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Agatha Christie's Marple, Series 4

4.3 out of 5 stars 345 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The marvelous Julia McKenzie (Cranford, Notes on a Scandal) assumes the Marple mantle in four gripping new adaptations of Christie novels premiering on PBS this summer. Picturesque English scenery, grand estates, witty scripts, and lavish post-WWII period detail provide the perfect frame for frighteningly fun mysteries (Entertainment Weekly). The fantastic supporting casts include Matthew Macfadyen (Pride & Prejudice), Jemma Redgrave (Bramwell), Anna Chancellor (Four Weddings and a Funeral), Rupert Graves (The Forsyte Saga), Helen Baxendale (Friends), and Joan Collins (Dynasty).


For many Agatha Christie murder-mystery fans, Marple: Series 4 may feel odd starring yet another new Jane Marple, Julia MacKenzie (Cranford). Moreover, this series does apparently take liberties with screen adaptation; two of its four full-length episodes, "Murder Is Easy" and "Why Didn't They Ask Evans?" are not even among the twelve Christie novels Marple appears in. Yet while Joan Hickson, Margaret Rutherford, Geraldine McEwan, and ultimately many more have played this classic sleuth in previous tellings of this character's plight, and while myriad shows, such as Murder She Wrote have modeled themselves after the illustrious lady detective Jane, the success of this specific program lies in the retelling of Christie's wonderfully complex tales of suspense. Series 4 contains stories woven around death by poison.

Julia MacKenzie's Jane Marple is refreshingly self-assured in her nosiness, and as always, opportunistically capitalizes on how "people love talking to old ladies." While the viewer does catch Marple, on occasion, knitting or enjoying tea, for the most part she's hard at work afield, in her proper tweed suits. Because of this, each episode moves quickly. The plots are so thick that one can hardly keep track of what Marple is learning as she makes discoveries. In episode one, "A Pocket full of Rye," Rex Fortescue, a president of an investment firm, dies with a strange "cereal" in his pocket. Inspector Neele (Matthew MacFadyen) sets out to Yewtree Lodge, the family estate, where he suspects the poisonous Yew seeds came from. Marple gets in on the action, unearthing family secrets about Fortescue's troubled children, Percyval (Ben Miles), Elaine (Hattie Morahan), and Lancelot (Rupert Graves), who has been living in Africa. Which kid did it, one often asks in this series? In most episodes, clues given by housekeepers and chambermaids--in this case, Gladys (Rose Heiney)--help solve the case.

Similarly complicated episodes follow, each involving their own family or village. In "Murder Is Easy," Marple meets by train a kind-hearted Samaritan, Lavinia Pinkerton (Sylvia Syms), on her way to Scotland Yard to reveal crimes that have been occurring in her town. When Marple takes the next train to Lavinia's village to pay respects at her funeral, she teams up with detective Luke Fitzwilliam (Benedict Cumberhatch), to discover that practically everyone in town has a motive for the multiple killings taking place. "They Do It with Mirrors," set at Stoneygates estate, concerns the philanthropic Carrie Louise (Penelope Wilton), who is being slowly poisoned in her own home. We have no idea whether it is her husband, Lewis Serrocold (Brian Cox), daughters Gina (Emma Griffiths Malin) and Mildred (Sarah Smart), or sister Ruth (Joan Collins), who is attempting her murder until the very end. "Why Didn't They Ask Evans?" starring Bobby Attfield (Sean Biggerstaff) and his girlfriend, Frankie Derwent (Georgia Moffett), who take interest in a dying man they find on a cliff, is so incredibly plot-thick that one hangs onto each clue, swayed multiple times before making a real discovery. Indeed, not until the last five minutes of each episode does one grasp what has just happened. While this could be frustrating for those trying to beat Marple's sleuthing, it does establish an almost mystical respect for her ability to figure out what's going on. --Trinie Dalton

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Julia McKenzie
  • Format: Color, NTSC, Widescreen, Box set
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 4
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Acorn Media
  • DVD Release Date: August 4, 2009
  • Run Time: 93 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (345 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,207 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Agatha Christie's Marple, Series 4" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By mirasreviews HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 30, 2009
Format: DVD
Series 4 of the controversial "Marple" series from Granada/ITV brings us a new Miss Marple, reconceived from the previous seasons, now played by Julia McKenzie. McKenzie's Marple is not as frilly as the classic Joan Hickson or as bohemian as Geraldine McEwan's portrayal. This is a more intellectual, no-nonsense Marple. She wears 3 suits, unadorned and straightforward. And I only saw her knit once. Miss Marple seems less a little old lady and more someone's all-knowing aunt or governess, always ready with whatever is needed and possessed of a strong sense of justice. These episodes avoid the stylization that some previous seasons embraced. Like the new Miss Marple, Series 4 is forthright and conventional in its scripts and production design.

