Cult Character: Miss Marple

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One of my favourite moments is whenever I find out there is going to be a new Marple on TV. Yes, even more exciting than a new Poirot (I realise this will scandalise some). Julia McKenzie is the most recent actress to play the sharp-witted sleuth, and to my mind the best. Of course the fantastic sets, costumes, and casts of famous names in each new episode certainly don’t hurt either.

I think part of the reason I have come around to enjoying Marple over Poirot is that she gives me something to aspire to. An old lady who is clever, determined, confident, kind, and wise is not the sort of thing you see very often on TV or in films, and is much more of a role model than most of the junk we are fed. Plus she wears hats and has loads of nice friends she is always going to visit and occasionally has a sherry or two or a nice afternoon tea with crumpets. I can’t really think of a better icon for aging awesomely.

This got me to thinking about the different actresses who have played Miss Marple over the years, and I thought I’d do a short round-up, starting with Julia McKenzie.

Julia McKenzie has been one of my favourite Marples. She seems soft and kind at first, and indeed she is, but this works very much in her favour when digging information out of reluctant suspects. Often Marple can come across as a hard-minded busybody, but there is a strong streak of sympathy in McKenzie’s Marple which balances the character.

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Geraldine McEwan was the previous Marple, and though she was very good indeed, her hats annoyed me. They seemed much too fussy for such a sensible lady. And really, I just can’t stand bad hats. She did, however, have a great razor-sharp stare and ability to deliver a good put-down, as well as the requisite twinkle in her eye.

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Joan Hickson was the Marple of the 80s, and many people still consider her the best. She certainly has the best bird-like stare. For me, she has a little too much judgement in her character, however this is probably closer to the original character in the novels.

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Margaret Rutherford played Miss Marple in films throughout the 60s. I don’t really like her portrayal of Marple to be honest, as it is played too much for laughs, and there is too much slapstick, not enough cleverness. Miss Marple is not a buffoon.

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Other actresses have played Marple in one-off movies and TV shows. Angela Lansbury starred in ‘The Mirror Crack’d’ in 1980, and it was after this she went on to play the Marple-ish character Jessica Fletcher in ‘Murder, She Wrote’.

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Inge Langen was Miss Marple in a West German TV adaptation of ‘The Murder at the Vicarage’

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American actress Helen Hayes portrayed Miss Marple in two US TV movies.

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Gracie Fields made the first ever screen appearance of Miss Marple, in a 1956 version of ‘A Murder Is Announced’.

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Ita Ever starred in a Russian version of ‘A Pocket Full of Rye’

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Most unusual of all, in 2011 Disney announced Jennifer Garner would play Miss Marple in a new movie, which would be set in a little American town. What the heck? What the heck on every level? Nothing more seemed to come of this, so they must have scrapped it. If this hare-brained idea ever came up again I’d be first on the protesting picket line outside Disney offices (note: who am I kidding. I’d be at home drinking a cup of tea and tutting. It is the Marple way).

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