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Miss MarpleYour own DVD set of Marple, Series 4 is available for shipping today! Agatha Christie’s spinster sleuth is brilliantly played by Julia McKenzie in this delightful mystery series. Julia as Miss Marple dons the traditional tweeds as if they were made for her, and the casts for all four episodes are stellar: Matthew MacFadyen, Rupert Graves, Wendy Richard, Hattie Morahan, Sylvia Simms, Anna Chancellor, Jemma Redgrave, Russell Tovey, Amanda Root, Elliot Cowan, Joan Collins, and Nigel Terry are among the suspects and victims. This set of finely produced DVDs, issued by Acorn Media, includes the following episodes:

Disc 1 A POCKET FULL OF RYE

Who poisoned wealthy businessman Rex Fortescue? Miss Marple barely has time to ponder this question before her former maid Gladys turns up strangled on the Fortescue estate, a clothes peg stuck on her nose. The murders seem to bear an uncanny resemblance to a child’s nursery rhyme. Miss Marple and Inspector Neele uncover clues from the dead man’s shadowy past that may reveal a method to the madness. Go to the PBS page to read about this episode.

Disc 2 MURDER IS EASY

Murder is easy, as long as nobody thinks it’s murder. So says elderly Miss Pinkerton to Miss Marple during a chance encounter on a train. Soon Miss Pinkerton herself dies, and Miss Marple believes that it was no accident. Her curiosity piqued, she travels to the peaceful village of Wychwood-under-Ashe to investigate. Charming her way into village life, she befriends a former policeman and discovers a shocking secret—one worth killing for.  Read the recap on Austenprose

Disc 3 THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS

Miss Marple’s old friend Carrie-Louise has always had a soft heart for charitable causes. This time it’s juvenile criminals, lodged in a reformatory on the estate she shares with her husband. But her sister, Ruth van Rydock, is worried about her and asks Miss Marple to pay a visit. With her sharp eyes and unerring sleuthing skills, Miss Marple quickly assesses the situation—but not in time to prevent a murder. Can she save her friend from becoming the next victim? Read the synopsis and about the cast in this PBS link.

Disc 4 WHY DIDN’T THEY ASK EVANS?

A dying man’s last words turn young Bobby Attfield into an amateur detective. With the help of two assistants, beautiful socialite Frankie Derwent and family friend Jane Marple, he sets out to solve the riddle they pose. When someone tries to kill Bobby, it only strengthens his resolve. A trail of clues leads the unlikely trio to Castle Savage and its strange inhabitants, the discovery of yet another murder, and the lingering question: why didn’t they ask Evans? Read our review in this link.

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synopsis_askevans_01Gentle readers, Afficionados of Agatha Christie mysteries will have one more chance to see an original Miss Marple mystery on Masterpiece Mystery! this Sunday. My good friend Hillary Major has reviewed the last episode. What did she think? She thought it was well worth her while, as did I. See this episode on Sunday, July 26th, at your local PBS television station. The series airs 9 pm local time.

When vicar’s son Bobby Jones (Sean Biggerstaff) discovers a dying man abandoned on a Welsh cliffside, he is determined to elucidate the man’s cryptic final words: “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” Fortunately, Bobby has help — from childhood friend (and romantic interest), the impetuous Lady Frances “Frankie” Derwent (played by Georgia Moffett), and from an old friend of the family, just arrived in town for a visit.

Miss Marple doesn’t appear in Agatha Christie’s mystery novel Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (first published in the U.S. as The Boomerang Clue), but the good-humoured tension between the mild-mannered detective and the eager young pair of would-be gumshoes makes the opening of this Masterpiece Theatre episode sparkle. While critics could argue, with some merit, that Miss Marple’s presence is extraneous to the plot and that, in fact, the stakes would be higher if her protégés were forced to discover the truth on their own, it is hard to complain when Julia McKenzie is on the screen. Miss Marple may appear to be absorbed in her knitting, but McKenzie’s bright eyes are keenly tracking Bobby and Frankie at they plot to uncover the criminal, and soon Miss Marple is an acknowledged co-conspirator. Viewers of many ages will feel a bit smug when Miss Marple proves, time and again throughout the episode, that older is wiser when it comes to solving mysteries.

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The search for the murderer sends Bobby, Frankie, and Miss Marple “undercover” to the Savage family estate, where suspects abound — the recently widowed and seemingly out-of-touch matriarch Sylvia Savage; the suspiciously ubiquitous psychiatrist; Mr. Evans, former business associate of the deceased and, like most orchid-lovers in fiction, just a bit creepy; not to mention the truly creepy Thomas Savage, a teenager who spends most of his time with his pet snake. Then there are the psychiatrist’s beautiful but disturbed wife and the handsome young piano teacher, who between them manage to complicate Bobby and Frankie’s blooming courtship.

Immune to such distractions, it is Miss Marple who begins to suspect that the heart of the matter may lie in the Savage family’s past, in time spent in China between the world wars. Christie has cleverly used the personal drama to illustrate a larger, societal guilt surrounding Britain’s post-WWII relationship with China. As one of her characters puts it in Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, when Britain withdrew their presence they “practically gave it to the Japanese.” While this political issue creates an underlying frisson in the episode, the focus really is on individual crimes and their consequences, as the Savage history is revealed.

