The second episode of Marple saw a version of Murder is Easy, which was one of the first Agatha Christies I ever read, at a very tender age. I absolutely loved the story at the time, marvelling at the cleverness of the plot, and I still think it’s a really good whodunit, featuring an English village with a body count to rival Midsomer. The book doesn’t feature Jane Marple, as the detecting is done by Luke Fitzwilliam, but I very much enjoyed the first part of the tv episode, in which Fitzwilliam acts in effect as Miss Marple’s foil.
My enjoyment was enhanced by a splendid cast, with actors as likeable as Tim Brooke-Taylor, and as admirable as Sylvia Sims, taking relatively minor parts, as victims bumped off before anyone realises that a homicidal maniac is at work. The screenplay by Stephen Churchett had a number of neat touches, and Churchett himself appeared, as a coroner in a scene that didn’t really have a great deal of legal realism about it, although frankly that is par for the course with inquests in television shows.
Unfortunately, by the time we were about two-thirds in, the story began to falter alarmingly. I blame the fact that the writer had been asked to provide a script lasting for two hours rather than ninety minutes (back to a theme of yesterday!) So, to expand an already elaborate mystery, we had a young man with learning difficulties taught about sex with disastrous consequences, including incest, rape, abortion and murder. Needless to say, none of this bore any relationship to Christie’s original plot.
I think that if you want to improve on Christie’s plots when adapting her work, you have to be extremely good at plotting, and my feeling was that the whole edifice collapsed under the weight of its own implausibility. A pity, because again Julia McKenzie did well as Jane Marple - though I still can’t understand quite how she managed to insinuate herself into the heart of a strange community with such effortless ease and speed.