Tuesday, February 14, 2006

More on Miss Marple

I have been trying to work out why I believe Joan Hickson was a much better Miss Marple than Geraldine McEwan.

In part it is the two performances. McEwan is visibly acting the whole time - all those little smiles and grimaces - whereas Hickson hardly seemed to be acting at all. Outwardly she was all stillness, yet she managed to convey the underlying intelligence and the core of moral steel which brought murderers to justice.

And in part it is the people around them. With some of them now over 20 years old, the Hickson Miss Marples are beginning to look like a late manifestation of the mid-century Britain in which they were set. Such figures as Joan Greenwood and George Baker appear in the cast list; one of the films was even directed by Roy Boulting.

McEwan, by contrast, has to put up with the company of people like Dawn French and Harry Enfield. It's a prejudice of mine, but was there ever a more self-regarding and overrated generation than that which came to prominence in the 1980s? And even if you like these figures, there profile is such that they are always bigger than the characters they play.

I am not a great Agatha Christie fan. Her plots, with their fondness for impersonation of one character by another, are too convoluted. I gather that the Hickson films took some liberties with those plots, and the current series is taking more.

That does not worry me, as I tend to go along with these long crime and detection films for the ride rather than in any serious attempt to solve the mystery. There is nothing like a Morse or a Midsomer Murder to make you forget your troubles, and fidelity to the original novel is not that important as long as it is a pleasant ride.

So my feeling is that Joan Hickson's was an impeccable performance set off by a frequently immaculate supporting cast and sensetive direction. And Geraldine McEwan's is a lesser performance which is often hindered by the setting in which it has been placed.

5 comments:

Stephen Glenn said...

Ah but what about Margaret Rutherford. I bought my Mum a box set of her performances as the indominable lady for Christmas now there was a whole different typr of Miss Marple to Hickson or McEwan.

Will said...

The McEwan ones feel as if a cast of guest stars has been assembled and then roles found for them, rather than seeking the best person for the role.

The Moving Finger was a little better, but mainly because McEwan wasn't in it much.

mike holmans said...

You are aware, surely, Jonathan, that Agatha Christie saw Joan Hickson on stage in the Fifties and told her that when she got older, she would be the ideal Miss Marple.

So McEwan isn't Agatha Christie's Marple at all, but Joan Hickson most definitely was.

The Hickson ones are exactly what the Beeb has always been brilliant at: perfectly realised period pieces.

The problem with the McEwan ones is that we already know the story and only notice the cameos by famous actors and little touches here and there, and compare her to Hickson.

Actually, in terms of story-telling, script-writing, camerawork and so on, the new ones are better television than the Hickson ones, but we tend to reject them because they aren't the familiar period pieces we expect.

Angus J Huck said...

If I remember rightly, Joan Hickson was over 90 when she did the "Miss Marple" productions, which may be one of the reasons I found her so convincing.

And the scripts were faithful to the books - none of the silly innuendos about adultery and homosexuality, both of which were taboo subjects in Christie's day.

Christie's working-class characters are completely one-dimensional and cannot be acted without making the audience cringe (John Mortimer's writing suffers from exactly the same lack of connection with ordinary people).

Her upper-middle-class folk do convince, in my opinion, provided the setting is right. They look outlandish to us 50 years on, but they existed, and that's what they were like. (My parents spent a weekend in a guesthouse in Alfriston in the 1950s and met a whole bunch of people straight out of a Christie book.)

Anonymous said...

Margaret Rutherford is sadly ignored in his post.