but the TV version was more satisfactory. The best part about the adaptation was that the man who promoted rape culture in Nemesis had a much smaller role in the story and was not permitted to air his misguided opinion.
I was fascinated by the role of housekeepers in a couple of the stories. We all know from Downton Abbey that the great houses of England were shedding servants in the first half of the twentieth century — a combination of better jobs elsewhere and less money to keep those houses running. If this Miss Marple series is to be believed, housekeepers remained and they were very competent, professional women. It’s easy to see why some women might prefer the job of housekeeper for a great house rather than an office job — a beautiful living situation in the country, varied duties, and (depending on the personality and inclination of the mistress of the house) a great deal of autonomy and authority.
As you’d expect, most of the episodes feature country houses but there are exceptions. “At Bertram’s Hotel” is set in an old hotel in London, one where Miss Marple visited when she was young. At first, she likes how unchanged it is, but then it starts to feel wrong that nothing has changed. As Miss Marple says, “What was once so reassuring, now seems to be false.” “A Caribbean Mystery” takes place on Barbados (although the book was set on the fictional island of St. Honoré).
I enjoyed seeing actors I recognized. “A Murder is Announced” featured a very young Kevin Whately (Inspector Lewis) as a sergeant and a very young Samantha Bond (Pierce Brosnan’s Miss Moneypenny and Downton Abbey‘s Aunt Rosamund) as a suspect. “Bertram’s Hotel” included an appearance by a very old Joan Greenwood (Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Importance of Being Earnest) — I recognized her more from her distinctive and distinguished voice than her face.
Joan Hickson was in her late 70s when she began the role and well into her 80s by the time she finished the adaptations of all 12 novels. Hickson received the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth in 1987. The Queen reportedly complimented her Miss Marple as being exactly how the reader envisages her.
I’ll agree with the Queen on this. Joan Hickson portrayed Miss Marple as both suitably scattered and incisively competent as the need arose in service to solving the mystery.
The Miss Marple series is available on DVD in three volumes. I checked them out of my local library.
This is the fifth appearance of Agatha Christie for my 2021 R.eader’s I.mbibing P.eril challenge, RIP XVI.
I watched three documentaries — The Mystery of Agatha Christie for last week and a couple of more recent documentaries to celebrate Christie’s September birthday. I read Nemesis, the Miss Marple published 50 years ago, and The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie’s first novel published 100 years ago. Now, I’ve watched one of the two Miss Marple series.
Next week, we’ll see what else I can get up to for my RIP XVI adventures.