The Best Miss Marple?

As with Hercule Poirot, we all have our own ideas about who is the best miss Marple.

Joan Hickson

Unhesitatingly, I plump for Joan Hickson and I really loved the television films she made of the Jane Marple stories.

Yes, they took some liberties with the plots and characters. This is always the case on the large or small screen – but nothing too outlandish.

Unlike the recent ‘Sleeping Murder’ starring Geraldine McEwan as Marple. I hardly recognised it as the ‘Sleeping Murder’ I know! But more of Geraldine McEwan later.

I think Joan Hickson portrayal was beautifully understated and she perfectly conveyed Miss Marple’s self-deprecating brilliance.

As I said, I thought the series was excellent – the music and opening credits created the just the right atmosphere – a kind of genteel menace - and the period costumes and settings were perfect.

There was a cosiness about the whole thing – if you like an Englishness – that took us back to a world that probably never really existed but we wish it had.

I never tire of watching the repeats on the television. Talking of which:

Nostalgia Video:

Between 1984 and 1992 the BBC screened 12 Miss Marple mysteries starring Joan Hickson. If you'd like to see the opening title sequences from "The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side" just click on the play button in the middle of the video screen below.



Margaret Rutherford

Before I discuss the present Miss Marple TV series, I want to talk about Margaret Rutherford’s Miss Marple.

And before I go any further, I wish to state that I absolutely adore her. If I see that she is in a film, I just know that I am going to enjoy it, if only for her performance.

She was a joy to watch, and was never anything less than wonderful. And although she was, in my opinion, a million miles away from my idea of Jane Marple, I loved the films where she played her.

Possibly because these films usually bore little or no resemblance to Agatha Christie’s original stories – I seem to think that ‘After the Funeral’ and ‘Mrs McGinty’s Dead’ were the bare bones for a couple of them - I could sit back and enjoy the, confident, public school character that Margaret Rutherford played.

In a way, I suppose I divorce myself from the fact that this is supposed to be a Miss Marple mystery, and take pleasure from the film in it’s own right.

You see, these films don’t take themselves too seriously, so somehow it’s ok.

I often wondered what Agatha Christie herself thought about these films. It has been said that Joan Hickson was Agatha’s ideal Miss Marple – if so, Margaret Rutherford was most certainly not. Perhaps, like me, she just relished her comic genius.

Geraldine McEwan

Not for me, I’m afraid. Too self-assured, don’t like the way she dresses and can’t bear her voice. Sorry if that sounds a bit harsh, but I did say that this was a personal view.

There is none of the ambience that there was in the Joan Hickson series – there’s a lack of warmth; I don’t really care about any of the people involved, some of whom did not exist in the original stories.

I was so incensed by ‘Sleeping Murder’ that I almost decided not to watch any more. But I will, because as long as anything has Agatha Christie’s name on it, it’s got to be worth a look.

Julia Mckenzie

It was with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension that I tuned into to watch Julia Mckenzie's debut as Miss Marple in 'A Pocket Full of Rye'

Having been driven to distraction by Geraldine McEwan's awful interpretation (to the point when I could no longer watch) I was fairly confident that this new series could only be an improvement on the last, but how would Miss Mackenzie compare with Joan Hickson?

Well, the truth is, of course, that Joan Hickson was incomparable and it is only fair to judge this latest incarnation of the dearly loved Jane Marple on its own merits.

And I have to say, it wasn't half bad. I did enjoy watching the story unfold (and they kept fairly faithfully to the original - have the producers been listening to the fans by any chance??) and Miss Mckenzie's portrayal was very acceptable. I understand from interviews that Julia Mackenzie herself considers Joan Hickson the definitive Miss Marple, so she obviously has the right idea. Getting under the skin of such an iconic figure cannot be easy and I am sure a Miss Mckenzie has given the matter a great deal of thought. (This website held a poll to determine the fans' favourite and Joan Hickson came out well ahead of the other contenders - Geraldine McEwan came nowhere near. Something for the makers of this new series to ponder, perhaps.)

First the brickbats. I wasn't too keen on her clothes. I even thought she looked a bit dowdy, notwithstanding the hat! Miss Marple wear her hat at a jaunty angle? I don't think so. Also, I would have liked her brilliance to have been rather more understated - I found her just a little bit too confident when putting the police on the right track or questioning the suspects. I missed Joan Hickson's diffidence (sorry, I really will try not to make comparisons!) Miss Marple is nothing if not deceptively self-deprecating, which is a large part of her charm.

On the plus side, I thought she portrayed the grief over the shocking death of poor little Gladys Martin with great sensitivity. The scene at the end when she returns home to find a letter from the dead girl I found very moving - the more so because this was understated.

So I watched this latest adaptation without any of the feelings of frustration and indignation that invariable accompanied the previous series, and I look forward to watching the next one. Hopefully, Miss Mckenzie will settle into the role and become steadily more credible as the series progresses.

One point - the actual production seemed a bit disjointed to me, bobbing about from one situation to another without much continuity, but that is merely an observation and has nothing to do with Miss Mckenzie's performance.

At The Movies

Miss Marple has also been played on film by Helen Hayes (see video clip below) and Angela Lansbury – Helen Hayes had the look, but not the accent! Angela Lansbury? I don’t think so!

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