Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Joan Hickson was the greatest Miss Marple

I have said it before and I am going to say it again here: Joan Hickson was the greatest Miss Marple.

And if you won't take my word for it, listen to Natalie Haynes writing on a Guardian blog a couple of years ago:
Hickson captured perfectly the fluffy ruthlessness of Jane Marple: she has wispy white hair like the mohair she's so often knitting with her softly clicking pins; the slight thickening of the voice when she's thinking; the real sense that she is, as Sir Henry Clithering describes her, "one of the most formidable criminologists in England. There she sits, an elderly spinster, sweet, placid, so you'd think. Yet her mind has plumbed the depths of human iniquity, and taken it all in the day's work". 
Hickson's Marple is neither Rutherford's buffoon nor McEwan's camp schoolmarm: she is a frail elderly woman who is simply unshockable and fearless. Jason Rafiel (Donald Pleasence) has her number: "She also has a mind like a bacon slicer." He is the one who nicknames her Nemesis, the goddess of retribution, in A Caribbean Mystery. And it is the measure of a good policeman that he can recognise her brilliance in spite of her old-lady mannerisms: Chief Inspector Fred Davy (the much-missed George Baker in At Bertram's Hotel) gets her immediately, whereas poor Chief Inspector Slack (David Horovitch in The Body in the Library) is a less good judge of character. 
Miss Marple's great gift is to have seen every facet of human behaviour in her village, St Mary Mead. Every new person, situation and crime is filtered through this knowledge: she is never surprised by anything. "Apparently, he's a … communist," whispers the vicar's wife of Edmund Swettenham in A Murder is Announced. "Well, yes," replies Miss Marple, thoughtfully. "Then he must be very lonely in Chipping Cleghorn."
Haynes also reminds us that the first episode of The Body in the Library (Hickson's first Miss Marple) was screened on Boxing Day, two days after the the final episode of The Box of Delights was shown.

They really don't make Christmas television like that any more.

3 comments:

Raging Reg said...

Why they even bothered remaking them, when the sheer talent of Hickson's Marple are still shown on Drama and Alibi is beyond belief. She was Marple, she owned that role. Her very interpretation was as Donald Pleasence as Mr Rafiel. said (I think almost correctly) "She has a mind like a meat slicer"...
You could see her working through the plot as if it were real. that is the mark of a great actress.

Paul Murray said...

The recent ITV versions have been excruciating - dropping Miss Marple into stories in which she doesn't feature - the Tommy and Tuppence novel "By the Pricking of my Thumbs" - and adding salacious (mostly lesbian) frippery that Christie either didn't mention or left very vague (with the exception of "A Murder is Announced" where it is fairly strongly indicated).

I'd agree that Joan Hickson gives a more accurate rendering of Christie's description of Miss Marple than any of the others. Curiously, Hickson featured in one of the Margaret Rutherford adaptations - "Murder She Said" , a fairly entertaining adaptation of "4.50 from Paddington".

Phil Beesley said...

Agatha Christie wrote wooden characters. For those playing Marple, Poirot or a significant supporting role, this could be viewed as a problem or an opportunity. I think all involved in TV productions deserve credit for the gentle humour introduced to the programmes.

Thanks to ITV3, I have been discovering the quality of ITV's drama. It certainly wasn't cheap to make and the production teams seem to have spent money wisely. Maybe the playing is not as brilliant as Joan Hickson's portrayal, but the filming and sets are glorious.

There is a delicious running joke that Marple, a Golden Age cosy detective, curled up in bed to read hard boiled American fiction. Smart alec observation: when Marple read Raymond Chandler's _The Simple of Art of Murder_, the book was the US edition with a different cover from the one that sits on my shelves.