Losing our Marples

by Stephen Tall on October 1, 2007

Say what you like about ITV1’s updated Marple – and many have – the cast list is OTT-ly stellar. I’m especially intrigued by their decision to work their way through the entire cast list of Green Wing.

Last week it was Stephen Mangan (Dr Guillaume ‘Guy’ Valerie Secretan in GW; Inspector Bird in Marple), and Mark Heap (Dr Alan Statham; Mr Humfries). Last night it was the turn of Julian Rhind-Tutt (Dr ‘Mac’ Macartney; Dr Calgary) and Pippa Haywood (Joanna Clore; Mrs Price).

In his review last year, Jonathan Calder lauded the BBC’s Joan Hickson version of Miss Marple: “an impeccable performance set off by a frequently immaculate supporting cast and sensetive direction. And Geraldine McEwan’s is a lesser performance which is often hindered by the setting in which it has been placed.”

I cannot disagree with him about Joan Hickson’s portrayal: she is Miss Marple. Which is, of course, why ITV was quite right not to try and replicate what had gone before. Where I do part company with Jonathan is about the production values of the BBC adaptations, which are very much of their time, and therefore (whisper it gently) rather dull.

Having absolutely loved the Hickson Marples as a child, I was distressed to catch a couple of them recently, and discover quite how torturously ponderous the script and direction is. By comparison, the ITV versions are slick, pacy and glowing with irony.

Which might not be to your taste, of course. But, just as theatrical productions of timeless pieces can vary, I don’t see why telly shouldn’t feel free to update itself for a new generation.