From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:
The fourth and final episode of season four 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.
The Inciting Event
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?
A Dysfunctional Family
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.
An Additional Murder
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’t 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.
A Brisk Screenplay & Sharp Direction
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.
My Favorite Episode of the New Season
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*
5 out of 5 Stars
- Agatha Christie, Marple: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans (2008)
- Producer: ITV/PBS
- Director: Nicolas Renton
- Screenplay: Patrick Barlow, based on the novel by Agatha Christie
- Streaming Source: BritBox
- Miss Marple – Julia McKenzie
- Bobby Attfield – Sean Biggerstaff
- Lady Frankie Derwent – Georgia Moffett
- Marjorie Attfield – Helen Lederer
- Lady Sylvia Savage – Samantha Bond
- Dorothy Savage – Hannah Murray
- Tom Savage – Freddie Fox
- Dr. Nicholson – Rik Mayall
- Moira Nicholaon – Natalie Dormer
- Roger Bassington – Rafe Spall
- Claud Evans – Mark Williams
ADDITIONAL AGATHA CHRISTIE MARPLE SEASON 4 EPISODES
- 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.
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 May 30, 2022.
I watched “Murder is Easy” in the new Jane Marple series, and (as in the case with series starring Geraldine McEwen which preceded it), feel that a format that limits each episode to 90 minutes just does not work. The action is compressed and hurried, so that there is no character development and no space for the story to unfold. The viewer is left trying to keep track of the bewildering set of characters and to make sense of the story whose twists and turns develop too rapidly. The two hour episode format which was used for the series starring Joan Hickson was much better suited to the stories, where the action was given room to breathe and the characters able to interact.
Hi C. da Fonesca,
I agree the 90 min format vs. the earlier 2hr productions is short shrift to Miss Marple and all shows. Maybe it is a cost issue? Hope they switch back to 2hrs.
Laurel Ann — I, too, look forward to the return of Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple. I know you liked Geraldine McEwan’s portrayal of Miss Marple, but I did not — so, for me, Julia McKenzie was a relief and an acceptable successor to the great Joan Hickson. However, I think you were too generous in your appraisal of the episode “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?” — I semi-enjoyed it up to a point, but the last 25 minutes were, for me, a mess. The original novel has the most intriguing title of any of Agatha Christie’s novels — and it is NOT a Miss Marple novel — I’m not a purist and I don’t mind if non-Marple plots can be comfortably adapted to fit in Miss Marple, but this was an ill-fitting adaptation — an earlier TV adaptation used the plot for an entry in the Tommy and Tuppence series, and it was quite successful despite the fact that these characters were not in the original novel. But here, Miss Marple has little to do except give occasional advice to the young couple who infiltrate the strange household in order to solve the crime — and at the end the writers contrive a preposterous long speech for Miss Marple in order to dissuade someone from further mayhem while all the others stand idly by in a state of inaction. I guess it was some TV writer’s idea of a “dramatic” (or “melodramatic”) scene. It’s been so long since I read the original novel that I don’t recall if Dame Agatha’s ending was any better, but it couldn’t have been so static and talky. However, there are Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple episodes that I enjoyed which probably annoyed other fans, so it’s just a matter of taste. Anyway, thanks for your valuable critiques and keep them coming.