Agatha Christie’s Marple: Series 1: The Body in the Library

This is the second of the 2004 adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries (first here), with Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple. It also features Joanna Lumley as Dolly Bantry (full cast at imdb).

The Body in the Library starts off one morning with a body of a blonde young woman found in the library of Gossington Hall, which is the residence of Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly. They are a respected, middle-aged couple, living in St. Mary Mead; Dolly is on good terms with Miss Marple and respects her abilities, so her first move is to send for Miss Marple. Col. Bantry denies any knowledge of the woman, though his denials are met with some disbelief. Basil Blake, who is involved in the film industry and who has wild parties and a platinum-blonde girlfriend is also suspected, though somewhat less after said girlfriend shows up while the police are questioning him. The body is eventually identified as Ruby Keene, a dancer (exhibition and with guests) at the Majestic Hotel in Danesmouth, 18 miles away. Mrs. Bantry and Miss Marple decide that the Majestic would be a perfect place to get away from the scandal for a while, and find more motives and suspects. Conway Jefferson, an elderly and crippled man, had taken a fancy to Ruby and was planning on adopting her; he reported her as missing. His son-in-law Mark and daughter-in-law Adelaide (and her son by a previous marriage) are also staying there; Conway Jefferson was crippled at the same time as his wife, son, and daughter were killed (book: airplane crash; movie: WWII bombing). Ruby’s cousin Josie was the main dancer/hostess, but she had sprained her ankle and brought Ruby in to take care of the dancing while she recovered; her dance partner was also the tennis pro, Raymond Starr. There are also some implications of relationships among the latter four.

This adaptation is very close to the book, especially with respect to the dialogue; it had been years since I read it, but recognized a lot of it. There were a few characters cut out; most of the police bits were given to Col. Melchett and Inspector Slack (Sir Henry Clithering, retired from Scotland Yard and admirer of Miss Marple’s abilities was cut out completely; Superintendent Harper of Danemouth’s part was reduced considerably). Adelaide Jefferson had a boyfriend in the book, which added extra subplots and suspects, but he was also cut out completely. The one major change was that two of the characters switched roles, though it did not have much effect on the story overall.

I liked the interaction between Miss Marple and Mrs. Bantry; they were good foils for each other, though Mrs. Bantry’s attitude occasionally verged on proud parent showing off child (look, isn’t she wonderful!). She was also described in the book as ‘an ecstatic Greek chorus’; that description crossed my mind at one point while watching. I assume this adaptation was set in the early 1950s; I don’t remember seeing anything with a date. The book was written in 1942, but there was nothing to tie it to a specific date. The adaptation’s style (costumes, hair, makeup, sets) made me think of the past, no specific time period (though probably due to a lack of knowledge on my part). I had no problems with the acting.

I have the same complaint about Miss Marple’s characterization (not the acting) in this one as I did in the last one; she is supposed to be elderly and dithery, and is not. The Miss Marple of the books would not still be pining for her WWI soldier 30 years later; the opening is Miss Marple listening to the radio, drinking tea, with a picture of the soldier on the table next to her. I don’t think the books ever mention previous relationships (though I’d be surprised if there weren’t any). I think they did make her younger; if she was a young woman in 1918, she would not be as old as she should be in 1951; even assuming she was Young Miss Marple’s actress’ age (31 in 2004), she would only be 64 in 1951. In the books, she is always described as old, elderly, frail, and in one case ‘a dithery, fluffy octogenarian’. She did knit in this one at the hotel one night, which made me happy.

Some of the minor characters had characterization changes; Colonel Melchett in the book respects Miss Marple’s abilities, but in this was not happy to see her at the hotel and was dismissive of her (which was more like Inspector Slack in the books). Basil Blake looked older than I thought he should, but his age was never mentioned; they also changed his house from something described as “half timbering and sham Tudor” aka “The Period Piece” to a more modern house (white and angular).

There were only two changes that really bothered me: Raymond Starr in this was essentially a gigolo; in the book, he would have been offended to be called that and had in fact left a previous position when he realized that was what he was considered; the other change was gratuitous but was also a major spoiler.

