27 June 2009

Who is the best Miss Marple?

Last year when Geraldine McEwan announced her retirement from being Miss Marple, it was announced that the mantle would pass to Julia McKenzie.

I wrote at the time that I wasn't at all sure whether Julia was old or fluffy enough for the role, but that I greatly admired her ability to take on different roles.

Over to the right is the first known image of Miss Marple, an illustration by Gilbert Wilkinson of Miss Marple from the December 1927 issue of The Royal Magazine and the first-known image of the character (See The Thirteen Problems)

Below are the Miss Marples of screen and television.
There are 7 of them.
Now that the latest has hit our TV screens you have probably been thinking about which one is closest to your idea of Miss Marple.

Julia McKenzieGeraldine McEwanJoan HicksonHelen HayesAngela LansburyMargaret RutherfordGracie Fields

So which one is closest to your "mental picture" from your reading?
Do leave a comment.

Novels featuring Miss Marple

More information at answers.com

52 comments:

Bernadette in Australia said...

Excellent question Kerrie. I voted for Joan Hickson although I also think McEwan was good - margaret rutherford was the first one I remember seeing and she never seemed right (I did real most of the Agatha Christie novels back in my teens/twenties). Watching Julia McKenzie last Sunday night was entertaining but she seemed to insert herself more in the stories rather than observe as McEwan did.

Kerrie said...

I loved Margaret Rutherford but she was all wrong wasn't she? She and that addition Mr Stringer. I loved the music with those films.

I liked Julia McKenzie but she was a bit "Fresh Fields"ish.

I'm torn between Geraldine McEwan and Joan Hickson too.

I hated Angela Lansbury and I don't ever remember seeing Helen Hayes, but I think she was only in one.

Sunnie Gill said...

I haven't seen Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple. I have no doubt she does a terrific job, but she looks far too modern.

My vote goes to Geraldine McEwan. Joan Hickson always seemed a little too bird-like and sharp for me. I know Miss Marple was sharp, but she hid it behind dithering.

heartbeatoz said...

I voted for Joan Hickson, but to me Miss Marple in my mind is always my Grandma I started reading Agatha Christie when I was 9 and the description instantly reminded me of my Grandma gentle but sharp as a tack, in looks she was sort of a cross between Margaret Rutherford and Joan Hickson.

Bronwyn Parry said...

I haven't seen McKenzie yet, but I loved Geraldine McEwan. Just the right blend of intelligence, pretend dithering, and that lovely twinkle in her eye that said she understood a whole lot more than those around her might expect :-)

BooksPlease said...

Joan Hickson gets my vote every time - I think she's perfect.

I haven't seen Julia McKenzie yet, but she does look a bit too modern. I have to admit that I didn't actually care very much for Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple.

Angela Lansbury was all wrong. Margaret Rutherford although superb wasn't right either. I haven't seen the other two.

Philip said...

Joan Hickson for me, and also, apparently, for Agatha Christie. She saw Hickson in a play in the 1940s and sent her a note of appreciation in which she said she hoped that one day Hickson might be cast as Miss Marple. Christie wasn't at all happy about the casting of Margaret Rutherford and said so, but, all wrong though Rutherford was for the role, she admitted to enjoying the movies -- who could resist? That Mr. Stringer addition came about because Rutherford wanted a role for her husband -- Stringer Davis. I liked Geraldine McEwan, but those horrible 'adaptations' rendered the series unwatchable for me.

Kerrie said...

Sunnie, Heartbeat, Bronwyn & BooksPlesae - it is a hard choice isn't it? I don't think either of McEwan or Hickson gets the village busbody streak quite right though. Mind you I think Christie changed Miss Marple as the books progressed. She really didn't feel very likeable in the first one ( see my post on THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE where the vicar comments on how dangerous she is)

sally906 said...

Margaret Rutherford IS miss Marple - the others are impostors. The wonderful Wayne agrees :)

Kerrie said...

Thanks for those bits of info Phillip. I didn't know Rutherford was married to him!
I thought those films had an element of humour in them that you don't find in the others.
Can you tell me about some of the adaptations?
I vaguely remember somewhere this week about Miss Marple getting a role in a book she didn't actually appear in (does that make sense?)

Kerrie said...

