The third episode of the Miss Marple Mysteries aired on Sunday, July 19th on Masterpiece Mystery with They Do It With Mirrors, a new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1952 novel on PBS. The new Miss Marple Julia McKenzie adds a sympathetic and knowing mantle to her interpretation of the famous elderly detective of St. Mary Mead, ever-ready to volunteer her sharp eye and deductive reasoning to solve a crime. Who says old ladies are sedentary, dim-witted and forgetful? Not Miss Marple!
Jane Marple’s glamorous friend Ruth Van Rydock (Joan Collins) is concerned about her sister Carrie Louise (Penelope Wilton). Strange goings on at her home seem to be escalating; the most recent a suspicious fire in her office destroying her personal papers. On the premise of a social visit, Miss Marple arrives at Stonygate, Carrie Louise’s large estate that also doubles as a correctional facility for young men. Underway are the rehearsals of a play to entertain the inmates organized by Carrie’s third husband Lewis Serrocold (Brian Cox) and his troubled assistant Edgar Lawson (Tom Payne) who thinks he is Winston Churchill’s son. All of the household have been recruited to participate in the play including Carrie’s two daughters from her first marriage, Mildred (Sarah Smart) and her adopted daughter Gina (Emma Griffiths Malin) now married to an American GI Wally Hudd (Elliot Cowan, Mr. Darcy in Lost in Austen), and a stepson Stephen from her second marriage to theatrical producer Johnny Restarick.
When another stepson Christian Gulbrandsen (Nigel Terry) from her first marriage arrives unexpectedly wanting to discuss urgent business with Carrie Louise’s husband Lewis, Miss Marple’s antennae go up. Christian retires to his room while the rehearsal proceeds. When the play is interrupted by Edgar wielding a gun threatening Lewis, and the faulty house lights go out, everyone is horrified until the surprise entrance of Johnny Restarick subdues the assailant. Center stage is the distracting drama unfolding with a gun. Off stage, Christian is murdered in his room while typing a letter. Was the over-the-top gun scene a staged cover-up for the murder? The local police are called in to investigate, and another murder unfolds right before their eyes, and then another. Three murders in as many days has the inspector scrambling to keep up. With such a line-up of eccentric suspects before them, it will take Miss Marple’s shrewd maneuvering to wheedle the clues out of everyone and expertly deduce that the murders unfolding before her were a clever ruse done with mirrors, to hide a deadly secret.
Wow! This story was like a stage play within a stage play. With so many characters and so much back story, the details and timing were critical. Honestly, as the investigation began I had my suspicions which Miss Marple quickly dashed as new evidence disqualified one suspect, and incriminated another. With this complex and creative plot, it is easy to see why Agatha Christie is considered the queen of crime. I have to commend screenwriter Paul Rutman for attempting to keep the narrative clean and straight forward. Given the time restraints of the production a few plot wholes arrived, like too many sides stories going on that could not be fleshed out properly, a chase scene on a bicycle that seemed pointless, and the unbelievable ending at the lakeside (which I will not spoil with further detail) leaving me with sinking feeling *wink* . The director Andy Wilson conducted traffic with precision, energizing the cast into strong performances. Julia McKenzie’s previous staid and controlled presence in the series showed more spontaneous craft and confidence. I can tell that she is settling in to her new role and finding her stride. When her eyes twinkled and her face lit up in recognition of a clue, she connected with the character and her audience.
Next up, the concluding episode of the Six by Agatha series on Masterpiece Mystery on Sunday, July 26th, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
- Visit the Masterpiece Mystery official website for complete synopsis, cast, and an interview with actress Julia McKenzie
- Read my recap and review of the first episode of the Miss Marple Mysteries 2009 season, A Pocket Full of Rye
- Read my recap and review of the second episode of The Miss Marple Mysteries 2009 season, Murder is Easy