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Marple Series 2
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Granada Television and the PBS Mystery! series' Marple episodes continue to delight with such distinctive vitality, wit, and stylishness one may never again think of tea rooms in the English countryside as "quaint" settings. Geraldine McEwan (Vanity Fair) returns as Agatha Christie's Miss Jane Marple, elderly sleuth with a keenly discerning eye and sweet smile that takes the sting out of her blunt observations of friends and murder suspects alike. As with series 1, the quartet of mysteries in series 2, set shortly after World War II, are ensemble affairs filled out by such familiar faces as Timothy Dalton, Charles Dance, Greta Scacchi, Anthony Andrews, Patricia Hodge, and Imogen Stubbs. Rather than pound out a certain visual and tonal sameness over all four stories, each 90-minute episode seems to be approached as a stand-alone affair, giving writers, directors, and production teams a lot of leeway to give each story a unique stamp.
"Sleeping Murder" stars Sophia Myles as Gwenda Halliday, a young woman haunted by flashbacks of the memory of a killing she observed as a little girl in a stately British house. Problem is, Gwenda has only recently moved to Britain for the first time in her life, after growing up in India. Dawn French, Martin Kemp, and Geraldine Chaplin also star in the tale, which involves an old troupe of actors, a jewelry theft, and a very surprising conclusion. "By the Pricking of My Thumbs" concerns the disappearance of a doddering old woman who leaves behind a strange, spooky painting of a cottage in the woods, an unnerving figure lurking in the structure's window. Miss Marple is on the trail, but she allows the lonely, alcoholic wife (Scacchi) of a government investigator (Andrews) to take the leada boost to the younger woman's self-esteem.
The ambitious "The Moving Finger" is the most singular episode in series 2, a cheeky--almost subversive--vision of a rosy, picture-postcard village whose tranquility is undone by a series of hateful letters mailed to individuals in the community. Miss Marple, observing the tragic effects of these missives on relationships and reputations, is practically in the background in this story, watching closely as a nihilistic young man (James D'Arcy) comes out of his cynical, alcohol-laced haze to investigate the source of so much misery. (Bonus: director Ken Russell appears as the local, red-cheeked vicar.) Finally, "The Sittaford Mystery" finds Timothy Dalton playing a likely prospect to become prime minister, until he's stabbed to death following a séance. Set in a rundown hotel during a severe winter storm, the episode co-stars James Murray, Rita Tushingham, and comic-actor-director Mel Smith, the latter as the late, great man's touchingly loyal, right-hand man. --Tom Keogh
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Top Customer Reviews
Geraldine McEwan is excellent and she is such a busybody but in a funny and energizing way. She stumps everyone around her and the story has so many twists and turns. I give up very quickly trying to figure out who the killer.
I had originally purchased Volume 3 first but quickly snapped up Vol. 1 & 2. I can watch them over and over again because you can pay more attention to details and the production. The episodes are beautifully shot and the locations are breathtaking to look at.
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In By the Pricking of My Thumbs, Miss Marple is injected into a plot where she is totally unncessary; and rather than the happy, intelligent couple we know from Christie's books, we are presented with Tommy as a bumbling, insensitive beaurocrat and Tuppence as a depressed boozer (with some unexpected company, since the local clergyman is also an alcoholic, of course).
The Moving Finger is much better in plot alignment, even though it opens showing the hero writhing in bed with various women (thankfully, only one at a time). But here the costume production details were messed up pretty badly: the (very) busty governess is about to explode from the low-cut cocktail dress she is wearing early in the morning as she oversees her young charges (in which any sudden movement would certainly have added graphically to their education); and when the hero's sister is shown seated at a formal dinner party eating with her gloves on, I laughed aloud; who made this episode, 21st century Americans?
All of this is a real shame, since a lot of thought and money obviously went into the period detail, and the acting is top-notch; but the representation of 1950's behavior is so unrealistic that it counteracts all the effort put into the visualization of the small towns and their surroundings. I've added an additional star from my earlier review, since the producers really did apparently try to give us 1952 England; but the production was forced to be so post-modern friendly, that they lost the originality and reality that would have made these episodes much better editions.
Had they considered a series focusing Miss Marple's sophisticated nephew, with new story lines, it might have been fascinating; but trying to hang onto some thin thread of the original plots, while taking all the chracters from 2006 and putting them into period settings, was not a convincing combination.