Although a few of the plot point may stretch the viewer’s credulity (like the chance meeting of Bobby and Frankie at the beginning of the episode or Bobby’s semi-successful impersonation of a chauffeur), overall, the mystery is well-structured and makes for an action-filled hour-and-a-half. With eye-catching cinematography, strong acting, and a complicated knot to unravel, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? will be appreciated by many a Sunday-evening armchair sleuth.

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David Suchet is the quintessential Poirot

David Suchet is the quintessential Poirot

Alas the two Poirot episodes with David Suchet on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery! have been aired and are no longer available for online viewing on PBS’s website. The good news is that the DVD set is for sale on July 7th. Beautifully packaged by Acorn Media, this fabulous boxed set offers three DVDs:

1. Cat Among the Pigeons

As Meadowbank School for Girls begins its term, a new student causes the headmistress, Miss Bullstrode (Harriet Walter, Atonement), unease. Princess Shaista is a political refugee hiding from revolutionaries in her native land. Fortunately, when the bodies start turning up, Poirot is on hand. Read my short review of the episode on this blog.

2. Mrs. McGinty’s Dead

With help from mystery novelist and old friend Ariadne Oliver (Zoe Wannamaker), Poirot tries to save a man from hanging for a murder he might not have committed. As Poirot tracks down the real killer, he finds his own life at risk. Read my short review of the episode on this blog.

3. Super Sleuths: Poirot – Exclusive bonus

This 47 minute DVD features inteviews with stars Dvid Suchet, Philip Jackson (Chife Inspector Japp), Hugh Fraser (Captain Hasings), and Puline Moran (Miss Lemon). Also interviewed are producer Brian Eastman, director Ed Bennett, and writer Anthony Horowitz (Foly’s War).

Suggested price of the 3-Vol Boxed set is $49.99 at Acorn Media but it is on sale at Amazon.com for $36.99. Acorn media distributes distinctive home video releases to the North American market with a focus on British television.

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The Cat Among the Pigeons, the new Hercule Poirot mystery on PBS’s Mystery was as satisfying an Agatha Cristie mystery as I’ve seen in a long time. If you missed this episode on June 21, PBS will make it availabe for online viewing between June 22 and July 5, 2009.

Meadowbank, the most expensive girl's school in England

Meadowbank, the most expensive girl's school in England

Hercule Poirot and Inspector Kelsey

Hercule Poirot and Inspector Kelsey

Written in 1959, this novel translates very well into a t.v. special. Most rewarding are the number of familiar British actors who have portrayed characters in Jane Austen film adaptations. This episode stars Harriet Walter as Miss Bullstrode, head mistress of Meadowbank Girl’s School. She wishes to retire, but before she does, she invites Mr. Poirot to study the teachers in her school to make certain that she has read their characters correctly, for one of them will be appointed the new head mistress. Before Mr. Poirot can advise her, the nasty gym teacher, Miss Springer (Elizabeth Berrington), is killed in a gruesome manner – impaled by a javelin through the heart. (Shades of the priest being killed in the originalThe Omen.) The remaining staff swiftly become murder suspects, as Poirot works with Inspector Kelsey (Anton Lesser, who recently played Mr. Merdle in Little Dorrit) to uncover the murderer. The mystery deepens as another body is found, the princess of Ramat is kidnapped and her deceased father’s priceless rubys go missing. Needless to say, the school is in trouble, with parents removing their daughters as the bodies pile up.

Claire Skinner and Natasha Little

Claire Skinner and Natasha Little

Miss Springer, Victim

Miss Springer, Victim

David Suchet is remarkable as the Belgian detective, Inspector Poirot. Poirot’s stories are among my least favorite of the Agatha Christie mysteries, but Suchet is so superb in the role that I cannot wait to see the next episode. Sharp-eyed movie buffs will note that both Harriet Walter and Claire Skinner, who plays Miss Rich, a teacher with a past, played Fanny Dashwood, the former in the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, and the

Adam, the gardener, or is he?

Adam, the gardener, or is he?

latter in last year’s version of Sense & Sensibility. Both performances were excellent, though I was struck by how soft Ms. Skinner looks in this part as compared to her turn as the hard hearted Fanny. Natasha Little, Becky Sharp in 1998’s Vanity Fair, plays an enigmatic character and love interest to the handsome Adam, (Adam Croasdell), a man who is out of place as a lowly gardener. “There’s a cat among the pigeons,” the French teacher Mlle Blanche (Amanda Raison) declares to Mr. Poirot before things go bump in the night again.

Harriet Walter as Miss Bullstrode

Harriet Walter as Miss Bullstrode

PBS will be showing Six by Agatha from June 21 through July 26th. The next episode to air is Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, another Poirot tale. I will most definitely be glued in front of my t.v. watching Mystery! again.

Harriet Walter & Claire Skinner in Poirot (L) & as Fanny Dashwood in Sense & Sensibility (R)

Harriet Walter & Claire Skinner in Poirot (L) & as Fanny Dashwood in Sense & Sensibility (R)

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