A large part of this was taken up with flashbacks of everyone’s version of the events of the night of the murder; maybe if I’d been paying more attention, I would have noticed the subtle differences in people’s stories and the indications of the solution; however, I found it kind of boring to watch essentially the same scenes several times. I also think the producers felt they had to add in more sex and violence to the story; admittedly, the violence is there, but it’s easier to skip over a short description of a dead body than it is to ignore the same body on screen (there was a subplot involving a Girl Guide found dead in a burned car; I didn’t want to see that body). The sex was more implied than shown; Raymond was often shown entering and leaving rooms at around the same time as random women, but nothing was shown on screen. I think this is also the reason for the gratuitous spoiler (which I found out beforehand from the amazon reviews, unfortunately).

Next: A Murder Is Announced which I reread before watching instead of after (saw it at the library last month and checked it out), and am not sure if I’d read it before (if I did, it was a very long time ago). I may skip it and go on to The 4:50 from Paddington; I liked that book better, and I don’t think there’s any real reason to watch them in order.

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4 Responses to Agatha Christie’s Marple: Series 1: The Body in the Library

  1. Mrs J. Joslin says:

    I have been reading Agatha Christie’s books for years and deplore the way television spoils all the adaptations by not sticking to the story-lines. I’m aware that “adaptation” means that you don’t have to stick to the story but, for readers like me, it completely spoils the whole film when you change names, backgrounds, story, even modernising the stories to bring them into line with the current century, etc. But you’ve even added new characters which were never in the books at all! AND in one film the murderer was even changed – this was in “Cards on the Table” – Rhoda was not the murderer, her friend was, but you swapped them around, which was quite ridiculous!

    The charm of Agatha Christie’s books lies in the settings and the murder weapons in use at the time the books were written, also the characters and costumes, and I have never been completely satisfied with any of the TV films, as they have always lacked in something – they have always been a bit too unbelievable.

    I agree that Joan Hickson was the very best Jane Marple – she fitted the bill absolutely. But even Joan Hickson’s versions have lacked in a little something, too, because of the changes TV have made.

    I did notice someone else mentioning that she might not have looked so old in one of her books but elderly people in those times DID look older than their ages – clothing and hair styles today have a lot to do with making someone look a lot younger than their ages, so I think Joan Hickson did carry that off very well. And, yes, she was definitely far too sensible to be pining after her boyfriend of 30 years ago (I doubt if he was her lover, because people were more puritan in those days) especially Miss Marple’s type, although I think she would still have had his picture on view.

    I also agree with the opinion that making Raymond, her nephew, into a gigolo is rather ridiculous, as he was a serious writer in the books – Miss Marple would have been horrified and have nothing to do with him, whereas he was her favourite nephew and very kind to his Aunt Jane (no gigolo would have any time for an old aunt!)

    Why have you got to bring tawdry sex into everything on television? Do you think that viewers won’t want to watch it if there isn’t any sex in it at all – how wrong can you be? To me there is a time and place for sex and nudity, and it’s not in front of millions of viewers – I turn my head away in embarrassment, even for French kissing!

    Geraldine McEwan, Angela Lansbury, etc. are nothing like Miss Marple’s description in the books – they are far too lively and bossy! Miss Marple is supposed to be a gentle, elderly lady living in reduced circumstances, who gets embarrassed occasionally, likes a bit of gossip and notices a lot, and is continually knitting baby clothes. I cannot even imagine either Miss McEwan or Miss Lansbury as a young Miss Marple, let alone an elderly one!

    I hope any future adaptations will stick to the story line, and I apologise if anyone’s nose is put out of joint by these remarks – no offence is intended to anyone.


    Mrs. J. Joslin.

  2. Mrs J. Joslin says:

    May I mention that the remarks I made above were not intended for “The Body in the Library” at all – they are a general comment on all the TV adaptations which have occurred in the past, especially as I notice I may have confused viewers with my remarks about Raymond Starr, the tennis pro (aka the gigolo in the TV adaptation) with Raymond West, Miss Marple’s nephew.

    Sorry about that.

  3. priyash says:

    i couldnt understand the sumary .who kills ruby keene & why?and wat abt d body wich is found in the car ?who kills them and y?who unravals the mystry and how does he?

  4. D. Livingston says:

    This adaptation is ridiculous. It twists Christie’s characters around, loses some and changes the murdering couple into a lesbian couple. The changes make the plot overly complex for no reason. If you like Agatha Christie, skip this one.
    If you want to know how the story really goes, look at this website

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