I’ve held off reviewing this excellent series showing on PBS Masterpiece Mystery! until I got a good sense of how well Julia McKenzie fares as the observant elderly sleuth, and I find that she plays the character true to form. Julia’s Miss Marple reminds me of the smart but deferential women of my grandmother’s generation who stand on the sidelines but whose power lay in maneuvering others into action or thinking their way. In PBS’s new Miss Marple series, Julia’s mousy character can easily disappear into the woodwork as she takes on the role of keen observer. She never oversteps her boundaries with the detectives who arrive on the scene to solve a case. And what fine detectives they are! This season we have Matthew MacFadyen as Inspector Neele, Benedict Cumberbatch as retired policeman Luke Fitzwilliam, Alex Jennings as Inspector Curry, and Warren Clarke as Commander Peters. While these men are quite capable, they lack Miss Marple’s “insider” knowledge, as she has a knack for being at the right place at the wrong time, as it were. They also lack her female intuition, which prompts her to notice those tiny details that men often miss, such as a redhead not choosing to dye her hat red.
If I lived in Great Britain and I saw Miss Marple heading towards my village, I’d get into my Bentley and run, for everywhere Miss Marple goes, murder follows. In Murder is Easy so many victims fell, that I wondered if the village would have to be abandoned for lack of inhabitants.
The biggest treat in watching this finely produced series is to see the familiar stable of British actors who people the lovely villages in which the plots thicken. In addition to the detectives, we get to watch Rupert Graves, Hattie Morahan, Prunella Scales, Anna Chancellor, Amanda Root, Jemma Redgrave, Russel Tovey, Joan Collins, Elliot Cowan, Maxine Peak, Nigel Terry, well, the list goes on and on. We’ve seen all these familiar faces before on BBC, ITV, and PBS productions, and so we know that the quality of the acting will be superb. And then there are the shots of the British countryside, the beautiful costumes of pre-World War II Britain, and the exquisite mansions and their interiors. A cup of tea, my pooch on my lap, and Miss Marple is all the entertainment I need to relax on a Sunday night.
My enjoyment of the series does not blind me to the dated quality of these Agatha Christie plots. Also, Miss Marple is a woman of her time, and seeing how she boosts the egos of the males around her and makes polite “suggestions” that lead the inspectors in the right direction makes me cringe. This is how smart women once lived and how many women still get their point across – through manipulation. The murders are often solved through coincidences that are sometimes too convenient, and the mysteries themselves are contrived, too convoluted, and in many instances, weak. Despite all the red herrings thrown my way, in two out of three instances I had solved the murder halfway through the show, but I am being picky. I still prefer a good Agatha Christie mystery over almost anything aired on the cultural wasteland that t.v. has become. For production value I give this murder series. 5 stars. For entertainment, 4 stars. For quality of mystery, 3 stars.
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