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Agatha Christie's Marple: Series 4
Agatha Christie's Marple Series 4
Actor: Julia McKenzie
Genres: Drama, Television, Mystery & Suspense
NR     2009     6hr 12min

Starring Julia McKenzie in four new thrilling mysteries Donning the trademark tweeds as if they were made for her, the marvelous Julia McKenzie (Cranford, Notes on a Scandal) assumes the Marple mantle in four gripping new...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Julia McKenzie
Genres: Drama, Television, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Drama, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: Acorn Media
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen
DVD Release Date: 08/04/2009
Original Release Date: 01/01/2008
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2008
Release Year: 2009
Run Time: 6hr 12min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 4
SwapaDVD Credits: 4
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 10
Edition: Box set
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Horrid film techniques spoil the story
Barbara B. | Oregon, USA | 07/29/2009
(1 out of 5 stars)

I am not an Agatha Christie purist and have loved almost all previous incarnations of Miss Marple -- from Margaret Rutherford through to Joan Hickson and Geraldine McEwan. I'm sure Julia McKenzie would be an equally acceptable Marple but I could not stand to watch this series because of the film techniques employed.

Rather than tell a straight forward story, the scenes are choppily edited into fast-video-flash bits, with weird angles and ultra closeups. The sequence is disjointed and hard to follow. For instance, in one scene in "Murder is Easy", Miss Marple is at a post-funeral gathering with a large group of other people (all suspects at this stage, of course). Two second snippet of conversation .... close up of Marple's eyes looking around ... two seconds of another out-of-context conversation... another close up of Marple's eyes ... etc etc etc. I felt like screaming "Okay, we get it... she's listening!"

In the first ten minutes of that episode, a dozen or so different characters are introduced, but so rapidly and with so little context that I am soon bewildered and confused. In addition, they all seem so unpleasant that I didn't really care who was killed or who did the killing!

Perhaps younger viewers, weaned on fast cut editing, enjoy this type of filming more but for those who prefer more leisurely paced and cohesive story telling, this jagged camera work is distracting at best and intrusive at worst.

I noticed the same problem with the new episodes of Poirot. The director and cinematographer obviously had a grand time showing off their techniques, but the stories suffered.

What I don't understand is why these techniques, more suited to fast paced thrillers or action yarns, are used for classic mysteries which depend on character development and plot. Are film makers so afraid we'll lose interest if the camera stands in place for a full minute?

Still Struggling with Style, Season 4 Offers a More Conventi
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 07/30/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Series 4 of the controversial "Marple" series from Granada/ITV brings us a new Miss Marple, reconceived from the previous seasons, now played by Julia McKenzie. McKenzie's Marple is not as frilly as the classic Joan Hickson or as bohemian as Geraldine McEwan's portrayal. This is a more intellectual, no-nonsense Marple. She wears 3 suits, unadorned and straightforward. And I only saw her knit once. Miss Marple seems less a little old lady and more someone's all-knowing aunt or governess, always ready with whatever is needed and possessed of a strong sense of justice. These episodes avoid the stylization that some previous seasons embraced. Like the new Miss Marple, Series 4 is forthright and conventional in its scripts and production design.

"Marple" has had no qualms about departing from Agatha Christie's books: rewriting action, characters, even the motives and identity of the culprits, and appropriating other of Christie's novels for the spinster detective. Continuing in that tradition, "Murder is Easy" and "Why Didn't They Ask Evans?", both non-Marple books, have inspired episodes this season. Sometimes rewrites seem only to make the films more salacious, and, although there was never a premium on plausibility or coherence in Christie's novels, the rewrites have tended not to improve matters, often creating solutions that are quite ridiculous. Marple purists will not like that. But I have noticed that the character writing gains more depth the further it gets from its source.

Ultimately, it's difficult to say how Miss Marple should be adapted for a modern audience. Purists may prefer Joan Hickson's more faithful portrayal from the 1980s. Others, like myself, find Hickson's Marple dreadfully dull but lament this series' tendency to careen full throttle into burlesque. And, if the writers are going to rewrite Christie's stories, could they not improve upon the solutions instead of making them more ridiculous? Unlike Poirot, Marple does not have the distinct visual characteristics of the detective or the interwar milieu to latch onto. It has an elderly lady in gloves and a hat. In the past, this led the producers to toss sexuality into the mix at every turn and experiment with heavy stylization, usually with poor results ("The Moving Finger" being an exception).

Christie wrote her Marple novels and stories 1927-1971, but the creators of this television series wisely chose to set it in the 1950s, giving it a distinct look and grounding Miss Marple in a particular time. The filmmakers have seemingly tried every trick they could think of to make "Marple" interesting and relevant to a contemporary audience. Often those efforts have been laid on rather too thick. My own suggestion would be to capitalize on the post-War prosperity, conformity, and hypocrisy of the 1950s. That decade shares much in common with the 1990s and 2000s. Miss Marple is a woman who has seen the Jazz Age, two global depressions, and two world wars. She's not easily fooled by a bright, respectable façade. Create a subtext along those lines that would comment on our own time without being obviously anachronistic or straying far from the original plots.

