Julia Mackenzie made her debut as the latest incarnation of Miss Marple, replacing Geraldine McEwan. The first episode was A Pocketful of Rye and it was pretty good. Extremely faithful to the book – much more so than the Hickson version in fact – it retained Christie’s peculiar downbeat ending wherein it is shown that if Miss M. had merely remained at home she could have solved the mystery without ever leaving! The dominant emphasis of the production, at least as far as Marple was concerned, was sadness, which was not what I had expected from MacKenzie. It is fascinating to see how different actresses bring their own interpretations and emphases to the role. The great thing is that all these elements – Hickson’s prim acuity with a hard moral edge, McEwan’s wry comedy and disposition for match-making and, so far, MacKenzie’s sadness for fallen humanity – are all present to greater or lesser degrees in the various books. Unfortunately the second episode was an adaptation of Murder is Easy which I think is by far the worst of the Marple (ie: McEwan/MacKenzie) series that I have seen. It took a book which, while it has some weaknesses notably in its homophobia and the references to witchcraft (always a dodgy area in Christie), has many strengths notably a terrific opening (in its way a kind of parody of The 39 Steps), a brilliant plot and one of Christie’s most compellingly malevolent villains. Almost all of these were lost but most importantly the plot. While I have absolutely no objection to re-writing if it produces something good or interesting or new, what we had here was an incoherent mish-mash. This is doubly disappointing in that the book is not that well-known (by Christie standards), and has not been adapted before, so could have been done completely straight. I am in general a great admirer of the Marple series but this was a pretty unmitigated disaster.

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