Spinster sleuth Miss Marple returned to Masterpiece Mystery last Sunday with her sensible shoes and ingenious deductions in one of Agatha Christie’s venerable warhorses, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. What true classic mystery aficionado has not seen one of the movie adaptations of this wonderful 1962 book of the same name? It has been trotted out no less than two times prior to this new production showcased by former Miss Marple’s: Angela Lansbury and Joan Hickson. Now Julia McKenzie gets her chance to slip into the Marple mantle and solve a double murder at a grand manor house in her own village of St Mary Mead.
The locals are all aflutter when an American film actress Marina Gregg (Lindsay Duncan) takes up residence at Gossington Hall with her fifth husband, a dashing young English film director Jason Rudd (Nigel Harman) who has resurrected her waning career and the country estate formerly owned by Miss Marple’s friend Dolly Bantry (Joanna Lumley). A charity benefit hosted by the glamorous couple includes the press and all of the community but Miss Marple who must regretfully remain at home with a sprained ankle. During the party, the inquisitive Dolly Bantry observes local Marina Gregg fan Heather Badcock (Caroline Quinten) rambling on to her hostess about their meeting years earlier. Marina’s mysterious reaction to Heather’s recollection is to stare off into the distance in frozen shock? Dolly thinks it quite odd, but is later distracted by a more tragic event. Heather is dead and a poisoned daiquiri is suspected.
Dolly wastes no time in revealing all the details of the party to her friend later that afternoon. Miss Marple suspects murder and wonders if the cocktail was really meant for Marina but given to Heather by mistake? Dolly continues her report by equating Marina’s death-like daze to a Tennyson poem, “Out flew the web and floated wide – The mirror crack’d from side to side; “The curse is come upon me,” cried The Lady of Shalott.” As the investigation continues, Inspector Hewitt’s (Hugh Bonneville) suspect list lengthens as all the guests are interviewed. Is it Marina’s ex-husband the spiteful gossip columnist, her husband’s ex-girlfriend the jilted starlet or the suspicious young female photographer snapping shots of the guests at the party? It appears that many at the party have secret reasons to want Marina dead, including Marina herself.
It is easy to understand why The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side has been adapted so many times by movie producers. It is an intriguing story dripping with Hollywood glamor and colorful characters. In this instance, the campy screenplay by Kevin Elyot moves Chrisite’s characterizations and plot twists even further toward a farcical spoof of the mystery genre than written or previously filmed. Director Tom Shankland’s use of over-the-top melodrama through clips of Marina’s films and the Movietone-like newsreels poke fun at the era and set the tone for the entire film. Oddly, Miss Marple is sidelined with an injury early on so her friend Dolly becomes her eyes and ears. Watching actress Joanna Lumley as Dolly acting like a giddy school girl over the celebrity parade and snooping on her neighbors was the highlight for me. Lumley’s infectious energy and deadpan comedy is so well suited for this type of role reminding me that Julia McKenzie’s low key and flat Miss Marple has yet to grow on me. The next episode of Miss Marple is an encore presentation of A Pocket Full of Rye on June 6th.
Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE