Agatha Christie’s Marple: Series 4

July 22, 2013 - Comment

Starring Julia McKenzie in four new thrilling mysteries Donning the trademark tweeds as if they were made for her, the marvelous Julia McKenzie (Cranford, Notes on a Scandal) assumes the Marple mantle in four gripping new adaptations of Christie mysteries. With her ladylike manners and modest appearance, Dame Agatha’s spinster sleuth blends into the background

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Starring Julia McKenzie in four new thrilling mysteries

Donning the trademark tweeds as if they were made for her, the marvelous Julia McKenzie (Cranford, Notes on a Scandal) assumes the Marple mantle in four gripping new adaptations of Christie mysteries. With her ladylike manners and modest appearance, Dame Agatha’s spinster sleuth blends into the background of fashionable society. However, her razor-sharp mind and no-nonsense view of human nature make her a formidable foe to evildoers, cracking the cases that even the professionals can’t solve.

Picturesque English scenery, grand estates, witty scripts, and lavish post-WWII period detail provide the perfect frame for “frighteningly fun mysteries” (Entertainment Weekly). The stellar supporting cast includes Matthew Macfadyen, Rupert Graves, Anna Chancellor, Jemma Redgrave, Helen Baxendale, Brian Cox, Prunella Scales, Warren Clarke, Natalie Dormer, Rafe Spall, Kenneth Cranham, Samantha Bond, and Joan Collins. “Totally, unexpectedly fun” –E! Online.

THE MYSTERIES For many Agatha Christie murder-mystery fans, Marple: Series 4 may feel odd starring yet another new Jane Marple, Julia MacKenzie (Cranford). Moreover, this series does apparently take liberties with screen adaptation; two of its four full-length episodes, “Murder Is Easy” and “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?” are not even among the twelve Christie novels Marple appears in. Yet while Joan Hickson, Margaret Rutherford, Geraldine McEwan, and ultimately many more have played this classic sleuth in previous tellings of this character’s plight, and while myriad shows, such as Murder She Wrote have modeled themselves after the illustrious lady detective Jane, the success of this specific program lies in the retelling of Christie’s wonderfully complex tales of suspense. Series 4 contains stories woven around death by poison.

Julia MacKenzie’s Jane Marple is refreshingly self-assured in her nosiness, and as always, opportunistically capitalizes on how “people love talking to old ladies.” While the viewer does catch Marple, on occasion, knitting or enjoying tea, for the most part she’s hard at work afield, in her proper tweed suits. Because of this, each episode moves quickly. The plots are so thick that one can hardly keep track of what Marple is learning as she makes discoveries. In episode one, “A Pocket full of Rye,” Rex Fortescue, a president of an investment firm, dies with a strange “cereal” in his pocket. Inspector Neele (Matthew MacFadyen) sets out to Yewtree Lodge, the family estate, where he suspects the poisonous Yew seeds came from. Marple gets in on the action, unearthing family secrets about Fortescue’s troubled children, Percyval (Ben Miles), Elaine (Hattie Morahan), and Lancelot (Rupert Graves), who has been living in Africa. Which kid did it, one often asks in this series? In most episodes, clues given by housekeepers and chambermaids–in this case, Gladys (Rose Heiney)–help solve the case.

Similarly complicated episodes follow, each involving their own family or village. In “Murder Is Easy,” Marple meets by train a kind-hearted Samaritan, Lavinia Pinkerton (Sylvia Syms), on her way to Scotland Yard to reveal crimes that have been occurring in her town. When Marple takes the next train to Lavinia’s village to pay respects at her funeral, she teams up with detective Luke Fitzwilliam (Benedict Cumberhatch), to discover that practically everyone in town has a motive for the multiple killings taking place. “They Do It with Mirrors,” set at Stoneygates estate, concerns the philanthropic Carrie Louise (Penelope Wilton), who is being slowly poisoned in her own home. We have no idea whether it is her husband, Lewis Serrocold (Brian Cox), daughters Gina (Emma Griffiths Malin) and Mildred (Sarah Smart), or sister Ruth (Joan Collins), who is attempting her murder until the very end. “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?” starring Bobby Attfield (Sean Biggerstaff) and his girlfriend, Frankie Derwent (Georgia Moffett), who take interest in a dying man they find on a cliff, is so incredibly plot-thick that one hangs onto each clue, swayed multiple times before making a real discovery. Indeed, not until the last five minutes of each episode does one grasp what has just happened. While this could be frustrating for those trying to beat Marple’s sleuthing, it does establish an almost mystical respect for her ability to figure out what’s going on. –Trinie Dalton

Comments

mirasreviews says:

Still Struggling with Style, Season 4 Offers a More Conventional Marple. Series 4 of the controversial “Marple” series from Granada/ITV brings us a new Miss Marple, reconceived from the previous seasons, now played by Julia McKenzie. McKenzie’s Marple is not as frilly as the classic Joan Hickson or as bohemian as Geraldine McEwan’s portrayal. This is a more intellectual, no-nonsense Marple. She wears 3 suits, unadorned and straightforward. And I only saw her knit once. Miss Marple seems less a little old lady and more someone’s all-knowing aunt or governess, always…

Barbara B. says:

Horrid film techniques spoil the story I am not an Agatha Christie purist and have loved almost all previous incarnations of Miss Marple — from Margaret Rutherford through to Joan Hickson and Geraldine McEwan. I’m sure Julia McKenzie would be an equally acceptable Marple but I could not stand to watch this series because of the film techniques employed.Rather than tell a straight forward story, the scenes are choppily edited into fast-video-flash bits, with weird angles and ultra closeups. The sequence is disjointed and…

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