From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:
Julia McKenzie debuted on Sunday as the new Miss Marple in A Pocket Full of Rye on Masterpiece Mystery. She’s the actress who played Mrs. Forrester in last season’s Cranford who put flannel pajamas on her cow. We shall see if she can also put a memorable spin on Agatha Christie’s famous elderly spinster who dabbles as an amateur sleuth.
Wearing the Miss Marple Mantle
McKenzie has big shoes to fill. Not only is Miss Marple one of Christie’s most famous characters whose analytical skills are as sharp as her knitting needles, the two previous actresses who portrayed her in this series, Joan Hickson (1982-1992) and Geraldine McEwan (2004-2007), were outstanding, leaving an indelible mark on the role. We shall see if she can wear the Marple mantle as successfully.
Three Murders in a Row
Based on Christie’s 1953 novel, three murders in two days has Inspector Neele (Matthew Macfadyen) baffled. Wealthy financier Rex Fortescue (Kenneth Cranham ) poisoned at his London office was found with rye in his pocket, his young wife Adele (Anna Madeley) the prime suspect dies after tea in their home, and the maid Gladys (Rosie Heiney) is found in the garden strangled under the clothesline.
“People do tend to confide in old ladies.”
Reading about the murders in the paper, Miss Marple (Julia McKenzie) is saddened to discover that one of the victims is her former maid Gladys. When she arrives at the Fortescue estate she offers her assistance to Inspector Neele claiming that “People do tend to confide in old ladies.” Her only clue, the rye found in Rex Fortescue’s pocket. As she innocently interviews the suspects, she manages to wheedle out information from them that they may not have shared with the police, realizing that the murders have been staged to the childhood nursery rhyme, Sing a Song of Sixpence: Mr. Fortescue is the King in his counting-room, Mrs. Fortescue the Queen in her parlor and Gladys the maid in the garden. Why is the killer using the pattern of a nursery rhyme? Who will be next? Even though Miss Marple’s theories come across to the Inspector as unconnected and scattered, he soon sees her keen logic and agrees to her conclusions, solving the case.
A Cast of Previous Austen Adaptation Characters
The cast in this production had me so distracted as each new character appeared that I had to remember that this was a Miss Marple mystery and not a Jane Austen movie. Oh, there’s Mr. Darcy (Matthew Macfayden) with a mustache no less! Next up is Lucy Steele (Anna Madeley) with a blonde Carol Lombard hairdo. Her boyfriend is Henry Crawford (Joseph Beatie) without his big hair and ruffled shirt, and her stepdaughter is Elinor Dashwood (Hattie Morahan) with an updo ready for the prom. Now Jane Austen’s cousin Eliza De Feuillide (Lucy Cohu) arrives looking like Julia Child. Oh, and there’s Miss Bates (Prunella Scales). But – what’s this? She doesn’t want to talk? That can’t be. Oh dear. I think it is time to stop looking at every new production through the specter of Austenland.
A Great Opening Episode
The excellent line-up of British actors helped this production of one of Christie’s clever mysteries shine. Julie McKinzie debut as Miss Marple took some adjustment for me. It is hard to move past the two previous ladies in the role. I have confidence that she will grow on me with time. I can recommend this series to Christie and historical mystery fans.
4 out of 5 Stars
- Agatha Christie, Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye (2008)
- Producer: ITV/PBS
- Director: Charlie Palmer
- Screenplay: Kevin Elyot, based on the novel by Agatha Christie
- Streaming Source: BritBox
- Miss Marple – Julia McKenzie
- Inspector Neele – Matthew Macfadyen
- Rex Fortescue – Kenneth Cranham
- Pat Fortescue – Lucy Cohu
- Lance Fortescue – Rupert Graves
- Adele Fortescue – Anna Madeley
- Elaine Fortescue – Hattie Morahan
- Gladys – Rosie Heiney
- Vivian Dubois – Joseph Beattie
- Mrs. McKenzie – Prunella Scales
ADDITIONAL AGATHA CHRISTIE MARPLE SEASON 4 EPISODES
- Read my recap and review of Miss Marple: Murder is Easy
- Read my recap and review of Miss Marple: They Do It With Mirrors
- Read my recap & review of Miss Marple: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
We received a DVD from PBS in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Images courtesy of ITV/PBS © 2008; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2009, austenprose.com. Updated June 3, 2022.