Margaret Rutherford always seems a larger person than Jane Marple Sally, but for so long, for us, she WAS Miss Marple. I loved her lantern jaw and her rather bandy legs!

Dorte H said...

For once it seems that I am in the majority with Joan Hickson. I think it is very important who you have seen in the role first.

Philip said...

Most welcome, Kerrie. The changes made to Christie's novels for the McEwan series made them scarcely adaptations at all. Two were not Marple novels in the first place. Elsewhere, in A Body in the Library, the identity of the murderer was changed from a male character to a female, seemingly to accommodate a lesbian theme and thus a change in motivation. I think much the same was done with A Murder is Announced. Throughout the series, major characters are elided, new ones introduced, motives altered. Miss Marple in one is supposed to have had an affair with a married man during WW1, which requires not only a major change in her character, but also her age, or else the chronology of the entire series of books. All in all, they might just as well have started out only with Miss Marple and written entirely new scripts.

Kerrie said...

I agree Dorte, although in my case, Margaret Rutherford and Miss Marple in the books felt physically different

Kerrie said...

I think you are wrong with the last one Philip because I think there is a reference in one of the books to the love of Jane Marple's life, the soldier who never came back. But it is how interesting how we can get to the stage where we can't distinguish (or keep apart) what we read in the books, and what television has added.

In the Murder She Wrote series which Angela Lansbury was in I think there were many additions to the original plots.

It is the same sort of thing that we have seen with the television adaptations in particular of the Dalziel & Pascoe novels. I once asked Reg Hill about how he felt about them and he shrugged his shoulders, said he was not consulted, and that he never watched them

Philip said...

You are quite right, Kerrie. Mea Culpa. That was, in fact, in Murder in the Vicarage. Christie herself strew a little confusion here and there. In Marple's first appearance, in a short story of 1928, she's described as wearing a black brocade dress, black lace mittens, and a black lace cap atop a mound of snow-white hair. Her blue eyes are faded. And so the notion of her having a romantic attachment to a soldier who died in a war that ended ten years previously seems a bit out of joint. Christie at some point, perhaps in an interview, said Marple was "born at the age of 65 to seventy." Say 65 in 1928, she would have been born in 1863 and so 51 at the start of the Great War. If she was up to that sort of malarkey with a married man at that age at that time, we shall have to conclude that Jane was what Eric Idle called "a bit of a goer, know what I mean?" As Christie had this in mind at the start, it might also explain why Marple in the early books is also considerably more shrewish and judgemental than she later appeared later -- perhaps this late romance was intended to make the early Jane something of a bitter and frustrated spinster. And then again, perhaps Agatha was not thinking too clearly and just winging it.

The first Dalziel/Pascoe series was, of course, a complete fiasco and Hill wouldn't allow a second season. But he did agree to that second attempt -- better, though as devotee of the novels I don't much care for them -- and I read that in contemplating that deal, he sought the advice of another crime writer who told him to take the money and run. And that's what he did. Wise advice, wise man.

Kerrie said...

Thanks for clearing that up Philip. Your knowledge is much more detailed than mine. Do you blog about Christie novels somewhere?

Ruth Rendell did a similar cut and run with the Wexford novels when they were first turned into TV. She did say that she realised she was unable to control what TV adaptations did, but she was very happy with the actor chosen for Reg Wexford.

Philip said...

No, I don't blog at all, Kerrie. I'm not even a particular fan of Christie's. I just have an odd sort of memory, though not an infallible one, as we have seen, and I'm a quick researcher when something needs clarifying.

Here's an odd thing. In P.D. James' Death in Holy Orders, I came across this sentence this morning: "Dalgliesh saw that Father John was addicted to the women writers of the Golden Age: Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh." James has never made any bones about being less than impressed by Christie, and I'm wondering if she was having a bit of a dig here.

Kerrie said...

Last nights's Agatha Christie Miss Marple TV movie was the perfect illustration of what we have been discussing Philip. It was MURDER IS EASY and should have been Superintendent Battle but Miss Marple had been substituted. I still can't work out how she wormed her way into staying in the village.
I've found the short story you alluded to earlier with the first description of Miss Marple in it, sounding like she's in widow's weeds. Sounds much older than she appears to be in later books.
Neither she nor Hercule Poirot age do they?

