The fourth and final episode for this season of the Miss Marple Mysteries aired on Sunday, July 26th on Masterpiece Mystery with Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, a new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel on PBS. The new Miss Marple Julia McKenzie is growing on me. I will admit that change is hard, but in this last production she won me over as she energized the old gal into action, adding a new dimension to the character that her predecessors Joan Hickson (1982-1992) and Geraldine McEwan (2004-2007) had not revealed.
Bobby Attfield (Sean Biggerstaff) discovers a body on the edge of a cliff near his home in Wales whose last mysterious words were, “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” prompting him to discover the victim’s identify and unravel the riddle. Joining him in the investigation is his childhood friend, the beautiful but bored Lady Frankie Derwent (Georgia Moffett), who is more than willing to drop all her social engagements in favor of this new adventure in sleuthing. Together they bicker and blunder along, until Miss Marple arrives for a visit with Bobby’s mother Marjorie (Helen Lederer) and joins in the investigation. She helps them logically analyze the clues and offers more than elderly advice to two headstrong and impulsive youngsters who think that they know better. They locate the dead man’s car by the cliff and inside a map with Castle Savage circled on it. Could this Evans live there?
The trio manages to wheedle their way as house guests of the Castle; Frankie by feigning injury after crashing her red Austin Martin into its entrance gate, and Miss Marple and Bobby arriving shortly after, impersonating her governess and chauffeur. They are taken in by the dramatic mistress Lady Sylvia Savage (Samantha Bond, Mrs. Weston in Emma 1996), whose second husband Jack, who made his fortune in tea in China, recently died of a heart attack on the same day he uncharacteristically altered his will. Living in the household are her two teenage children, daughter Dorothy (Hannah Murray) hip to her dysfunctional family and keen on Bobby, and her broody son Tom who is obsessed with snakes and sulking over the changes in his father’s will which left the entire fortune to an orphanage in China. Also among this collection of dissipates are Dr. Nicholson (Rik Mayall), a local physiatrist and his weepy wife Moira (Natalie Dormer), Roger Bassington (Rafe Spall), a handsome live-in piano teacher whose amorous crooning distracts Frankie away from the investigation, and finally Claud Evans (Mark Williams), the man who may be the Evans alluded to in the enigmatic message. When he is murdered before Miss Marple, Frankie and Bobby can ask him if he understands the meaning of the dead mans last words “Why they didn’t ask Evans?”, they must rely on direct questioning and clever deduction before they uncover how all of these characters are inner-connected and who among them is a murderer.
This plot had me saying what? out loud so often, I had to just roll with it and hope that it would all make sense in the next scene. It did. However, a second viewing really clarified the bits that had not sunk in. The screenplay of Agatha Christie’s novel by Patrick Barlow (Julian in Bridget Jones’ Diary 2001) was not rushed, but moved along very briskly aided by sharp direction by Nicholas Renton (Wives and Daughters 1999). Visually, this episode was superior to any I have seen this season. I particularly liked the art direction by Miranda Cull. The atmosphere that she created in this production was richly layered. The interior scenes in the manor house were filled with chiaroscuro and accented against stunning costumes. The psychological effect was that his family had a dark secrets in its past that they were trying to mask. It was very effective. Coupled with excellent performances by Samantha Morton and Natalie Dormer, two key characters in the narrative, and Julia McKenzie’s Miss Marple showing a lot more energy and action, I can safely say this was my favorite episode of the new season. Oh, and the red hot Austin Martin that Frankie drove didn’t influence my choice at all. *wink*
Masterpiece Mystery continues August 16th-23rd with an encore presentation of Inspector Lewis: Series I, followed by seven new episodes August 30th-October 18th, rounding out a full season for mystery lovers on PBS.
- Visit the Masterpiece Mystery official website for complete synopsis, cast, and an interview with actress Julia McKenzie
- Read my recap and review of Miss Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye
- Read my recap and review of Miss Marple: Murder is Easy
- Read my recap and review of Miss Marple:They Do It With Mirrors.