"Marple" has had no qualms about departing from Agatha Christie's books: rewriting action, characters, even the motives and identity of the culprits, and appropriating other of Christie's novels for the spinster detective. Continuing in that tradition, "Murder is Easy" and "Why Didn't They Ask Evans?", both non-Marple books, have inspired episodes this season. Sometimes rewrites seem only to make the films more salacious, and, although there was never a premium on plausibility or coherence in Christie's novels, the rewrites have tended not to improve matters, often creating solutions that are quite ridiculous. Marple purists will not like that. But I have noticed that the character writing gains more depth the further it gets from its source.

Ultimately, it's difficult to say how Miss Marple should be adapted for a modern audience. Purists may prefer Joan Hickson's more faithful portrayal from the 1980s. Others, like myself, find Hickson's Marple dreadfully dull but lament this series' tendency to careen full throttle into burlesque.
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Format: DVD
I am not an Agatha Christie purist and have loved almost all previous incarnations of Miss Marple -- from Margaret Rutherford through to Joan Hickson and Geraldine McEwan. I'm sure Julia McKenzie would be an equally acceptable Marple but I could not stand to watch this series because of the film techniques employed.

Rather than tell a straight forward story, the scenes are choppily edited into fast-video-flash bits, with weird angles and ultra closeups. The sequence is disjointed and hard to follow. For instance, in one scene in "Murder is Easy", Miss Marple is at a post-funeral gathering with a large group of other people (all suspects at this stage, of course). Two second snippet of conversation .... close up of Marple's eyes looking around ... two seconds of another out-of-context conversation... another close up of Marple's eyes ... etc etc etc. I felt like screaming "Okay, we get it... she's listening!"

In the first ten minutes of that episode, a dozen or so different characters are introduced, but so rapidly and with so little context that I am soon bewildered and confused. In addition, they all seem so unpleasant that I didn't really care who was killed or who did the killing!

Perhaps younger viewers, weaned on fast cut editing, enjoy this type of filming more but for those who prefer more leisurely paced and cohesive story telling, this jagged camera work is distracting at best and intrusive at worst.

I noticed the same problem with the new episodes of Poirot. The director and cinematographer obviously had a grand time showing off their techniques, but the stories suffered.

What I don't understand is why these techniques, more suited to fast paced thrillers or action yarns, are used for classic mysteries which depend on character development and plot. Are film makers so afraid we'll lose interest if the camera stands in place for a full minute?
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Pixieish Geraldine McKewan is gone and in her place we have bland Julia Mckenzie. I have a feeling Mckenzie was cast as Miss Marple based on her delightful work in "Cranford," but as Miss Marple she is tentative and dull. Sure, McKewan was nothing like the actual Miss Marple created by Christie, but Mckenzie is simply boring. Joan Hickson remains the perfect Miss Marple, though the eighties/nineties films she starred in seem a bit slow and stodgy by today's standards. Yet Hickson is the only one who comes off believably as a genteel lady of the Victorian/Edwardian era. Younger people seem to find Hickson's Marple too forbidding and severe, but that formality is what was once known as being ladylike and having breeding. Underneath Miss Marple's reserve, however, was kindness, humor, and lively curiosity, and Hickson perfectly captures all this.

As for the films themselves, they range from adaptations of books where Miss Marple never appeared, which involves tampering with plots to the point of incomprehensibility (Why Didn't They Ask Evans?), to those where significant, tarted-up alterations are made, false to the creative spirit of the author (Murder Is Easy), to fairly faithful versions, as far as plot is concerned, that are treated in an excruciatingly arch, campy manner, with cartoon-like filming techniques (A Pocket Full of Rye). There is no way that Christie would have approved of any of this nonsense, whatever her grandson may say.

It's all a shame, because the Hickson Marples were not perfect. I would have loved to have seen modern, faithful versions of the books, even if they couldn't find as good a Miss Marple as the late Ms. Hickson. Many of the Suchet Poirots are still excellent, but perhaps Suchet has some of the artistic integrity quite evidently lacking in the people behind the modern Marple series.
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