Brian Kavanagh said...

I like them all, but think Geraldine McEwan is my favourite. Hickson I thought just a shade too dour. I am enjoying Julia McKenzie but then I am a fan.
Cheers,
Brian

Kerrie said...

Brian, I still don't know which is my favourite. I think Joan Hickson is a bit too "pursed lips" for me

Philip said...

No, Kerrie, I don't think they age, except in the case of one exceptional book. In Curtain: Poirot's Last Case, which Christie wrote in the early 40s but held back for publication until the end of her life --posthumously, as it turned out -- Poirot is old and sick, and the plot requires that he be so. I think it one of her very best. Miss Marple, as was perhaps obvious when we looked at her earlier -- born in 1863 at the latest, in 1928 dressed like a chronically Late Victorian spinster aunt, and decidedly acidulous, needed to become younger, not older. You know better than I on this, but I think the changes start to take place very soon after The Tuesday Night Club and Murder at the Vicarage. Her success in detecting really depended upon her understanding of things around her, not constant judgement of them, and not certainly a stready flow of pretty shrewish gossip, and that understanding required keeping up with the ways of the times as they passed.

Anonymous said...

Hello,
I'm a German pupil and I have to write a skilled work about Miss Marple.The topic deals with the question if Margaret Rutherford or Joan Hickson is the "better" Miss Marple. One point is called the fans' opinion and it would be nice if you could tell me your opinion and name the reasons why you like the one actress more than the other.

Thanks a lot for your help.

Kerrie said...

I think for me, while I emjoyed the performance of Margaret Rutherford, she really didn't fit the description of Miss Marple in the books. She was far from small and old.

Kris said...

Thank you Kerrie for your opinion.
I really hoped that there would be more comments on my question. Maybe one of you could write something because it is a quiet important part of my skilled work.

George said...

Joan Hixson was the absolutely "right" Miss Marple for me. As much as I like some of the others as actors (Angela Lansbury is one of my all time favorites in any and every role), still Hixson is so perfect in her emotional underplay and yet can be in-your-face to Slack and ultimately to the murderer. My wife would cast a second vote for Hixson.

George said...

I wrote Hixson but I meant Hickson.

richard said...

I also thought Julia McKenzie? Good grief, great actress but wrong. How wrong was I?


There will never, repeat never, be anyone that will match Joan Hickson, absolutely the epitome of Jane Marple. Appearance of a fluffy old woman, but the mind as sharp as butcher's knife. The acting of the great lady is exemplary and the production in the BBC versions was second to none. She is simply perfection as Marple.

That said, Julia McKenzie I have warmed to, and actually doing a very good job, much more like the Hickson portrayal. And much closer to the jane Marple that Agatha Christie had written about.


I hated Geraldine McKewan's interpretation, way too fluffy almost as ridiculous as the delightful Margaret Rutherford. But Rutherford's was so ridiculous you cant help but laugh at them which makes them enjoyable, plus they are so far removed from the novels that they are almost independant from the Christie Character, so much so that Murder Ahoy, isn't even a Christie story, just an invention for Rutherford! They go for comedic effect rather than dramatic suspense which is why they can be seen as distinct creations.


Helen Hayes - just bleugh - but it is a rubbish, cheaply made American movie and this probably clouds my judgement.


Angela Lansbury, a smoking Miss Marple! The only thing I've hated her in, and I a big Lansbury fan.
An expensive American piece of poo of a film, despite having Liz Taylor in it as Marina Gregg.


Gracie Fields played Miss Marple in a Murder is Announced in America before the Rutherford films.


Hickson is an class of her own, the quintessential Marple, beautifully observed and closely aligned to the Miss Marple of the books. Fluffy and muddled appearance but with a razor sharp mind! McKenzie's is going down this route. For pure entertainment value, Rutherford is peerless but clearly not the Marple of the books. All others pale into insignificance.

Anonymous said...

Hickson is a cold fish. Geraldine any day gets my vote.

Anonymous said...

I think June Whitfield on radio 4 was my favourite, but for the screen it ghas to be Joan hickson

Anonymous said...

Did you know agatha Christie saw Joan hickson in a play some time in the 1940's, went back stage and told Joan she would like her to play Jane marple one day.

