Posts Tagged ‘Julia McKenzie’

The latest Miss Marple Mystery on PBS Mystery!, The Blue Geranium, was originally an Agatha Christie short story. While I did not find this mystery quite as satisfying to watch as The Secret of the Chimneys, I found my viewing time well spent. The solution leads to a typical old-fashioned Agatha Christie twist, with Miss Marple racing against time to save an innocent man. Once again the British cast, led by Julia McKenzie, Toby Stephens, and Claudie Blakley is sterling. To see where the clues were dropped, you can watch the 90-minute presentation online from June 28 through July 11!

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I should have guessed the ending of The Secret of the Chimneys, the latest Miss Marple episode on PBS on Sunday, June 20, but I so enjoyed going along for the ride that I deliberately missed the cues until the very end.  The mysterious County Ludwig Von Stainach wishes to purchase The Chimneys, a house that has seen better days. Assembled at the mansion are a motley sort, even for a Miss Marple mystery. Once again things go bump in the night and someone is murdered.

Enter Finch, Chief Inspector from Scotland Yard. Played by the divine Stephen Dillane, who portrayed Schmidt in God on Trial and Thomas Jefferson in John Adams. Finch is a particularly refreshing official, for he respects Miss Marple’s detective skills and consults her as they both, well, she solves the mystery.

I won’t spoil the plot for you other than to say that this was one of the more satisfying Miss Marple mysteries that I have watched. If you missed the episode, or would like to see it again, PBS will show it online from June 21 to July 4th.

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Miss Marple (Julia McKenzie) and Dolly Bantry(Joanna Lumley)

Last Sunday, Miss Marple made a grand fifth season entrance for PBS Masterpiece Mystery! with its latest episode, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. If you missed the episode, it is available online at this link until June 6th.

Marina (Lindsay Duncan) stares off into space with a look of doom

In this elegant mystery, based on a tragic event in actress Gene Tierney’s life, film star Marina Gregg (Lindsay Duncan) takes up residence at Gossington Hall with her fifth husband, young film director Jason Rudd (Nigel Harman). During a charity garden party, a guest named Heather Badcock (Caroline Quinton) drinks a poisoned cocktail and survives the experience by a mere few seconds. Laid up with a sore ankle, Miss Marple learns from her friend Dolly Bantry (played by the incomparable Joanna Lumley) that Marina was caught staring into space with a look of doom on her face just before poor Heather cocked up her toes.

Marina and husband #5, director Jason Rudd (Nigel Harman)

Enter Inspector Hewitt, whose list of usual suspects includes Marina’s past husbands and entourage of employees, colleagues, and hangers-on, looks for the obvious suspect. An attempt is made on Marina’s life while she is filming a movie, which confirms in Hewitt’s mind that she was the original target for murder, not Heather. Throw in a blackmailer, who is also found dead, and the plot has sufficiently thickened to leave viewers scratching their heads and relying on Miss Marple to make sense of the mayhem.

Inspector Hewitt (Hugh Bonneville, L) and sidekick take a traditional approach to solving a murder

As always, the cast of characters is superb. In addition to Ms. Lumley, Lindsay Duncan (Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Lost in Austen) and High Bonneville (Mr. Bennet in Lost in Austen and Mr. Rushworth in Mansfield Park) also make an appearance. I’ve grown quite accustomed to seeing Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple, and she fits my idea of that dowdy but sharp-eyed sleuth like a well worn glove. (As an aside, I advise that any of Miss Marple’s friends or relatives should steer clear of her, for where ever she goes, death is sure to follow!)

Why is reporter Margot Bence (Charlotte Riley) making life difficult for Marina?

The setting of a small English village and costumes of the late 1950’s, early 1960’s (the book was published in 1962) are superb. I have had the privilege to watch all three new episodes of Miss Marple this season, and while I liked this tale, it is not the best of the three. Perhaps because Mirror was based on a true story, the murder plot seemed a little loose and diffuse. The ending is enigmatic and lacks the satisfying and tidy wrap up of most of Agatha Christie’s plots. And yet I found my hour and a half well spent.