After watching "Marple" struggle to find its focus for four seasons, those are my 2 cents on the subject. I really don't know how to rate the series. I give it 4 stars, because Julia McKenzie's Miss Marple is personable, sharp, and fun to watch. Some viewers find that she doesn't have enough character, serving more as a device than a detective. But wasn't Geraldine McEwan's Marple irritating and vaguely sinister? If it's not one thing, it's another. The series lacks a cogent vision. Oddly, the first episode this season is adorned with completely superfluous location subtitles. It's one of those things. These are the episodes in Series 4:

"A Pocket Full of Rye"'s killer takes inspiration from the nursery rhyme. Rex Fortescue, president of Consolidation Investments, dies at his office, apparently of poison. In the pocket of his suit, the police find a handful of rye. Inspector Neele (Matthew Macfadyen) interviews the family at their country home, Yewtree Lodge: the deceased's wayward wife Adele (Anna Madeley), eldest son Percyval (Ben Miles), who believed his father's mental health threatened the business, estranged son Lancelot (Rupert Graves), just back from Africa, neurotic daughter-in-law (Liz White), daughter Elaine (Hattie Morahan), who cannot contain her delight at Rex's passing, and Gladys (Rose Heiney), the simple chambermaid previously employed by Miss Marple. Gladys is having trouble getting on in the world.

"Murder Is Easy" is adapted from a non-Marple novel and heavily rewritten. Miss Marple meets Lavinia Pinkerton (Sylvia Syms) on a London-bound train. Pinkerton is headed for Scotland Yard to report two murders in her home village of Wychwood. "Murder is easy," she says, "so long as no one thinks it's murder." She promptly meets her death in Victoria Station. Miss Marple travels to Wychwood and makes the acquaintance of Luke Fitzwilliam (Benedict Cumberhatch), formerly a police detective in Malaya. Together Miss Marple and Fitzwilliam make the rounds of the town's close-knit population in their investigation, as more of the population meets its end. Perhaps it is the rewrite, but the characters seem more authentic, emotions real, and with more dimension than usual.

Miss Marple's glamorous old friend Ruth (Joan Collins) asks the detective to look in on her sister Carrie Louise after a fire struck her home in "They Do It With Mirrors". Carrie Louise is a committed philanthropist who runs a reform facility for criminals on her Stoneygates estate with her third husband Lewis Serrocold (Brian Cox) and daughters Gina (Emma Griffiths Malin) and Mildred (Sarah Smart) from her first marriage. With a staff that seems a bit daft, two stepsons with questionable intentions, a group of convicts on their doorstep, and an amateur theatrical in rehearsal, there is a lot of misdirection to be overcome when the antics turn to murder. In contrast with previous episodes, the police detective Inspector Curry (Alex Jennings) seems pretty sharp.

"Why Didn't They Ask Evans?", inspired by the non-Marple novel, has Miss Marple helping the young detectives along and keeping them out of trouble. Bobby Attfield (Sean Biggerstaff) finds a dying man on a cliff who says as he expires, "Why didn't' they ask Evans?" When Bobby is called testify at an inquest that doesn't exist, an adventurous friend, Miss Frankie Derwent (Georgia Moffett), proposes that they investigate the murder themselves. But Miss Marple, who is visiting Bobby's mother, has her eye on the young duo. When Frankie proves too gutsy for her own good, Miss Marple follows her to Castle Savage, home of a quarrelling and rather sinister family whom the dead man recently visited. The plot is exotic and implausible. It suffers further from a cast of annoying characters."
Stop re-writing Christie
Elphaba McKay | Atlantis | 07/27/2009
(1 out of 5 stars)

"I am so very disappointed by this last season. Some episodes are only vague shadows of the original stories. Quite underwhelmed by the portrayal Miss Marple as well. Too aggressive, too detective-ish. I never took that away from any of her stories. Christie's work is so good - why do people feel a need to change it so much in translation to screen? The worst is "Why Didn't They Ask Evans?" Miss Marple is not even IN the original. If you take this as just a mystery series, it is fair entertainment."
Enough Already
Beatrice Stein | Seattle, WA | 02/11/2010
(1 out of 5 stars)

"Why is it that Agatha Christie has to be updated in order to appeal to modern audiences?

Does Oliver Twist have to use his iphone to ask for "more?" Would the chills be greater if we seated Ebeneser Scrooge at a computer? Could Elizabeth Bennett be more appealing to Mr. Darcy in a mini skirt?

Why do we put Christie's characters in old fashioned garb, but give them modern sensibilities? In fact, the changes may not be as important as the fact that TV hacks would try to "improve" on, Christie, the master of the surprise ending. I don't like everything Christie has done, but of course the hacks don't try to change the bad stuff, they go right after the good. You don't have to be a purist to prefer Christie's version to theirs.

"Mystery" in the 1980s honored Dame Agatha by presenting her stories and her characters as true to the originals as one can get when one is transferring a tale from the written page to the visual medium. But her stories were written from the 1920s to the 1970s, and in order to give the viewers continuity, all Poirot stories took place in the fascinating (and geometrical) Deco Era and all Miss Marple's tales were presented in the more homey 1950s.

I'm not totally a Christie purist. For instance, I love Peter Ustinov's depiction of Poirot though I appreciate that David Suchet's marvelous performance is truer to the character that Christie created. But I did not like Geraldine McEwan's portrayal (betrayal?) of Miss Marple, and as soon as I realized that the current "Mystery" series had put Julia McKenzie, with a flat affect, in a story in which Miss Maple hadn't appeared, I lost interest in the show. I understand that the producers were trying to avoid the controversy generated by Geraldine McEwan and her series and so they put McKenzie in a story where she couldn't be compared to Joan Hickson. But what hubris to try to improve on the stories of one of the most brilliant mystery writers of all time.

Someday I hope to see TV depictions of Agatha Christie's work set in the times in which she wrote, old fashioned mores and all, just as Dickens' and Austen's works are done. The stories set in the 1920s can depict flappers and Cloche hats, gangsters and Jazz, and the ones from the 1970s would be authentic with 8-track-tapes, bell bottoms, shag hair styles and discos.

Part of the wonder of being human and part of our love of literature stems from the fact that we can feel an identification and continuity with people from the past. Everything doesn't have to be modernized in order for modern people to appreciate it."