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Agatha Christie's Marple, Series 6
Agatha Christie's Marple has now arrived at its sixth series of production. Originally aired on the British ITV network, the series began in 2004 and is fast approaching its tenth anniversary since its creation. Series 1-3 featured Geraldine McEwan in the title role but a replacement was found in series 4 with Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple. McKenzie then continued performing the part until the 6th and final series finished in December 2013. Agatha Christie's Marple was a great success on the PBS Mystery! program. However, production rights to the works of Agatha Christie were purchased in 2014 by BBC to produce adaptations; finalizing the run of this beloved adaptation. Therefore, Series 6 marks the conclusion to the long-running Marple program. The final series contains the following mysteries: A Caribbean Mystery (aired on 6/16/2013), Greenshaw's Folly (aired on 6/23/2013), and Endless Night (which ended the entirety of the Marple run on 12/29/2013).
Julia McKenzie does an excellent job as Miss Marple. Marple is supposed to be a character brimming with intelligence and warmth who is capable of solving the mysteries even as a amateur detective, and McKenzie makes the character believable, enthralling, and fun. In realizing the character for this program, McKenzie is quite successful in portrayal and can proudly join the ranks of other performers who have had success with the Marple character. McKenzie does an excellent job of slinking herself so perfectly into the role in each of these three feature-length episodes. Even when the scripts and direction feel a little bit questionable, her performance makes for a fine contribution to the experience and is the main reason to tune in.
A Caribbean Mystery is the last mystery to be adapted as based on the original twelve novels that were written by Agatha Christie to spotlight the Miss Marple character. In this mystery, Marple stays at a island for a well-deserved vacation meant to help her relieve some of her physical stresses but she soon discovers there are murders piling up of some fellow guests. Marple takes it upon herself to solve the case, enlisting the help of an oil tycoon named Rafiel (Antony Sher) to help, and the duo find a number of things in common along the way. As the storyline unfolds, an underling story of a lost romance occurs amidst the tragedy and a love-struck pastor (who seeks out a potion from a gypsy to help him forget his one true love) has another shot at finding love again.
In Greenshaw's Folly, Marple helps a young married woman in leaving her marriage to find safe refuge with her young son, and brings her to a house run by a wealthy, kind woman looking to help others: Miss Katherine Greenshaw (Fiona Shaw). Yet things begin to complicate when a butler working for the house winds up dead and murder is suspected. Before long the bodies in Greenshaw's estate begin to pile up and it one thing becomes quite clear: it wasn't such a safe-house. Things unfold with the mystery of the killer interweaving between a mystery of a long-lost son, the story behind a mysterious priest, and the redemption and romance of one character with the young woman who sought new life at Greenshaw. Can Miss Marple get to the bottom of everything before it's too late, and the whole house is kaput? In this episode, the writers have taken the short story it's title alludes to with another Christie story entitled The Thumb Mark of St. Peter (which comes from the short stories collection entitled 'The 13 Problems'). Luckily, it just so happens that both of these short stories feature the Marple character so it's a different but more acceptable approach for making a full-length episode adaptation. It works quite well and things unfold with an interesting storytelling approach taken that many viewers will find to be the most complex of the three new mysteries.
Lastly, Endless Night is the final episode of the entire series and the last hurrah from actress Julia McKenzie. Unfortunately, the writers have decided to take one of Agatha Christie's most famous novels (which is also one of her darkest) and combine it with the world of Miss Marple despite it not being a story in the Marple canon. This is sure to annoy some viewers who will find the odd choice unsatisfactory. However, on the plus side, this episode features the best technical smarts and is a well-done feature in its own right. (It would simply be more enjoyable if looked at on separate merits and not as an episode of as series that is intended to focus on Marple).
Upon a visit to close friend, Marple meets the young and charming Mike Rogers (Tom Hughes), who soon she will meet again in another unexpected encounter as her connection to her friend links her to discovering that he has recently become married to the rich, equally charming, and undeniably kind Ellie (Joanna Vanderham). At first looking at their relationship with a dash of optimism suggesting good fortune for all, things begin to spiral when Ellie is found dead, and a number of strange occurrences at their recently purchased estate comes to the forefront - an old gypsy suggested the place was cursed. By all accounts, it seems as though things are not bright for the once shiny-outlook of the family and friends. But is there more to the story of the young Mike Rogers? Marple sets out to find out what happened and will stop at nothing to resolve the strange and mysterious case.
Surprisingly, the famous Endless Night turns out to be the best episode of the three when looked at from a production standpoint even despite its origins as something never written with Marple in mnd. The massive estate utilized in the episode (which is the famous Homewood House) is a perfect choice for the primary setting of the story and the director of this episode, David Moore, has done a excellent job of bringing out quality performances from the entire cast and giving a decidedly dark and noir-like style to the episode, which even features an abundance of quality voice-over narration.