Joanna Lumley as Dolly Bantry

Well done, PBS Masterpiece Mystery! Two more original episodes will be aired (The Secret of Chimneys and The Blue Geranium), including two encore presentations (A Pocketful of Rye and Murder is Easy.) Five Miss Marples in one season! Life can’t get much better than this.

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Retired policeman Luke Fitzwilliam and Miss Marple looking for clues

Retired policeman Luke Fitzwilliam and Miss Marple looking for clues

I’ve held off reviewing this excellent series showing on PBS Masterpiece Mystery! until I got a good sense of how well Julia McKenzie fares as the observant elderly sleuth, and I find that she plays the character true to form. Julia’s Miss Marple reminds me of the smart but deferential women of my grandmother’s generation who stand on the sidelines but whose power lay in maneuvering others into action or thinking their way. In PBS’s new Miss Marple series, Julia’s mousy character can easily disappear into the woodwork as she takes on the role of keen observer. She never oversteps her boundaries with the detectives who arrive on the scene to solve a case. And what fine detectives they are! This season we have Matthew MacFadyen as Inspector Neele,  Benedict Cumberbatch as retired policeman Luke Fitzwilliam, Alex Jennings as Inspector Curry, and Warren Clarke as Commander Peters. While these men are quite capable, they lack Miss Marple’s “insider” knowledge, as she has a knack for being at the right place at the wrong time, as it were. They also lack her female intuition, which prompts her to notice those tiny details that men often miss, such as a redhead not choosing to dye her hat red.

Wendy Richard as Mrs. Crump

Wendy Richard as Mrs. Crump

If I lived in Great Britain and I saw Miss Marple heading towards my village, I’d get into my Bentley and run, for everywhere Miss Marple goes, murder follows. In Murder is Easy so many victims fell, that I wondered if the village would have to be abandoned for lack of inhabitants.

The biggest treat in watching this finely produced series is to see the familiar stable of British actors who people the lovely villages in which the plots thicken. In addition to the detectives, we get to watch Rupert Graves, Hattie Morahan, Prunella Scales, Anna Chancellor, Amanda Root, Jemma Redgrave, Russel Tovey, Joan Collins, Elliot Cowan, Maxine Peak, Nigel Terry, well, the list goes on and on. We’ve seen all these familiar faces before on BBC, ITV, and PBS productions, and so we know that the quality of the acting will be superb. And then there are the shots of the British countryside, the beautiful costumes of pre-World War II Britain, and the exquisite mansions and their interiors. A cup of tea, my pooch on my lap, and Miss Marple is all the entertainment I need to relax on a Sunday night.

Matthew MacFadyen and Julia McKenzie

Matthew MacFadyen and Julia McKenzie

joan collinsMy enjoyment of the series does not blind me to the dated quality of these Agatha Christie plots. Also, Miss Marple is a woman of her time, and seeing how she boosts the egos of the males around her and makes polite “suggestions” that lead the inspectors in the right direction makes me cringe. This is how smart women once lived and how many women still get their point across – through manipulation. The murders are often solved through coincidences that are sometimes too convenient, and the mysteries themselves are contrived, too convoluted, and in many instances, weak. Despite all the red herrings thrown my way, in two out of three instances I had solved the murder halfway through the show, but I am being picky. I still prefer a good Agatha Christie mystery over almost anything aired on the cultural wasteland that t.v. has become. For production value I give this murder series. 5 stars. For entertainment, 4 stars. For quality of mystery, 3 stars.

Watch the series online:

DVDMissed the first three episodes? You can watch two episodes online on PBS’s website at this link. The DVD, which will come out soon as well, will feature all four episodes:

  1. A Pocketful of Rye
  2. Murder is Easy
  3. They Do it With Mirrors
  4. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?

Order the Poirot Set 4 DVD’s from Acorn Media. Click here.

More About the Series

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