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Category:    Home > Reviews > Mystery > Telefilm > Agatha Christie - Marple: Series One (2004)

Agatha Christie – Marple: Series One (2004/Acorn DVD Set)


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: C+     Telefilms: B+



Joan Hickson made all 12 full length Agatha Christie novels of Miss Jane Marple into successful telefilms in the mid-1980s to early 1990s.  That made her the most successful Marple since Margaret Rutherford did her theatrical feature films in the 1960s.  Angela Lansbury only logged one feature film, though it may seem like more to some.  Now, Geraldine McEwan takes over as the first Marple of the 21st century and Marple: Series One (2004) offers the following four telefilm adaptations:


The Murder At The Vicarage (book originally written 1930 as Marple’s debut, adapted by Stephen Churchett) – When a prominent Colonel (Derek Jacobi) is found shot to death in the Vicar’s study, the murderer makes the mistake of committing the murder at St. Mary Mead.  Though he was not well liked, Miss Marple is going to find his killer if it is the last thing she does.  Rachael Stirling, Janet McTeer, Jason Flemyng, Miriam Margolyes, and Herbert Lom also star.


The Body In The Library (1942, adapted by Kevin Elyot) – An 18-year-old dancer turns up dead in the Library at St. Mary Mead, so Miss Marple goes out to find the why, the connection to dance and has more suspects than usual to sort through as a result.  Joanna Lumley (The New Avengers, Sapphire & Steel, Absolutely Fabulous), Simon Callow and Jack Davenport also star.  As Dolly Bantry, Lumley finds yet another classic character, and is so good in the role that a guest appearance Emmy is very likely.  Hope they find a way to bring her back.


A Murder Is Announced (1950, adapted by Stewart Hardcourt) – When a newspaper ad tells everyone a murder will take place at Chipping Cleghorn, Miss Marple skips afternoon tea to take the trip.  When a dead body turns up, it runs out to be the man who placed the ad!  Now, Jane has to find out what he might have known and was running from.  Zoë Wanamaker, Keeley Hawkes, Elaine Paige


4:50 From Paddington (1957, aka What Miss McGillicuddy Saw, adapted by Stephen Churchett) – Elspeth McGillicuddy (Pamela Ferris) swears she was on a train when she witnessed a woman being strangled to death on another train.  Everyone thinks she is “just an old lady who saw things” and no murder has been reported.  Lucky for her, Jane Marple is an old friend who knows Elspeth better and intends to find out exactly what she saw.  Niamh Cusack, Griff Rhys Jones, John Hannah, David Warner, Jenny Agutter and Pip Torrens as Noel Coward (!) also star.


It should be said that all the stories take place in the 1950s, with an interesting twist in a backstory of Jane suffering decades later over the long lost love of her life.  However, the show has the feel of the best Christie without any pretense or dullness.  McEwan is incredible, breaking the Murder She Wrote TV stereotype, as the films do not follow any formula.  That is as refreshing as the great directing and performances.


The anamorphically enhanced 16 X 9/1.78 X 1 image is very nice, very stylized and you can tell serious money was put into this show like the two Nero Wolfe television series of the early 1980s and late 1990s.  This is rich, lush and lavish, recalling the best theatrical Christies of the 1970s and early 1980s.  The use of color is much more like it versus the tired cliché of desaturated images.  Nigel Waters, Sue Gibson and (twice here) Martin Fuhrer, B.S.C., do some impressive work on their shows.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound has some very nice and smooth Pro Logic surrounds.  The music by Dominik Scherrer is exceptionally good for a current TV series, and is really on target for mystery either way.


Extras include a stills gallery, text on the cast, Christie and Marple on Film and TV on DVD 1.  That begins with a Gracie Fields installment of Goodyear Playhouse in late 1956.  There is also a featurette on the making of these new shows and runs 61 minutes.  Stills and bios repeat on DVDs 2 – 4, though the casts obviously change.  That is pretty good.  One if the great in-jokes on the show involve all the murder mystery fiction she reads.  The show premiers on PBS before the set arrives, but catch it any way you can.  True mystery fans who have chased after the recent Poirot and Sherlock Holmes series will love this, as it may be an instant classic.   McEwan is so good that her Marple is like Tom Baker as Dr. Who, uncannily vibrant and amazing.


With five seasons and counting, here are links to later sets on DVD so far, plus to Warner’s collection of the British Margaret Rutherford films on DVD:














Margaret Rutherford/Warner DVD Set




-   Nicholas Sheffo


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