The ground has shifted since we last canvassed the many iterations of Agatha Christie’s classic MISS MARPLE Whodunnits.* Top recommendation remains with the redoubtable Joan Hickson, whose Marple has little in common with the dithering, twinkling, dotty old dears who usually take her on. Instead, a wise old bird who expects evil to show, neither shocked nor exactly displeased to find her view on the base nature of humankind confirmed. Yet, as her calm, Buddha-like stillness & powers of concentration materialize at one crime scene after another (‘Will that woman ever be gone?’), she grows unsettlingly more hilarious with each encounter. Far, far funnier than Miss Marples who try to be funny. Hickson isn’t merely the best of all Marples, she’s the only Marple. So, what’s shifted? Presentation. What had been a qualified RECOMMENDATION due to the subfusc/low-grade technical qualities of the old DVDs gets bumped up to Wholehearted Recommendation with the entire series looking fresh as new paint after a huge visual upgrade in the latest BBC restoration. (Check our poster for the cover you want to look for.) VOLUME One is fairly typical of the lot with two excellent episodes (#1 & 4); one pretty good (#3); and a clunker (#2, oddly the only film in the series from a ‘name’ director). As a whole, they remain modest little murder puzzles, but an easily acquired delight, not without their intriguing dark side.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: They really took a lot of care on these films. Note how that lovely, uplifting swell of music that leads back into the main Miss Marple theme at the end of each section is dropped in Part Two of A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED when death calls with unexpected emotional depth right at intermission. A nice touch.