Agatha Christie: Marple Series 5

Agatha Christie: Marple Series 5 (DVD Cover)

Recurring character(s): Miss Jane Marple (Julia McKenzie)

Director: Various

Original air date(s): 05/23/2010 to 06/06/2010
DVD Date: 08/31/2010

Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 267 minutes plus 66 minutes of bonus material

Note(s): The screenplays for these three adaptations were based on novels or short stories of the same title by Agatha Christie.

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Agatha Christie: Marple Series 5

Review: Three episodes comprise Series 5 of Agatha Christie's Marple, which are included on this DVD set that also features a bonus disc titled "Agatha Christie's Garden: Murder and Mystery in Devon", an intimate tour of the writer's most private retreat.

The "three new thrilling mysteries" (as proclaimed on the box art) are "The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side", "The Secret of Chimneys", and "The Blue Geranium", which aired on Masterpiece Mystery! earlier this year. This selection differs slightly from the ITV description of Series 5, which also includes "The Pale Horse" (though this isn't a Miss Marple mystery as written by Agatha Christie, but one that features Ariadne Oliver ... though it wouldn't be the first time that an adaptation of a novel was rewritten to change the lead character). I confess I find the labeling of episodes and series and seasons endlessly confusing when British shows are brought over the US.

Miss Jane Marple is played by Julia McKenzie, her second season in the role. I am a huge fan of Geraldine McEwan, and was very disappointed she was unable to continue in the role. Somehow, someway, I didn't see any of the three episodes last year in which Julie McKenzie first appeared, so this is my first experience watching her. As a prelude to my reviews of the individual episodes, I will say McKenzie makes for an agreeable if not terribly memorable Miss Marple. She's a little "one note" in her portrayal, often displaying the exact same expression from scene to scene and speaking her lines as if she's said them a hundred times before -- unlike McEwan, who was far more animated in her performances.

"The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side"

Miss Marple initially plays a small role in this episode. She isn't present -- she's laid up with a sprained ankle -- when a local busybody dies at a gala function held at a manor house recently purchased by a glamorous Hollywood star and her English director husband. Instead, she gets all her information second hand -- sometimes third hand -- from those in attendance. Part of the appeal of this episode is how she takes disparate bits of data and rearranges them into a logical sequence. This is especially true since she has to filter the information she receives: what's important to one person may not be important to another. There are a lot of speaking parts here, so if you haven't read the book or seen any of the other adaptations, it's certainly not obvious "whodunit" until the very end.

The episode has a good look to it, with most of the scenes filmed in a grand estate with all the trappings of the rich and famous. All of the actors do a fine job here, and seem appropriately cast. There are a few light moments, in particular those involving the young sergeant who accompanies the inspector while he questions the witnesses.

"The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side" is adapted from the 1962 novel of the same name, the 8th in the Miss Marple series. The plot is thought to be based on a real-life tragedy involving Gene Tierney, who, in 1943, contracted German measles while pregnant after a young fan with the disease escaped quarantine to get her autograph. An all-star theatrical adaptation of this novel was released from 1980, featuring Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple, and including a long list of A-list (at the time) actors. It was also adapted for television in 1992 with Joan Hickson in the role of Miss Marple.

Synopsis (from the studio): St. Mary Mead is abuzz with the news that Hollywood star Marina Gregg has moved into Gossington Hall. When Marina and her dashing young husband host a party for the village, a garrulous fan drops dead after drinking a poisoned cocktail. But was the drink meant for her or for Marina? Miss Marple ponders a cast of suspicious characters.

"The Secret of Chimneys"

This is my least favorite episode of the three, in part because it starts so slow and is rather confusing as to why everyone is gathering at the country estate known as Chimneys, but mostly because it seems as if the actors are simply reading their lines and not participating in the drama. Christie did not write this as a Miss Marple mystery, and to be fair, the adaptation bears little resemblance to the original novel. Clearly the screenwriters were off on their own here with little inspiration to guide them, and the result is less than satisfactory.

I did enjoy, however, the interplay between Miss Marple and the inspector investigating the murder; he knows of Miss Marple's successes but is so sure of his abilities that he invites her to accompany him as he moves from clue to clue. That she picks up on what he misses is rather entertaining. Sadly, little else about this episode is.

"The Secret of Chimneys" is adapted from the 1925 novel of the same name. It is not written as a Miss Marple mystery, rather it introduces Christie's infrequent series character Superintendent Battle in the role of the principal investigator.

Synopsis (from the studio): Miss Marple accompanies Lady Virginia Revel to her family home of Chimneys, a great house once famed for its diplomatic gatherings. MP George Lomax has persuaded Virginia’s father to host an evening for an Austrian count. George has also proposed to Virginia, who is torn between her duty and her heart. Then a murder in a secret passageway puts Miss Marple on the path to uncovering Chimney’s dark past.

"The Blue Geranium"

By far the best episode in this set, the plot is intricately well crafted, the setting gray and moody, the atmosphere charged with an ominous sense of misfortune. And there's even a locked room-style murder mystery to solve!

My only quibble with this episode is the manner in which it plays out. Told retrospectively, Miss Marple relates to Sir Henry the details of her recent visit to the village, and the events that led up to someone being arrested, and her suspicion that the person they have on trial for murder is not guilty. But of course she was not present at all the conversations that took place, so it would have been impossible for her to quote these to Sir Henry as if she heard them first hand. A bit of creative license taken on the part of the screenwriters that diminishes the result only slightly.

"The Blue Geranium" is adapted from a Miss Marple short story included in the collection The Thirteen Problems, originally published in 1932. These are among the earliest writings to feature the amateur sleuth, who previously had only appeared in the 1930 novel The Murder at the Vicarage.

Synopsis (from the studio): Miss Marple turns to her old friend Sir Henry Clithering, retired from Scotland Yard, for help with a troubling case. Did the wealthy and unpopular Mary Pritchard really die of shock when the geranium on her wallpaper turned blue? And what about the murder that happened soon after, and the body discovered shortly before? Miss Marple has new evidence and must stop a court hearing before the wrong person is found guilty.


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