Agatha Christie's Marple returned this evening with A Caribbean Mystery, starring Julia Mackenzie as the amiable but steely sleuth from St Mary Mead, this time holidaying, courtesy of her generous nephew, on the small island of St Honore. Although the book, published in the Sixties, was one of Christie's later efforts, it was one of the first detective novels I ever read, and I've always had a soft spot for the story. And the televising of this particular episode today meant that my Sunday got off to a very unusual start.
For the first time in a very, very long while, I was up at 5 on a Sunday morning, since I'd been asked to appear on BBC TV's Breakfast show to talk about the enduring appeal of Miss Marple. After a slight panic when the taxi to collect me turned up at the wrong house, I duly arrived at the BBC's glitzy Media City premises in Salford in time to appear for the first of two slots at 6.40 a.m.
I've done live TV before, and I've also appeared on national TV before, but this was my first live interview on national as opposed to regional or special interest TV. I was warned in advance that guests on the show go to be "made-up" before appearing, and as I've never done any acting, this was a new experience for me. Quite a challenge for the make-up person. Anyway, before long I was being introduced to the very pleasant presenters, Roger Johnson and Nega Munchetty. My slot was a combination of a short film about the enduring appeal of Miss Marple coupled with an interview. Once it was done, there was a chance to chill out in the hospitality area before a second appearance (with different questions) two hours later. Slightly nerve-racking, but overall, a fun experience, made easier by kind messages from friends who had been startled to switch on their telly and find me chatting about Agatha Christie.
Back to A Caribbean Mystery. It certainly justified the enthusiasm I expressed this morning. The plot depends on elements that bear some resemblances to earlier Christie novels (to say more would be a spoiler), but the untypical and very photogenic setting worked very well for Sunday evening light entertainment. One of the points I often make about Christie's appeal is her universality, and that is true, I think, of this story. The show may have been set in the Caribbean, but the plot was straight out of the British Golden Age. Mind you, Miss Marple is allowed to reflect, rather amusingly, about sex. And this wasn't something tacked on gratuitously by the scriptwriter. The passage in question is taken straight from chapter one of the novel.
The cast, as ever, was full of stellar names. So we had, for instance, Robert Webb as Tim Kendal, MyAnna Buring as Lucky Dyson, and the ever-reliable.Oliver Ford-Davies as Major Palgrave. Anthony Sher was terrific as Mr Rafiel, and his interplay with Julia Mackenzie highly entertaining. The screenplay was by Charlie Higson, and offered a reminder of what a capable writer he is. He also gave himself a role which afforded the chance for a couple of James Bond jokes. Self-indulgent, possibly, but appealingly sot. An enjoyable episode, made especially memorable for me by that trip to Media City.
Martin - It's good to hear that you enjoyed this episode. I'm interested in seeing this latest incarnation when it comes this way. And I'm glad your presentation went well too - none better qualified to talk about the appeal of Miss Marple.
I'm always a bit suspicious about the Julia McKenzie Marples (as opposed to the Joan Hickson ones) because of their distance from the novels,The Body In The Library being a case in point. However I thoroughly enjoyed tonight's offering.
I thought it was mostly fine but by following the plot of the book so closely, it did share the flaws as well - notably the under-development of some of the guests. Naming no names, but I wasn't convinced by one of the most important performances either... Generally, I have no problem with the Mackenzie Marples, even with the plot changes, but I thought this was a lesser episode.
Margot, as ever, thanks for your kind comment.
Sue, I agree.
Puzzle Doctor, good to hear from you. Are you thinking of the person whe played the culprit?
I'm afraid so. I generally love their work but both myself and Mrs Puzzle Doctor felt they were from a different style of show here. And as I said, it was a rathrr crucial role...
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