'Miss Marple: Volume Two'
(Joan Hickson, Jean Simmons, Peter Davison, Claire Bloom, et al / 3-Disc DVD / NR / 2015 / BBC America)
Overview: BBC Home Entertainment has lovingly restored the iconic Miss Marple from the original film elements in HD to great acclaim. The Second volume is now upon us and contains four more classic English murder mysteries. Gather your wits and join best-selling author Agatha Christie's popular sleuth Miss Jane Marple as she tracks down the killers - one small step at a time.
DVD 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 as BBC Home Entertainment have already released the first volume of this series, these second volume episodes simply mean that there is, once again, no better time to catch up with the old dame!
In the first of the mysteries, 'They Do It with Mirrors,' Ms. Marple gets invited by an old friend Ruth van Rydock (Faith Brook) who is concerned about her sister, Carrie-Louise Serrocold (Jean Simmons). Jane as a solver of murder mysteries has a reputation which is why Brook seeks her out. And as Serrocold is also a friend of Ms. Marple she's only happy to help.
It's only too true, but the attempts at homicide toward Serrocold come later. While the lights are out, another guest is murdered, one who had something to tell Serrocold, but never got to do it. Between Serrocold and Rydock they've got quite an assortment of relations and Serrocold's husband Lewis Serrocold (Joss Ackland) has turned the estate into some kind of experimental school for young juvenile offenders in post World War II Great Britain. So you've got some lovely delinquents having a run of the place as well. The suspect is pretty obvious in the fact that he's giving all kinds of disinformation to the police. But how he did it is the real mystery here. And there is an accomplice who has a key role.
In 'The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side,' the village is all of a buzz at the news that the Hall has been bought by American film star Marina Gregg (Claire Bloom) and her husband Jason Rudd (Barry Newman). When Gregg throws a garden party of the locals it ends badly whenever a local woman from the St John's suddenly falls ill and dies. The autopsy finds that she has been poisoned and that it most likely came from a drink – a drink intended for Marina Gregg.
With such a high profile murder on his hands, Superintendent Slack calls for help in the form of DI Craddock (John Castle), who also happens to be the nephew of one Miss Marple. With her insightful mind and his detective work the future is bright but the ongoing threats against Gregg shows that time is not on their side. The addition of comedy to the character of Miss Marple is welcome, as is the way she is a bit edgy and rude at times (well, by comparison anyway). Hickson takes to this well – playing off her housekeeper well and having a frustration that I hadn't seen before. Castle works well as her nephew and leads the investigation well as a sort of sidekick to her.
In the third episode, '4.50 from Paddington,' which was also the first Agatha Christie Miss Marple story to be adapted for Margaret Rutherford in Murder She Said, we see that Mrs McGillicuddy (Mona Bruceis) on her way to see her friend Miss Marple when she looks out of the train window and sees, in an adjacent train, a woman being strangled by a man. Disturbed and doubted by the police she asks Miss Marple to look into it. With nothing but mockery from Detective Inspector Slack (David Horovitch) , the pair try to pinpoint the location of the murder and thus the possible places where the body would be dumped. The most likely would be the ample grounds of the Crackenthorpe estate, but they can't go wandering around that looking for a body. So instead Marple turns to her niece Lucy Eyelesbarrow (Jill Meagerfor) help – getting her to take a job within the grounds to allow her to look around. And so, yes, you would be correct in assuming that in this episode Ms. Marple does indeed take rather a back seat in the mystery, handing over a lot of the spadework to the efficient Eylesbarrow. But that's ok, the ol' gal has to rest at some point, doesn't she?
In the fourth, and final mystery, 'A Pocketful of Rye,' Ms. Marple is alerted to goings on at Yew Tree Lodge by an ex maid, Gladys (Annette Badland), but by the time she gets there, there have been three murders already - including Gladys herself! The nursery rhyme of the title is largely irrelevant but the story is well plotted and the conclusion satisfying. I don't feel enough is made of the plight of the pathetic Gladys - the book does this so much more effectively and you really end up hating the murderer as a result but apart from that it's pretty good.
The cast here is generally excellent. Tom Wilkinson (Detective Inspector Neele) is one of the better accompanying detectives and there are good turns from Stacy Dorning (Adele Fortescue) as the airhead second wife, Rachel Bell (Jennifer Fortescue) as the childlike sister and Peter Davison as the charming Lance Fortescue. Miss Marple finds a kindred spirit in the formidable Miss Henderson of Fabia Drake. My favorite though is Selina Cadell's Mary Dove - exactly as I pictured her in the book! A satisfying mystery, for sure, and one that makes you hope that BBC Home Entertainment can hurry up and get the remastered HD versions of the third volumes onto the shelves sooner rather than later. These are all Widescreen Presentations (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and it comes with the Special Feature, A Very British Murder, Part Two: Detection Most Ingenious, which is the second installment of a three-part series documenting the British national obsession with murder mysteries!