For more likely than not, another murder has been committed; and Miss Jane Marple, elderly spinster from the village of St. Mary Mead, just happens to find herself near the scene of the crime. And also more likely than not, while the police are still toddling around searching for clues she'll find the solution - relying on her ever-unfailing "village parallels;" those seemingly innocuous incidents of village life that make up the sum of Miss Marple's knowledge of human nature, and to which she routinely turns in unmasking even the cleverest killer. "Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner - Miss Wetherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is the more dangerous," already observes Vicar Clement, the narrator of Miss Marple's literary debut, 1930's "Murder at the Vicarage" (although in the BBC series, only her fifth adventure).
Originally airing on TV in the 1980s, the BBC's adaptations of Agatha Christie's twelve Miss Marple novels featured Joan Hickson in the title role; quickly establishing her as the quintessential Miss Marple even in the view of the grandmother (or rather, grand-aunt) of all village sleuths and "noticing kinds of persons"'s creator, Dame Agatha herself. (After seeing Hickson in an adaptation of her "Appointment With Death," as early as 1946 Christie reportedly sent her a note expressing the hope she would one day "play my dear Miss Marple.") Prior versions, partly involving rather high-octane casts, had seen as Miss Marple, inter alia, Angela Lansbury and Margaret Rutherford, but had been decidedly less faithful to Christie's books. While Lansbury holds her own fairly well when compared to the character's literary original in 1980's "Hollywood does Christie" version of "The Mirror Crack'd" (and that movie's ageing actresses' showdown featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak is a delight to watch), the four movies starring Rutherford are only loosely based on Christie's books: Dame Margaret's Miss Marple, although itself likewise a splendid performance, has about as much to do with Agatha Christie's demure and seemingly scatterbrained village sleuth as Big Ben does with the English countryside, and of the scripts, only "Murder, She Said" is an adaptation of a Miss Marple mystery ("4:50 From Paddington"), whereas two of the others - "Murder at the Gallop" and "Murder Most Foul" - are actually Hercule Poirot stories ("After the Funeral" and "Mrs. McGinty's Dead," respectively), and "Murder Ahoy" is based on a completely independent screenplay.
Following the rule that ever since Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Lestrade every great private detective needs a policeman he can outwit, the creators of the BBC series inserted the character of Inspector Slack into almost all storylines - hardly in keeping with the literary originals, which are set over a period of more than 30 years and thus, exceed the career span of a policeman already advanced on his professional path at the time of his first encounter with Miss Marple; even if the BBC's Slack is promoted from D.I. in the series's first instalment, 1984's "The Body in the Library" (where he really does appear) to Superintendent in 1992's "The Mirror Crack'd" (which is originally only an Inspector Craddock story). Yet, Hickson's and Horovitch's face-offs are a fun addition; and one is almost ready to pity Slack, who hardly ever gets a foot down vis-a-vis Miss Marple's quick rejoinders and, in the words of her friend, retired Scotland Yard chief Sir Henry Clithering, "wonderful gift to state the obvious." (During a conversation with Craddock [John Castle] in "The Mirror Crack'd," Slack - whom Miss Marple herself, in the TV adaptation of "Murder at the Vicarage," has already likened to a railway diesel engine, or in that story's literary original to a shoe vendor intent on selling you patent leather boots while completely ignoring your request for brown calf leather instead - unaware that he is talking to one of Aunt Jane's nephews, rather unsubtly credits her with having "a mind like a meat cleaver.")
Although Agatha Christie herself reportedly preferred Miss Marple over Hercule Poirot, the demands of her audience compelled her to bring back the moustachioed Belgian with the many little grey cells much more frequently than the village sleuth from St. Mary Mead. All the greater the tribute paid to "Dear Aunt Jane" in these lovingly-executed adaptations - and how wonderful to finally see them reunited in a single box set.
"The Body in the Library" (written 1942, BBC 1984)
"The Moving Finger" (written 1942, BBC 1985)
"A Murder Is Announced" (written 1950, BBC 1985)
"A Pocket Full of Rye" (written 1953, BBC 1985)
"Murder at the Vicarage" (written 1930, BBC 1986)
"4:50 From Paddington" (written 1947, BBC 1987, a/k/a "What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!")
"At Bertram's Hotel" (written 1965, BBC 1987)
"Sleeping Murder" (written 1976, BBC 1987)
"Nemesis" (written 1971, BBC 1987)
"A Caribbean Mystery" (written 1965, BBC 1989)
"They Do It With Mirrors" (written 1952, BBC 1991)
"The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side" (written 1962, BBC 1992)
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