'Agatha Christie's Marple: Series 4'
(Julia McKenzie, et al / 2-Disc DVD / NR / (2008) 2009 / Acorn Media)
Overview: Donning the trademark tweeds as if they were made for her, the marvelous Julia McKenzie (Cranford, Notes on a Scandal) assumes the Marple mantle in four gripping new adaptations of Christie mysteries. With her ladylike manners and modest appearance, Dame Agatha’s spinster sleuth blends into the background of fashionable society. However, her razor-sharp mind and no-nonsense view of human nature make her a formidable foe to evildoers, cracking the cases that even the professionals can’t solve.
DVD Verdict: OK, sure we've seen all these 'episodes' before, under the guise of other Marple's and such, but there really is something that Julia McKenzie that shines differently here. For me, I think that it's the fact she's younger than any other Ms. Marple I myself have witnessed portray the role. Aged up to convince, it she doesn't quite pull it off, but that udnerlying youthfulness in old age does add some pep to the woman, and the character therein.
And given that this is indeed a new Ms. Marple, it has already - on the grapevine - caused quite some reactions to yet another cast change in this classic murder/mystery ensemble. That said, McKenzie handles this role with a certain age defiance, tackling Agatha Christie's savvy sleuthing spinster in her own sweet, angelic, forgiving way - adding yet another great Ms. Jane Marple undertaking to the list that also includes such names as Margaret Rutherford, Joan Hickson, and the lovely Geraldine McEwan - who retired from the lead role, having done series 1-3
The cinematic, ultra picturesque English countryside sets the scene time and time again here as both grand estates and completely exposed witty lines are unashamedly bashed back and forth in lavish post-WWII period detail. And the mysteries are, I hear you ask: 'A Pocket Full of Rye,' 'Murder Is Easy,' 'They Do It with Mirrors' and 'Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?'
'A Pocket Full of Rye' is a great, albeit tame episode that tells the story of wealthy Rex Fortescue, who collapses in his office, poisoned. There are plenty of people who wanted the odious Fortescue dead: his sons, their wives, and his own hot, sexy wife. But then other murders occur that fit the pattern of an old nursery rhyme. Indeed, in this one, Ms. Marple shows up about halfway into it, so don't hold your breath waiting for her at every corner!
'Murder Is Easy' is the classic tale that begins with Ms. Marple's chance meeting of a woman on a train who tells her of a series of supposedly accidental deaths in her village. When the woman herself is pushed to her death, Marple swings into action, of course, and so to speak!
In 'They Do it With Mirrors,' the episode also features the always-vivacious Joan Collins as the more worldly sister of Carrie-Louise Serrocold (Penelope Wilton) who, with her husband (Brian Cox), runs a correctional facility for youthful offenders. As the family is preparing a musical revue to entertain the inmates, two murders seem to stump the police and, for a while, Miss Marple.
'Why Didn't They Ask Evans?' is by far one of Christie's best novels. The story follows the efforts of young Bobby Attfield (Sean Biggerstaff), who hears a dying man utter the titular words as he takes his final breath, and so tries to figure out who killed the guy. Encapsulating the old theory that family secrets shoudl remain dead and buried, the episode is the best of the bunch by far, trust me.
And for good measure, the stellar supporting cast also includes: Matthew Macfadyen, Rupert Graves, Anna Chancellor, Jemma Redgrave, Helen Baxendale, Brian Cox, Prunella Scales, Warren Clarke, Natalie Dormer, Rafe Spall, Kenneth Cranham, Samantha Bond, and the aforementioned soap diva herself, Joan Collins. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the following Special Features:
Julia McKenzie and Agatha Christie biography