At last, BBC has completed on DVDs the restoration of the original “Miss Marple” series. Yes, these are the ones in which Joan Hickson gives the definitive characterization of the seemingly dipsy but razor-sharp village busybody, Jane Marple. With the arrival of Vol. 3, viewers can now enjoy these mysteries that have been not only remastered in high definition but supplied with subtitles. The latter are, however, often incomplete or paraphrases of what is actually spoken. Why?
Hickson is by far the best of the Marples. Margaret Rutherford’s portrayal had Agatha Christie fuming. Helen Hayes in two television versions was characterless, while Geraldine McEwan’s Marple was pure Jessica Fletcher and best forgotten—especially since the original plots were considerably altered. Julia McKenzie was at least sincere but lacked that goofy façade that Hickson so beautifully managed.
Volume 1 of this enhanced BBC series contains “The Murder at the Vicarage,” “The Moving Finger,” “The Body in the Library,” and “A Murder is Announced.” In Volume 2 are “They Do It with Mirrors,” “A Pocketful of Rye,” “4:50 from Paddington,” and “The Mirror Cracked from Side to Side.” And now the last volume rounds it all off with “A Caribbean Mystery,” “At Bertram’s Hotel,” “Nemesis,” and “Sleeping Murder.”
Among the many familiar stars spotted along the way are Jean Simmons, Claire Bloom, Timothy West, Tom Wilkinson, Joss Ackland, Paul Eddington, and a very young Samantha Bond.
One can see where Christie had tongue firmly in cheek. You can spot the twinkle in her eye when she names a story after a nursery rhyme, so in “A Pocket Full of Rye,” having two serious murders, is amusing to follow the hints in the song’s lyrics. The author confessed that she also had a lot of fun with “The Body in the Library,” the very title of which, like “The Murder at the Vicarage,” sounds deliberately old fashioned.
My favorite episode? “A Murder is Announced” for its complexity and “A Murder at the Vicarage” for the performances of Paul Eddington and Cheryl Campbell. My favorite character? Top honors to David Horovitch as Chief Inspector Slack, whose dislike of Miss Marple is matched only by his admiration for her astuteness.
Add to this a delightful set of bonus features at the end of each of the three BBC sets, “A Very British Murder.” Here narrator Lucy Worsely, with a charming weak “r,” discusses with dozens of old prints and photographs, mysteries—real and fictional—and personalities behind them that captured the British imagination from the mid-1880s and through the next 100 years.
Grab all 3 sets right quick. And happy viewing.