'Miss Marple: Volume One' [Blu-ray]
(Joan Hickson, et al / 2-Disc Blu ray / NR / 2014 / BBC America)
Overview: Gather your wits and join best-selling author Agatha Christie's popular sleuth Miss Jane Marple in four delightfully baffling mysteries starring Joan Hickson; the actress Christie herself wanted for the title role. Newly remastered for the 30th Anniversary, the first volume of the classic BBC series is out now!
Blu ray Verdict: In truth, Joan Hickson is the one I always think of when I think of Miss Marple as she is always good value for acting as the beloved character, Miss Marple. And with the very first episodes of this classic British TV series now having all been remastered in HD, well, there's no better time to catch up with the old dame!
In the first of the mysteries, 'Murder at the Vicarage,' life in the said-same vicarage is not as gentile and peaceful as it would seem as even mild-mannered Reverend Clement is driven to swearing by the stiff-necked attitude of Colonel Protheroe over the church accounts. In fact Protheroe is so unpopular that, when he is found murdered in the vicarage, several people confess to the crime to protect others who they assume must have done it.
When the police manage to prove that the confessors couldn't possibly have done it, it leaves them with the question of who actually has killed him. As they conduct their investigation, Miss Marple continues her gardening and listens to the village grapevine to build a picture in her mind of what could have happened.
In 'The Body in the Library,' a the body of a young woman is found in the library of a manor house in Kent. She can be traced to a sea-side hotel, and the list of suspects is endless. The police are baffled. So, who do you call in? Scotland Yard? The FBI? No. Just call Miss Marple, the elderly sleuth from St Mary Mead. She may look innocent, but her mind has plummeted the deaths of human inequity, and is as sharp as a meat cleaver!
While a tad overlong and a little slow, 'The Body in the Library' is an interesting and very worthwhile adaptation, not to mention more faithful. It is lovingly photographed, with the photography, costumes and scenery as always beautiful, and the music is lovely. The story rarely loses interest, the direction is attentive and the script is sophisticated and thoughtful.
In the third episode, 'The Moving Finger,' the mystery this time is about a series of poisoned pen letters being distributed in a small town. This time Miss Marple is brought on board as she is the relation of the local vicar - and she hears of a mystery accordingly, of course.
This original adaptation is divided into two fifty minute episodes. Use of shadows continues to be used in this film: see Megan's discovery in part two and the closing ten minutes of the same part. I like the parts where the action cuts from the vicarage to the Symmington's house where Dr. Griffith is examining the body of Mrs. Symmington. The camera moves away from Mrs. Symmington to reveal that we are not looking at her body, but the reflection of her corpse in the mirror.
In the last of the episodes, 'A Murder is Announced,' quite literally, a murder is announced in the local paper, the Chipping Cleghorne Gazette, which sends several curious people to Little Paddocks cottage to see if it is true. Indeed, when the lights go out that evening, a man enters and a gunshot sound alarms the gathering, only to find that the intruder himself is the murder victim and a Miss Blacklock has a flesh wound which makes her look like the intended victim.
The grainy, nostalgic feel seems particularly appropriate here and Hickson is given a superb supporting cast. Almost all are brilliant but special mention must go to Ursula Howells who brings the hugely complex Miss Blacklock to brilliant life. Simon Shephard and Samantha Bond are very effective as the supposed siblings, Joan Sims and Paola Dionisotti make a sympathetic Hinch and Murgatroyd and Sylvia Syms a sharp tongued Mrs Easterbrook. There's also a delightful cameo from Joyce Castle as the frail, gentle Mrs Goedler.
These are all Widescreen Presentations (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and it comes with the Special Feature, A Very British Murder, Part One: The New Taste for Blood which examines the British fascination with Murder!