The Miss Marple Collection – Review
By Karl Hornsey
No matter how many times classic novels are dramatised, either on film or for TV, for most viewers there is a definitive version. In much the same way that David Suchet is Poirot, Jeremy Brett is Sherlock Holmes (apologies to any fans of the modern Cumberbatch craze), then Joan Hickson is Miss Marple. This collection of all 12 of her feature-length appearances as the interfering busybody-cum-sleuth demonstrate that beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Christmas 1984 first saw Hickson on screen as Jane Marple, one of Agatha Christie’s most iconic creations, and from the minute she appears in ‘The Body in the Library’, she becomes the part. Margaret Rutherford turned in an excellent Marple in the films of the 1930s, but that was more of a comic creation, in the same way that Peter Ustinov made an amusingly passable version of Poirot, but Hickson epitomises the ‘old dear’, poking her nose into the business of villagers living in picturebox villages, and delving into what goes on behind the net curtains.
The last of the 12 Marple novels to be adapted was screened in 1992, mercifully before the modern trend to blast music all over programmes for the sake of, well for the sake of I’m not quite sure what to be honest. One of the greatest credits I can give to the Hickson Marples is that not very much happens. And that’s exactly as it should be. No contrived car chases, gory killings, characters added out of thin air or the aforementioned music, just simple whodunits (or simple once you know whodidit), an array of some of British TV acting royalty and beautiful scenery, making the whole production easy on the eye.
The BBC clearly had the Marple dramas pigeonholed, as six of the 12 stories were first broadcast as part of the all-important Christmas ratings battle, and Christie herself had Hickson marked out as perfect for the role of Marple. Admittedly, she can become irritating the more and more she pokes around, lurking in the background, adding loaded comments to get under the skin of the protagonists at just the right time. And of course there’s also only so many times one can believe that murders are taking place at just the moment that Marple happens to be visiting her niece or holidaying for a little peace and quiet, but that’s part of the semi-innocent charm of Christie’s stories I guess.
Some of the stories are more famous than others, such as ‘4.50 from Paddington’, ‘A Murder is Announced’ and ‘The Murder at the Vicarage’ (starring the wonderful Paul Eddington), but if forced to choose one to watch over all of the others, I’d plump for ‘A Pocketful of Rye’, first broadcast in 1985. This epitomises the Marple canon and just happens to boast an outstanding supporting cast that includes Tom Wilkinson, Timothy West and the marvellous Peter Davison. Despite their age, this collection still holds up as fine entertainment for a festive break or a rainy Sunday afternoon parked in front of the fire.
‘The Miss Marple Collection’ from the BBC is out now from Amazon and major supermarkets