Betsy said...

I absolutely love Joan Hickson and have been watching her as Miss Marple since I was a young child, so I always get really irritated when I see other actresses in the role! Joan Hickson always seems so natural, and I know she's not all twinkly and fluffy and whatnot, but she has an incredible presence and she's disapproving and austere from time to time in a way that I simply adore!

A girl in travelling pants said...

I am totally with Betsy. Not that the others are not good but just that I grow up with Joan Hickson's Miss Marple and I remember how I thrilled by the moment seeing Miss Marple had that Nemesis look in her eyes- you see an old lady turning from fluffy and mild to COLD and HARD. Really got me.

Anonymous said...

I much prefer McKewen to Hickson from a personality point of view and what really clinches it for me is how the Hickson scripts are so very corrupted and so far away from the original Agatha Christie stories as to lose half the complexity of the plot. The Mckewan scriptwriters at least respected the plot.

Pianopinions said...

I think it has to be Joan Hickson, with McEwan developing into an acceptable second.

Christie, as others have pointed out, wanted to see Hickson in the role.

My late mother, a very literary person (who read everything Christie ever wrote) made the observation that for the character to be played correctly, you have to be able to imagine Miss Marple training a maid. With Hickson you certainly can. There is in her characterisation that mix of gentility, authority and reserve, with the mind reflecting busily beneath the reserve. I don't think the "cold fish" description is really correct. That's not how I preceived Hickson's portayal anyway.

I think it would be wonderful to see June Whitfield in the role. She played the villain in one of the recent adaptations and I think she has everything that it would take to fully match Hickson's portrayal and perhaps even surpass it. Ms. Whitfield, incidentally, does a fantastic impression of Margaret Rutherford in that role.

Rutherford's movies are not the Marple of the books, or, really, the stories of the books. BUT, you cannot gainsay the absolute charm of the movies and you cannot but be glad that they exist.

For me, the McEwan version just doesn't "come alive" somehow. I'm sure it's not Ms. McEwan's fault; other factors perhaps.

The Helen Hayes film is just a bit too American, but not without charm in its own right. Angela Lansbury is perhaps too much towards the Margaret Rutherford films (again, surely not her fault, more that of the screenplay). Gracie Fields I haven't seen in the role, and can't imagine!

Pianopinions said...

P.S. You have not included Ronnie Corbett in the role, in a superb Two Ronnies sketch with Corbett as Miss Marple (in Hickson style) and Ronnie Barker as Hércule Poirot!

lolli said...

I'm new to blogging, but not to Miss Marple. Someone said in this blog about Geraldine McEwan and the horrible adaptions. Could someone tell me what this is about, concerning "adaptions"

Kerrie said...

These would be tv and film adaptations where the producers played around with the story, changing it, or where Miss Marple was not true to Agatha Christie's character

Anonymous said...

Geraldine McEwan was by far my favorite Jane Marple. Never saw Gracie Fields. Margaret Rutherford never seemed delicate enough for Jane Marple she always seemed like a bull invading a china shop character. Lansbury wasn't English enough nor delicate and mannered enough. Helen Hayes was interesting though she never really gave the impressions she was as smart as Jane Marple would need to be to solve the mysteries that she solves. Hickson, likewise never had a soft side either. I think what did it for McEwan was that whole opening scene of young Jane and her soldier and the tough decision she needed to make.Now I am having a hard time with McKenzie, I really want to like her but she doesn't seem to have the depth of character or the soft human mannered style of McEwan and she doesn't seem very English at all.

Anne H said...

Definitely Joan Hickson. Geraldine McEwen seemed quite wrong and far too modern somehow. The Marples are becoming ridiculous, changing the plot as in Nemesis, or inserting her into books like Ordeal by Innocence, Murder is Easy and By the Pricking of my Thumbs.
Re Dalziel and Pcascoe, there was only one novel done by Hale and Pace, A Pinch of Snuff, the only one not to be done in the subsequent series and presumably chosen by these two for the plotline.

Anonymous said...

NOT Geraldine McEwan. She had a permanent smirk and was always peering through narrowed eyes. She would have been the last person I ever confided my troubles to. The premise of the books was that she inspired trust, but Geraldine's dithering style would not have fooled the dumbest of Kerry Blue terriers.

