Over this past Christmas, I received a box set of Joan Hickson “Miss Marple” mysteries on DVDs. I’ve managed to catch up on them all, and have definitely enjoyed them. Not surprisingly, I liked some more than others, but overall, Hickson’s performance was a lot of fun to watch. I still need to get some more, as some of my favorite episodes are actually still only found on YouTube.
Now, having been around for awhile, there has been more than 1 version of Miss Marple wandering around. My mom mentioned that she had always been a fan of one of the earlier versions (Margaret Rutheford, I think) who had been in a few films as Miss Marple. Also, recently, they have been making a recent set of Miss Marple mysteries featuring Geraldine McEwan, and then Julia McKenzie in the starring role.
I have not had a chance to really watch the new Miss Marple mysteries that much, so while at the moment I definitely prefer the Joan Hickson version of character (more on that later), I have watched bits and pieces from the two versions of the Agatha Cristie novels, and noticed something that says more about the time and place that these shows were made.
First of all, in the most recent incarnation, all of the characters just look “better.” Part of this is due to technical aspects – make-up, lighting, video quality – but the main difference is that the people in the early 1980s BBC series just look more, well, “normal.” People look more frumpy, humdrum, and simple. In short, they look very much like the simple folk of the English village (I’m thinking in particular of “A Murder is Announced”). Even the more “attractive” people in the tales look more like someone that you could see meeting on the street, as opposed to just coming out of an all-day spa treatment. The only characters in the old series that I’ve seen, so far, who look better than their modern day counterparts are Blake and his S.O. from “The Body in the Library.”
But it’s not just the people who look more appealing; the sets, as well, seem to be far more like spacious IKEA showrooms then places people actually live. Part of this is, again, due largely to technical issues: more room to place and move cameras opens up a lot of possibilities for camera shots and angles. Nevertheless, moving from the modest yet cozy surroundings of the older settings to the more grandiose versions of the new settings makes me feel like a piece of the humanity was left behind. Like the difference between your grandmother’s living room and the lobby of a Holiday Inn.
I should note that the Poirot mysteries of the more recent years often do the same thing, with highly attractive people wandering around in spacious and lavish settings. But in those cases, it makes sense. Poirot has always been a lover of creature comforts, and hangs around the rich and powerful within pre-WWII england. Miss Marple, on the other hand, has always been a simple and modest village woman, so it seems a bit different when she’s wandering around the dressed-up areas.
The biggest difference, though, between the Miss Marple of Joan Hickson and recent incarnations (and, to be fair, earlier versions as well) is the style in which they play the character. The recent Miss Marple is shown as a sweet, kindly, elderly lady that is always sharp as a tack and always on point. And while I haven’t seen a lot of the recent episodes, I also get the feeling that she is always on top of the ball, and doesn’t get side-tracked. Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple, on the other hand, plays a character that acts, like, well, an elderly, gossipy, village woman. And it’s brilliant. For one thing, Joan Hickson’s version of the character strikes me as more realistic, in that she gets distracted, makes slightly wry comments, and often makes comments that confuse others, mainly because she just assumes that they have already come to the same conclusions, and so rarely bothers to explain before talking. And underneath all of this apparent scatterbrained front, as others have pointed out, is the best criminologist mind in all of England, derived entirely from her life with people within that sleepy village. It’s this contrast that makes the character stand out so well: she is funny, harmless, and totally irrelevant. But when the time calls for it, her insight shoots home like a arrow, and the fact that it’s coming from the person that you wrote off as irrelevant makes it all the more astounding. Very similar to how Columbo operated, and it’s just as much fun to watch.
Also, to be honest, the recent version of Miss Marple really comes off more like David Suchet’s portrayal of Hercule Poirot (not nearly as OCD, mind you), so that take on Miss Marple seems to have less of a personality; Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple is entirely her own, and it lends a lot of gravity to the character.
I should actually try watching a few more epsiodes before making final determinations, but overall, I prefer Joan Hickson’s portrayal of Miss Marple. The presentation of the character is subtly brilliant, and the character and settings make it feel like you really are hanging around in proper, yet deadly, England in the 1950s.
[ S H E I L D B R E A K ! ! ! ]
So we had basketball last the other night. Well, actually, we had a game scheduled – it was the wildcards for the playoffs. We were squeaked out of second place (and a first round bye) by 1 point in the standings. So we showed up at 9:30 PM for our game. Now, this is really late for a game – the way that things run, I was entirely expecting not to get finished until around 10:45 – 11 PM, which would mean that I wouldn’t get home until shortly after midnight. Not so great.
In the end, however, the other team never showed – not a single player, and nobody called the league to let us know, so that was rather annoying. Nobody likes traveling out there that late only to find that there is no game. At the same time, I’m not complaining too much, because it’s still a win, and gets us to the semi-finals next week. We did a light scrimmage for maybe 5-10 minutes – until Joanna banged her finger, and we decided to call it a night.
It was also good that the other team didn’t show as our best player was currently out of town, so now we’ll at least have him back to help out.