It seems hard to believe, but almost 30 years have passed since Joan Hickson was first introduced to us as Miss Marple, in a three-part adaptation for TV of The Body in the Library, by T.R. Bowen. I decided to roll back the years and watch it again, to check whether it was as good as I remembered,and whether the view I've expressed (even on breakfast TV!) that Joan Hickson was the definitive Marple was really justified. Well, I can now confirm it was that good, and to me, Hickson is indeed the perfect Marple.
The Body in the Library was one of the first detective novels I ever read as a child, and I was really impressed. It's always been a favourite, although it's not universally regarded as a classic Agatha Christie. But I think the convoluted plot is excellent, even allowing for the fact that it depends on a trick which would, thanks to advances in forensic science, be impossible to pull off today.
Bowen's version sticks pretty closely to the original - a wise decision, I think. The script is first class, and the cast is absolutely superb. We have Gwen Watford as Dolly Bantry and Moray Watson as Colonel Bantry, and that's just a start. David Horovitch is excellent as Inspector Slack, and Raymond Francis a splendid Sir Henry Clithering. Even before I came across Christie, as a small boy, I enjoyed the TV series No Hiding Place, in which Francis played Superintendent Lockhart, and I remember it fondly to this day, even if I can't recall any of the stories.
The rest of the cast includes Trudie Styler, now better known as the wife of Sting, Jess Conrad, and John Bardon, who became a fixture in EastEnders. The acting from start to finish was up to the same high standard as the script - there was none of the hamminess that has disfigured some of the least satisfactory episodes of Agatha Christie's Marple in recen years. But best of all is Hickson's under-stated but totally convincing performance. Great viewing.