I was quite prepared not to like Julia McKenzie’s interpretation of Miss Jane Marple (or ‘Marple’ as ITV now calls her, for some reason) but I was pleased, and maybe a little surprised, that her debut in A Pocket Full of Rye proved to be a good performance in a well-made adaptation of an enjoyable story.
The screenplay was by Kevin Elyot, who is experienced in the art of Christie adaptation, and I thought it was impressive that he handled the final revelations in a wholly unmelodramatic way. I was a huge fan of the Joan Hickson series (and Hickson is the definitive Jane Marple) but the Hickson version of this story, in which Peter Davison played the villain, ended, as I recall, with a rather over-the-top climax.
In this version, the emphasis was on Miss Marple’s fondness for Gladys, the maid who was the unwitting tool of a ruthless killer, and her determination to see justice meted out to the man who destroyed her. This reflects, properly, Christie’s attitude to crime and punishment, and her concept of Jane Marple as a wise woman and a righter of wrongs. The whodunit mystery here is quite cleverly constructed, but there is a bit more to this particular story than the puzzle.
The production was a little slow at times – 90 minutes would have been better than two hours, I think. But the acting was good, and generally avoided the tongue-in-cheek, or the hamminess that ruined some of the episodes starring Geraldine McEwan as the spinster sleuth. Helen Baxendale was good as usual, and it was nice (although sad) to see the late Wendy Richard and the late Ken Campbell playing Mr and Mrs Crump.
Final verdict – on this evidence, McKenzie may turn out to be a distinct improvement on McEwan. I’ll be watching her again.