It’s partly a tribute to the strength of Agatha Christie’s characters and stories that Hollywood and its equivalents keep churning out new versions every few years. David Suchet has got a lock on the inimitable Hercule Poirot. Thank goodness for that. He is such a perfect Poirot in every way that I am not able to contemplate someone else trying to step into the Belgian detective’s shiny tight patent leather shoes.
Miss Marple, for some reason, has never been as easy to capture. Maybe because the character’s description by Christie is as fluffy as the shawls Marple is always knitting. Poirot is specific. In fact he has so many quirks and eccentricities that Christie grew to loathe being forever saddled with him while the public loved him. Miss Marple, apart from being elderly and smart and more than a bit of a snoop doesn’t have many other descriptors except blue eyes and white hair. She has been open to interpretation to readers — plug in your favorite little old lady stereotype and add a pink or blue wooly shawl.
Miss Marple has also been open to interpretation by a variety of actresses. Margaret Rutherford made a series of four B&W films in the 1960s. They are very enjoyable and silly comedies, but as any Christie devotee will tell you, they aren’t Miss Marple.
Miss Marple saw a surge of popularity in the 1980s. Angela Lansbury in The Mirror Crack’d (1980) is a good attempt. I enjoy her version of the character, but I think she found a better fit for her vigorous physicality in Jessica Fletcher. Helen Hayes was my perfect physical idea of Miss Marple. She’s petite and fluffy and wily. She was in two American made-for-TV movies in the mid-80s. They lack the British locale and polish, but are fun to watch.
Joan Hickson is to me the ultimate Miss Marple, as Suchet is the ultimate Poirot. She may be the least “fluffy” of the portrayers, but she gets everything else very, very right. From 1984 to 1992 she played Marple in 12 movies.
From 2004-2010 creators of the latest Marple series tried to sex up the stories and even Miss Marple herself. They are often confusing to watch, as so much of the original stories have been changed. Geraldine McEwan is a good actress, but her Miss Marple is just creepy to me. Julia McKenzie took over the role after McEwan, a bit more in the manner of Hickson’s Marple, but the dramatizations of the stories are still pretty awful. Some of my favorite Christie novels like Towards Zero suddenly have Marple plunked in the middle of them where she doesn’t belong. If you love Miss Marple, I’d skip these and find the Hickson versions on DVD.
Apparently these latest Marples weren’t deemed sexy enough, because the latest news is that yet another Marple franchise is in the works, this time starring Jennifer Garner. The mind boggles. Obviously all previous incarnations of white hair and knitted baby items will have to be tossed out. As a huge Christie fan I should be shaking my head in disgust or outrage, right? Somehow it just makes me laugh and wonder if it might be fun to watch.
The idea is so completely off-the-wall that it might even work. Why the folks behind this production are bothering to trade on the Marple name at all is confusing, but maybe it will provide them with some decent plots to pull from, at the very least. Garner is also producing the film. I wish it had been scaled it down to be a TV series instead of a feature film, as that seems to be where this actress shines. Can Garner pull a Robert Downey and mess with a beloved character and still be great? Only time will tell. But somehow, I suspect, the resilient Miss Marple will weather this latest incarnation and turn up again, in another guise, in a year or so.