It is also great that the implementation of Marple into the story isn't as obtrusive to the main narrative as one might dread. However, it doesn't stop it from being a unusual creative choice, and it's certainly a bit disappointing that this otherwise fine-quality production is meant as the ending chapter of the Marple television program when it is also something that story-wise does not give a sufficient send-off to the character or to the efforts from the actress playing the part for the past several seasons of this long-running program. It seems as though this adaptation choice was made simply based on the popularity of the source novel, even if this story differ from the actual canon of the character the famous author created. Nonetheless, Julia McKenzie brings everything she has to the role here and does an impressive job with the material she is given.
It seems a bit odd that some of these episodes were produced in the fashion they were made in: combining storylines from multiple Agatha Christie stories into one or through producing new adaptations that insert the character into the story despite never having been involved in said stories in the first place. In examining the totality of the ITV Miss Marple program, the series ended up adapting all twelve of the novels which had featured the Marple character. Yet with regards to the short stories Christie had written over the years with the character involved, the twenty short stories she had written were hardly adapted and only a handful of them ended up being a part of this series. Instead, the producers and television adapters decided to find unique ways to insert the character wherever they saw it 'fit' to do so. Some viewers may not find this too disappointing -- others will undoubtedly be irked by this aspect now that the series is over.
Overall, all three of the included mysteries from Series 6 are entertaining and enjoyable. This makes it worth checking out for both longtime fans and newcomers. However, the lack of the series telling all of the Marple stories is a shame, and it's also unfortunate that a grander exit wasn't planned for actress Julia McKenzie considering the warmth, wit, and charm she had brought to performing the character during this incarnation. Endless Night seems like an odd note to end the entire series on even if the episode was quite enjoyably made. Nonetheless, the good outweighs the disappointing attributes and fans are certainly still encouraged to check out this last batch of freshly-baked mysteries.
Agatha Christie's Marple has been released on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation enhanced for 16:9 television displays. Each of the feature length episodes is presented on its own individual disc. The presentation does look nice in many regards in showcasing everything from the production values to use of color on the program. What is especially nice is the visual splendor of the costumes and scenery.
However, there are still some drawbacks to the presentation too - while this is generally a decent presentation that should satisfy most fans, there are some compression related artifacts, such as bad macroblocking, which is mostly noticeable during the night-time scenes. Throughout each episode of the series all of the nighttime scenes do not look as good as the daytime scenes do because of encoding related issues. This was most problematic during episode Greenshaw's Folly as there were many nighttime sequences that had poor compression artifacts (it was sometimes distracting). Overall though, the presentation is still a decent, serviceable one.
Marple has received a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio presentation which does a fine job with the necessary requirement of being a good showcase for the series dialogue; which remains as the biggest emphasis of the show. The series score is also nicely interwoven without taking away from the dialogue. This is a perfectly serviceable stereo audio presentation for the series that should satisfy audiences.
A Caribbean Mystery and Greenshaw's Folly each contain photo gallery video slideshows with about two minutes of footage showcasing seven or eight unique production photographs from these episodes. Endless Night includes a behind-the-scenes documentary entitled "Behind the Mysteries of Endless Night" (33 min.), which includes a wide range of interviews with cast, crew, and the director of the episode. This extra includes some nice interview footage but is somewhat overlong, especially as many of the interviewees try and discuss their characters without giving away too much of the plot. As this documentary bonus feature is seen after watching the episode (well, at least generally) it might take a little bit away from it. One is probably going to enjoy it more if seen beforehand so that is what I would recommend to the audience. The piece is certainly a nice watch regardless and should be enjoyed by fans. It was bittersweet to see the interview footage with actress Julia McKenzie discussing it as being her last performance for the series.
Endless Night also includes a photo gallery in the same style as the previous two mysteries on this collection, as well as a text-based descriptive piece about the Homewood House featured throughout the episode.
Agatha Christie's Marple is a well produced and highly entertaining mystery based series. The performance by Julia McKenzie is a grounding force for the storylines and makes the series a more enjoyable experience. Fans of the mysteries written by the brilliant Agatha Christie (and particularly those who appreciate the adventures of the Miss Marple character from her work) will find plenty to enjoy here.
The only downside is that because some of the episodes produced on this series were based on short stories or on other writings by Christie that did not previously include Marple, the show doesn't always feature as much of the lead actress as the audience might want or expect. This certainly is a side-step. However, the episodes provided in Series 6 are nonetheless quite good and will not ultimately disappoint fans looking for new episodes with the beloved character. It certainly is a program with a lot of enjoyment to offer to mystery fans and the writers manage successfully integrating the character into episodes which were not based on Marple storylines. With nice production values, quality acting, and interesting classic mysteries the Marple series should be a fun romp.
The PQ is disappointing, but the AQ is good, and the documentary supplement included on the Endless Night episode will be worth a watch for most fans. This set comes recommended on the merits of the series itself though (above everything else). The collection is worth picking up for fans of the series and for those who enjoy the written works of Agatha Christie.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.