Agatha Christie’s Marple: Series 1: A Murder is Announced

I’d started watching these adaptations last year; the earlier ones were The Murder at the Vicarage and The Body in the Library; I am enjoying them despite their flaws (or maybe because of them; comparing to the source and otherwise nitpicking can be fun). I read or reread the book last year when I first started watching these; I wasn’t sure if I had read it before or not. Knowing the murderer made perfectly innocent-looking scenes a bit creepy and some scenes were hard to watch knowing that a character just set himself or herself up as the next victim.

One Friday, the local paper for the rural village of Chipping Cleghorn has an ad in the personals section announcing a murder at Little Paddocks at 6:30. Letitia Blacklock, who lives there, is surprised to see the ad, but (correctly) assumes all the neighbors will show up out of curiosity. Also living at Little Paddocks are Doris Bunner (Bunny), a childhood friend; Patrick and Julia Simmons, distant cousins (in the book, rent-paying and studying and working in a nearby town); Philippa Haymes, renting and working as a gardener nearby; and Mitzi, the Eastern European refugee help. The neighbors are Col. Easterbrook (single here, married in the book); Mrs. Swettenham and her son Edward; and Lizzie (?) Hinchcliffe and Amy Murgatroyd, who share a cottage and who in the book are old enough to be the mothers of the younger characters, but are significantly younger here. Patrick, Julia, Philippa, and Edward are all around the same age (young adult). The book also had the vicar and his wife (known as Bunch) as characters; the vicar was mostly in the background anyway, and Bunch’s personality and relationship with Miss Marple (mother as friend) were given to Murgatroyd.

Everyone outside of Little Paddocks assume the ad is an invitation to a murder-game sort of party, so at 6:30, everyone is gathered, Ms Blacklock is about to offer cigarettes and break out the sherry, when the lights go out, someone throws open the door and demands valuables, and shots ring out. Once there is light, they find the body of an unknown man; he turns out to be Rudi Scherz, who worked at a resort hotel in a nearby town. Miss Marple was staying at the hotel at the time, and gets herself invited to stay with the daughter of a friend (the vicar’s wife in the book, Murgatroyd in the movie) so she can investigate. She spends most of her time talking to people, and several conversations that were between other characters are now with her. A motive is discovered: Miss Blacklock might inherit a large sum of money in the near future from her ex-employer. The money was left in trust to his wife, who is dying; if she dies first, it goes to his sister’s children (they did not speak after her marriage), and several people are the right age to be the sister or her husband or the children. More people are killed, people start accusing each other, and eventually the remaining cast gathers at Little Paddocks so that Miss Marple can explain everything. They actually made the ending less dramatic than in the book (no attempted murders at the last minute), which surprised me.

My biggest complaint with this was an extra added subplot; the eliminating or combining of minor characters and the reworking of scenes to include Miss Marple didn’t bother me (though the changed ages and appearances of a couple did) and the random change of an off-stage character from “trying her hand at acting” to “living in sin” and the removal of a small romantic subplot bothered me a little but didn’t have much of an effect on the story. The removal of Col. Easterbrook’s wife and the addition of a romance between him and Mrs. Swettenham wouldn’t have been too bad, but making Col. Easterbrook alcoholic and Edward Swettenham jealous and mean bothered me. This is a murder mystery; there is plenty of angst and conflict without adding more. I also don’t know why they had Mrs. Swettenham tell Miss Marple all about the relationship and her past in the middle of a crowded shop.

I have the usual problems with Miss Marple in this one; she should be frail and white-haired and fluffy and self-effacing, but is not. I have no problems with Geraldine McEwan’s acting, but the character she is portraying is not the Miss Marple of the books. She was a bit snide towards Inspector Craddock at the beginning and he is impatient with her (in the books, he’s heard of her from his uncle and seeks her aid). I find myself wondering if these were filmed at once and then shown or each filmed and then shown and adapting to criticism; Miss Marple has layers of shawls and is knitting more and is less vigorous in this one, even though it’s chronologically before the adaptation of The Murder at the Vicarage, at least (that was explicitly 1951, this is explicitly 1949). She is more of a background character in this one, which may be why she seems less vigorous. She is occasionally snide, which the book version would never be. They also left out her tendency to compare people to others she met in the past. Also, she cried over someone’s death, which is just wrong.

I had a few random continuity and other minor issues in this one. The missing pictures were noticed but never explained. Inspector Craddock is impatient with Miss Marple and warns her not to play detective when she shows up in Chipping Cleghorn, but lets her read the letters from Letitia to Charlotte for no apparent reason (he has no interaction with her between these events); in the book he warns her because he is worried about her. The random Clue reference bothered me, though it’s possible time-wise (according to Wikipedia, Cluedo was first published in England in 1948, and this was set in 1949). I was happy to see Miss Marple knitting, but they either needed to teach her to be convincing or not show her actively trying. I’m no expert, but it looks like she has one knitting needle, the motions tell me “crocheting”, and the yarn’s just looped over her hand, not in her fingers at all. There also seem to be more ends to the yarn than there should be and there are more colors in the scarf than there are on the table (and the one missing would be the one she’d need next if the pattern continues). I have no problems with the acting overall, but did not find Col. Easterbrook’s loud drunkenness (especially at Bunny’s party) convincing.

This one has not-so-gratuitous lesbians in Murgatroyd and Hinch; it is not explicitly stated in the book, but the are at the very least very close friends, and it is not unreasonable that in post-war England, finances would make sharing a house necessary. The way they are described (Hinch is manlike or manly or mannish, Murgatroyd is more feminine) and the fact that there have been other lesbian couples in other of Christie’s novels makes me think that a couple was the appropriate interpretation, though. I am glad they used that interpretation; it would have been a bit hypocritical of them not to after adding gratuitous lesbians to a different book. In the book they are Murgatroyd and Hinch or (Miss Murgatroyd and Miss Hinchcliffe), even to each other, and it is disconcerting that everyone (including Hinch) calls Murgatroyd “Amy” in the movie. Murgatroyd is described as “fat and amiable” with a “curly bird’s-nest of gray hair” in the book but has a thin blonde actress; Hinch is described as having a “short manlike crop” and wears trousers often, as she does in the movie. I wish they had left them at their original ages, but I guess they decided that fat middle-aged lesbians were no good.

Next: The 4:50 from Paddington aka What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw, which I’m kind of afraid to watch because it’s one of my favorites.

info at imdb

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