Agatha Christie’s Marple: Series 1: 4:50 from Paddington

This is the last volume of the first series of the recent BBC adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books. The alternate title for the book is What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw! The book is one of my favorites, but it’s been a while since I’ve read it. I actually watched this one on the tv instead of the computer, and discovered that it has closed-captioning, so that’s one less complaint. I’d rather have subtitles, but captions are better than nothing. I’ve been trying to avoid spoilers, but there will probably be some in this because this adaptation was not particularly faithful to the novel.

I’d been enjoying these adaptations, even with the changes; I didn’t like the way Miss Marple’s character was changed, but could deal with most of the other changes. For the most part, the changes didn’t really affect the flow of the story; I could have done without the change of the colonel in A Murder is Announced from happily married to depressed alcoholic bachelor with a romantic subplot, though. In some ways, this one is very close to a complete rewrite of the book; the plot is fairly close to the original, but the characters are for the most part different people. I think the only people who retain their original characterization are Emma Crackenthorpe (who had little personality either way), Bryan Eastley and maybe Dr. Quimper. The murderer’s motivations were changed slightly, and they removed a murder. They also added Harold’s wife as an involved character; in the book, she existed but was elsewhere.

Mrs. McGillicudy is on her way to St. Mary Mead to visit Miss Marple (via the 4:50 from Paddington); after waking up from a nap, she sees a train on a parallel track, and in one of the windows, she sees a woman being strangled. No one really believes her, and no body was found. She is going to Ceylon in the near future (I always had the impression it was to visit her son or other relative; this implied a recent widower), and is happy to leave further investigation in Miss Marple’s hands. In the movie, they use maps and timetables to figure out where the body might be, but in the book, Miss Marple consults with the vicar’s son (maps) and her nephew’s son (timetables); the end result is that the body must be on the grounds of Rutherford Hall. Lucy Eyelesbarrow has a degree, but decided there was more money to be made in domestic service. She takes short-term jobs only, and at one point looked after Miss Marple while she was recovering from pneumonia. Miss Marple contacts her, and she manages to get a job at Rutherford Hall to be near her “Aunt Jane” while she looks for the body, and Miss Marple finds somewhere to stay nearby. She eventually finds the body in a sarcophagus (book: in a barn full of random things Luther collected; show: in a mausoleum on the property).

Rutherford Hall is owned by Luther Crackenthorpe; his father was wealthy, did not like Luther, and left his estate in trust for Luther’s children. Luther’s wife, one daughter (Edith) and one son (Edmund) are dead, his other daughter (Emma, never married) lives there, and his sons (Cedric, Harold, Alfred) live elsewhere. Edith was married to Bryan Eastley, a former fighter pilot, and they had one son (she died in childbirth). Harold is the only other one who is married; he has no children. In the book, Edmund wrote that he had met a French woman (Martine) and was planning on being married, and the next they knew he had been killed; in the book, they never met her, but in the show, there is a flashback of him bringing her to meet the family. Emma had received a letter supposedly from Martine about a possible visit about her son (essentially, needed money for support in the book at least); there is a possibility that the woman in the sarcophagus was French, which causes some concern. Lucy continues investigating, while flirting with or being propositioned by most of the male cast (a slightly different part in each version). At one point, they have curry for dinner; everyone is sick afterwards, and someone dies. In the book, some people leave afterwards and someone else dies; in the show, they all remain at the house and no one else dies. Miss Marple eventually puts all the pieces together and stages a re-enactment of the original murder for Mrs. McGillicudy’s benefit and the murderer is caught; in the show, they do this on the trains, which seems highly improbable.

Miss Marple is even more out of character in this, especially considering that in the book, she explicitly thinks she is too old for adventures. More than once, she arrives uninvited to see Lucy. At the beginning, instead of calling Lucy, she barges into a party to see her. I cannot see Miss Marple barging in anywhere unless it was a matter of life or death (and maybe not even then, if she could find another way). Later, she invites herself to stay with Detective Inspector Tom Campbell (who spent at least part of his childhood in St. Mary Mead), and visits Rutherford Hall more than once. In the book, she might have invited herself to stay with someone, but it was her former housekeeper who takes in lodgers.

Lucy’s personality makes it hard for me to believe she is as successful of a housekeeper as she is; she has a reputation for excellent service, which would explain some of it. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but she seems a bit forward for someone acting as a housekeeper; assertive, bossy, managing would all be understandable, but she seems to act more like part of the family than a housekeeper. In the show, she eats with the Crackenthorpes, though I don’t think it’s mentioned where she takes her meals in the books. In her first scene, she is working for Noel Coward and is singing for his guests before setting the table; it seemed unlikely that the Lucy of the books would agree to sing for the guests. Miss Marple barges in on his farewell speech to her. She’s also less subtle in her investigations: in the book, she practices golf as an excuse to explore the grounds and there’s a barn full of junk for her to consider straightening up as an excuse for poking around in; in the show there’s only a mausoleum, and no real reason for her to go poking around in there at night.

In the books, Luther Crackenthorpe was a miser and not particularly fond of his late wife or his children and was just mean; in this, he was still mourning his wife ten years later and was a lot nicer. Alfred Crackenthorpe was a different sort of scum in this (in the book, vaguely financial scams, never proven, no girlfriend; in this, some sort of scam involving acting as his girlfriend’s distraught husband) and was a weepy drunk because his girlfriend left him. Harold Crackenthorpe is an at least attempted rapist, and makes an offhand comment about never being able to like women. Cedric Crackenthorpe has a completely different alibi, and is not as much of a womanizer in this as in the book. In the book, there is a love triangle with Lucy, Brian, and Cedric; in this, it’s Lucy, Brian, and the Inspector. Bryan Eastley’s character is the same, but he was actually acquainted with Martine (and apparently never heard about the letter).

I am very tempted to rent Nemesis next, even though it is the last of the third series. Looking at its cast, it has to be a wholesale rewrite of the adaptation-in-name-only variety; I reread it last fall, and did not recognize most of the character names in the cast list, and there was apparently a convent added to the story (Mother xxx and Sister xxx in the cast list).

The Murder at the Vicarage
The Body in the Library
A Murder is Announced

on wikipedia: Noël Coward, Agatha Christie
listing on imdb

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