Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple coming to Blu-ray

BBC-Miss-Marple-bluray2Joan Hickson was hardly the first actress to play Agatha Christie’s owlish sleuth Jane Marple, but on British television she may still be the most generally liked. Produced by the BBC between 1984 and 1992, this genteel and well-appointed show was a bit languid perhaps but beautifully shot on film (which was slightly unusual for British TV at the time) and conveyed that un-hurried vision of ‘Mayhem Parva’ with great dexterity. It was not perfect – stories were often altered and settings relocated to a generic late 40s, early 1950s, not always to its complete benefit – but it now belongs to a bygone era of British TV, almost as remote as Christie’s own. And now it’s been remastered for High Def!

All twelve of the novels were adapted either as multi-part serials or as one-off feature-length productions. In the 1980s Thatcherite Britain found itself in a backward-looking state of mind, film and TV dominated by so-called ‘heritage’ productions. The result was a decade dominated by such glossy literary adaptations as Brideshead Revisited, Jewel in the Crown and Fortunes of War on TV and the likes of Room with a View, A Passage to India and Howard’s End (all from EM Forster) as well as the Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire at the cinema.

The BBC ‘s Marple series fitted right in and showed the books a lot more ‘respect’ than the the highly comedic Margaret Rutherford adaptations of the 1960s (only one of which in fact was even based on a Marple novel). The more recent ITV series, starring Geraldine McEwan and latterly Julia Mackenzie, has been even less concerned with textual fidelity, seeking to expand the brand with adaptations of non-canonical works and to bring in new audiences with a more up-to-date sensibility (with mixed results).

This now means that most of the major Christie adaptations for the screen can be found in HD, including Billy Wilder’s Witness for the Prosecution, the blockbuster cinema films of the 1970s (Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile, Mirror Crack’d and Evil Under the Sun) as well as the David Suchet TV series. It’s a shame that the version of the 1945 version of And Then There Were None is technically inferior but hopefully that will get revisited too someday.

The original BBC shows have tended to look a bit grubby on home video but apparently the remastering has been a real success and reportedly the shows look terrific. At the moment these are only being presented in the US though I hope they will make it to the UK soon. The first set presents the first 4 films fromt eh series: Murder at the Vicarage, The Body in the Library, The Moving Finger and my favourite, A Murder is Announced. I’m really looking forward to watching these again under (hopefully) optimal conditions – I just hope all 12 will make their way to Blu-ray in Europe really soon!

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31 Responses to Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple coming to Blu-ray

  1. robert says:

    Funny that from the same author, I always found Hercule Poirot so much more interesting than Miss Marple. It’s funny because one could expect equivalent feelings since the most important bit was the plots and the stories. Maybe because I am a little bit misogynistic. I have the impression that most of the great AC novels have Poirot as the central character rather than Marple who seems much more passive.

    • richmcd says:

      I think Miss Marple is a much more interesting character (and detective) than Poirot, but unfortunately she’s not in very many good stories. I think it might be because Christie uses Marple to reminisce about the past in a lot of later books. Christie was much better when she was being ruthless, not nostalgic!

      • Like you, I prefer the plotting of the Poirot books and tend to find them easier to distinguish in my mind than the Marples, though I still rate A Murder is Announced in particular very highly. But it’s been years and years since I read them – time to look again perhaps …

    • Hi Robert – I don’t see how misogyny can have anything to do with it – the two series are very different. The Poirots tend to be stronger on plotting and physical clues, the Marples are stronger on atmosphere and intuitive logic – despite what some of the film and TV adaptations might make us believe, the two are far from interchangeable. Perry Mason doesn’t get mixed up with Bertha Cool despite the same parentage 🙂

  2. Sergio – I am glad to hear this news; thanks for sharing it. I’ve always liked Joan Hickson the best of the actors who’ve portrayed Miss Marple. 🙂

  3. tracybham says:

    I have not watched very many adaptations of Christie books so could not give an opinion on any of the Miss Marples, but Hickson looks more like I imagine Miss Marple. Maybe someday I will try one of these.

  4. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Wonderful news – I always thought Hickson captured Marple’s woolly exterior and steely interior brilliantly and the fact that they look bright and shiny and clean is great! A good one for the Christmas list!

  5. mikeripley says:

    In the 1970s, I was a neighbour of Joan Hickson in the Essex river port of Wivenhoe, where she was always addressed as ‘Mrs Butler’ (her married name) but referred to as ‘Miss Marple’ when she wasn’t present! A constantly in-demand actor, she kept a low profile in Wivenhoe although her Saturday-morning shopping trips to the village greengrocer became legendary and would actually draw small audiences! Usually wearing a headscarf and a shabby raincoat, Joan would stalk around the greengrocer’s shop pointing out flaws in the fruit and vegetables on display(“Call this a bleeding onion?”) very loudly in a broad Cockney accent. The owner of the shop (who was in on the joke) followed her around with a basket to serve her as if terrified for his life but when it came to paying for her shopping, Joan – in the blink of an eye – reverted to her normally quiet and gracious persona saying “Thank you, you are too kind” to the greengrocer and giving the shop-full of watching customers a very obvious cheeky wink.

    • Brilliant Mike – sounds more like the character she played in the Rutherford Marple, Murder She Said – hard to imagine Suchet doing that somehow. Ustinov on the other hand … 🙂

  6. Sarah says:

    I absolutely love this series. the set I’ve got is very grainy on my TV but I still occasionally watch them. And, as previous commenters have said, perfect casting.

  7. Sergio, unlike Poirot, I have not seen any of the Miss Marple television series though I know Joan Hickson became very popular in her role. The preference of Poirot over Marple, generally, is common. I, myself, have read more Poirot mysteries. I also remember watching quite a few episodes of Angela Lansbury’s MURDER, SHE WROTE on Indian television.

    • That”s a very good point because I think Lansbury landed the role after playing Marple of course – if you have the patience, here is an extract from another episode of the Marple series you can watch online – see what you make of it:

  8. rthepotter says:

    Joan Hickson’s Marple has always been my favourite version of the role. There’s nothing like it for wet Sunday afternoons when you have a wicked cold in the head – light the fire, make a huge pot of tea, and knit along with Miss Marple!

  9. Ela says:

    I have a DVD box set of the whole series which is a pretty good transfer, if I recall correctly. I don’t remember any really significant changes being made to the plots, and if you watch the whole series in order there is a nice sense of progression and time passing.

    • Thanks Ela – I think the show does, more or less move from the late 40s to the early to mid 1950s, though it’s all pretty generic – the last episode to be broadcast, The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side (1992), had a very nice feel with many of the ‘regulars’ rounded up – I know some fans were annoyed about some changes (I have a suspicion that Craddock isn’t initially presented as her nephew … or am i making that up?) – filming Nemesis and Caribbean Mysteryy in that order didn’t help …

  10. Jeff Flugel says:

    This is such exciting news. I LOVE the Joan Hickson MISS MARPLEs, my favorite Christie adaptations by a wide margin. Hickson’s portrayal leaves all other wannabe Marples in the dust. There may be a few tweaks from the original stories, but compared to the recent MARPLE and POIROT adaptations, they’re models of fidelity. This first Blu-Ray set is very affordable, will be picking this up ASAP. Thanks, mate!

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