Anonymous said...

I've read and reread all of Agatha Christie's novels. Originally, I preferred Poirot to Marple. However, I have enjoyed Miss Marple's character on screen. Without a doubt, Joan Hickson is the "definitive" Miss Marple. Her performances and persona are exactly what I imagined as I read.
Maragret Rutherford---features are too harsh, entirely too many mannerisms (loved her in "The lady Vanishes")
Helen Hayes---very passable (runner up)
Angela Lansbury--not at all what I imagined, not right for the role
Geraldine McEwan---I can't make this Miss Marple work for me----seems to have a comical appearance, clothes seem to straggle her
Julia McKenzie---I'm warming up to her, but she's not what I pictured.

Tina B said...

I have read and reread all of Agatha Christie's novels. Originally, I preferred novels that featured Poirot to those that featured Miss Marple. However, I have grown fond of Miss Marple via television. Without a doubt, Joan Hickson is the "definitive" Miss Marple---subtle shrewdness, firm and relentless resolve, delicate familiarity. No one comes close to Mrs. Hickson's performance as Miss Marple, which is exactly how I imagined her as I read.
Rutherford---features are too rough, too many mannerisms
Hayes---passable (runner up)
Lansbury---not the right fit
McEwan---comical appearance, straggling clothes, not believable
McKenzie-Okay; however, not my idea of a spinster

Anonymous said...

Margaret Rutherford is the best by far...everyone else is diasapproving and not fun enough...MR had so much presence and the adaptions involving her were much more fun than any of the others...

Anonymous said...

Joan Hickson every time. Marple's key feature was to be the sort of person you almost wouldn't notice and who would encourage confidences. Geraldine McEwan's Marple (in my view) was too pushy. You wouldn't ever confider in her.

Anonymous said...

It's funny, I have been enjoying 3 Miss Marples on netflix: McEwan, Hickson, and McKenzie lately. I grew up with Rutherford, but she was soooo wrong in my mind, (too jolly); I began by reading the stories, so it wasn't a question of being influenced by the first portrayal I saw.

I remember when Hickson first did it, I thought oh, she seems patently too smart for this role: too sly, too clever, but then as I matured, and watched them in comparison, I realize, Hickson does portray a bit of non-sequitarism that would or could fool some of the many detectives who doubt her capabilities, and as such she seems to me to be the most realistic by far! Afterall, as women we are so miserably often told not to use "direct address", and that is the core of Ms. Marple, she never directly contradicts people who are so self involved and overly self confident of their limited capabilities that they would be insecure and angry even if she came right out and said what she was thinking, that is until the crime solution is revealed. She has to cloak her intelligence to be effective.

Its's funny but I think at this late date, that is exactly what Christie's life was like; for a woman of her time and her class, and even her looks, people were rather dismissive of her and her intelligence, particularly her first husband. She of course had the last laugh on them though if you will-afterall she is a giant among novelists, made more money than God, and nearly 100 yrs later she is still beloved and admired around the world.

Just goes to show what happens when you underestimate the power/s of women!

Anonymous said...

A regards from me in Norway. I like Geraldine McEwan best as Miss Marple. Love from Sigrun

Anonymous said...

A regards from me in Norway. I liked Geraldine McEwan best as Miss Marple. Love from Sigrun

Anonymous said...

Margaret Rutherford was totally OTT and therefore enjoyable but for the quintessential Jane Marple Joan Hicks gets my vote. She also played the cook in one of Margaret Rutherford's Miss Marple films...

Anonymous said...

Joan Hickson every time. Geraldine McEwan was the absolute worst, yes, even worse than Gracie Fields; in all her dreams she could not even an eighth of Joan Hickson's talent in playing Miss Marple.

1949waldo said...

i think Joan Hickson was the closest to the books. Margaret Rutherford played it too comical, she should never have been cast in the part, she didn't look like Miss Marple. In my opinion Geraldine McEwan was next best, but too sweet.
I've read all the books many times, for my junior high days till now, in my 80's, to me Joan Hickson nails it. She is Jane Marple.

Brad Benziger said...

Joan Hickson made the role for me: quite dignity and power like no one else. She also appeared in the first production of The Mousetrap.

Brad

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