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Very different to the Joan Hickson versions, but that's not a criticism
on 9 February 2012
I grew up with the Joan Hickson incarnation of Miss Marple, and for me she was the very essence of what the character should be - ageing, a little frail, seemingly befuddled, yet sharp as a tack.
Then along came ITV's new version with Geraldine McEwan and I was horrified. What had they done to the stories?! Characters were invented or dropped without rhyme nor reason, plotlines introduced (lesbians sell, apparently), and in some cases, Miss Marple was there where no Miss Marple had been before! And then there's the pacing - these stories fly along at breakneck speed with hardly a second to pause for breath. What was going on? But I persevered with them and found them to have a certain charm. Geraldine McEwan, although a fine actress, is by no stretch of the imagination Jane Marple - she's too sprightly for one thing - but I warmed to her. Then she left and Julia McKenzie took over, and I was immediately charmed by her take on Miss Marple.
I then revisited the old BBC versions with Joan Hickson... and how SLOW they seemed! Yes, they were wonderfully filmed, and yes, Joan Hickson is a fine Miss Marple, but I began to long for the modern versions. This Miss Marple now seemed a bit TOO old, a bit TOO slow, and I was frustrated at how long it took to reveal things. The acting from the other actors also seemed to be hammier than I remembered.
Comparing the two versions, I appreciate the Joan Hickson stories sticking closer to the original stories, but with the modern versions, I actually like that they spend less time on exposition and more time on action. They're more fun, they're beautifully shot, and the list of co-stars reads like a who's who of the British TV industry. It's often as entertaining trying to work out where you've seen this or that actor before as it is trying to workout whodunnit. Joanna Lumley's Dolly Bantry is a personal favourite - especially compared with the dull as dishwater version from the 80s. Joan Collins also appears, along with Martine McCutcheon, Jamie Theakston, Alan Davies, Dervla Kirwan, whatsisname from whaddyamacallit, whatsername from that thing with that other guy, and a whole host of other stars.
Despite my initial reservations when the series first started, I'm now a convert. Julia McKenzie is great as Miss Marple (still not sold on Geraldine McEwan, I'm afraid) and while the writers have played fast and loose with the stories (even the murderer changes!), it's a great, modern take on stories we know so well. While the Joan Hickson stories are all very nice and good, and great for a rainy Sunday afternoon, these new ones are 90 minutes of fun. I wholeheartedly recommend them - just don't expect them to follow Agatha Christie's lead.