This new series of Marple stories takes liberties with the original stories penned by Agatha Christie, to varying effect. In "Sleeping Murder," which had its own implausibilities to begin with, the way the story was changed makes it harder to follow and detracts from the overall feel of it. In the case of "By the Pricking of My Thumbs," however, the alterations to the original story weren't so bad. Perhaps that is due to my unfamiliarity with the book, but I thought that this production was very well done, and quite suspenseful.
Credit is given to this new production of Miss Marple for making "The Moving Finger" a smashing good ride. I've never found the previous TV or radio adaptations to be that engaging, but this version was quite good, building the tension as it went along. Alas, "The Sittaford Mystery" has been changed so much from the book that I can not support it. Perhaps this is an example of being too familiar with the original?
The direction and pacing of each Marple story is usually pretty well done. The set and costume designs are exquisite. The casting is typically top-notch, and each episode is like a who's who of familiar British actors. The theme music is lively and memorable, and overall the series is enjoyable. It just needs to become a little more even in its presentation, and it would be that much better.
--- Matthew Gladney
Alas, I discovered this "new Christie" is simply a chance for the writers of these stories to stick their 21st Century values on an older generation. Bright young things always claim they are so different from their parents, but they want to paint their grandparents as they are themselves.
The first set of this new series was disturbing enough. There were subtile changes here and there that distracted from the story. What was a small adventure into so-called "new areas" in the first series is an all-out march into the world of today in this second series.
Sleeping Murder is not longer the story of poor Helen who, like the Helen of the old stories, could not find happiness in life because of her beauty. For those who have read Christie, this was a theme she used in more than one plot. The Helen of this movie is not longer a beautiful young woman searching everywhere for love, only to have it snatched for her grasp before she can enjoy her treasure; instead this Helen is a petty thief with a smirk that always leaves the viewer wondering what she is planning. The story is not the tale of young newlyweds coming to England to buy a home in which to start their married life, but instead the tale of a summer acting group that were saved from certain career disaster by the arrival of World War II. The young newlyweds are not newlyweds but only an engaged gal that demands and snaps at people until her discovery that she knows things about this house that she should not only give her another reason to complain. The young husband never appears in the story, in fact he is dispatched from the script in favor of what is supposed to be a flunkie of the company come to help her buy the house and settle in before the wedding. One wonders at the ending as the flunkie will be out of a job when his boss hears the wedding is off and then where will they all be?
The relationships between these characters are what one might expect from a modern day acting group and not from a pre-war one. The disclosure of the murderer seems to be an: "Oh yes, this is a murder tale so we had better make one of these people a murderer." And the murder itself is silly rather than tragic.
These "new" stories center around gay couples and estranged couples and broken-hearted singles. There are few married couples. And the writers simply cannot bear to keep Christie's love stories within the episodes. No, those have to be tossed in favor of some "new" approach to the ending. Christie's stories were so much about the character of humans and why they act the way they do. Each detail of her stories helped to express her view on what motivated humans to love and to kill. The freely changing of some of these details destroys an important part of the story. One could and should expect some changes to keep the story fresh but those changes should express Christie's views and not the popular views of the moment. The twisted end to 4:50 From Paddington in no way expressed the point Christie made by developing the relationship of Bryan and the new cook. When that point was removed for the story, then the family became only a group of greedy people grasping for the old man's money, and not a family whose outlook on life had been so changed by their father's character and actions. With no contrast between Bryan and the others, the point was last and watching the story became pointless as well.
I would say to the writers of these movies: There is a reason that Dame Agatha has out-sold God, and you have completely missed the point of that reason. Why is it that you cannot have a married couple in any of your stories? Of what are you afraid? We expect our elected leaders to have good characters and be upstanding citizens, but the total disregard of some values by the entertainment medium is totally appaling. Christie wrote about life and about people as they are. The fact that you are using her name and her reputation to tell your own tale tells us so much about you. And Christie taught us how to understand you.
Let me see if I can explain the basic concept of the murder tale. Evil people kill and/or are killed. Innocent people suffer because of the murder. If your suffering characters are such that nobody cares about them, then nobody is going to give a darn how much they suffer. And by the time Sleeping Murder was over, I had completely lost interest. Her end was understandable.
And may I ask why she was buried under a dead tree?
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