Miss Marple: The Secret of Chimneys on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Miss Marple: The Secret of Chimneys: Julia McKenzie and Stephen Dillane © 2010 MASTERPIECEThe fifth series of Miss Marple continued on Masterpiece Mystery last Sunday with a new episode, The Secret of Chimneys. I was not familiar with this Miss Marple mystery novel written by Agatha Christie in 1925, so I just sat back and let it take me by surprise. It certainly did. There was distinct difference in this episode. The script, direction and editing were a cut above the normal fare which piqued my curiosity to investigate the original novel and the production team. I do not know whose feet I should throw all the accolades at or who deserves the laurel wreath of distinction, but screenwriter Paul Rutman, director John Strickland and film editor Nick Arthur made a triple play worthy of Eric Bruntlett. This is the best Miss Marple episode I have seen so far in the new Julia McKenzie reign. Fast paced, packed full of red herrings and double takes, I was questioning each character’s motives and analyzing every possible clue to the last, and then was totally surprised by the final reveal.

Ambitious M.P. George Lomax (Adam Godley) is pressuring the Revel family on many fronts. He has given their young daughter Virginia (Charlotte Salt) a deadline to accept his marriage proposal and her father the ninth Marquis of Caterham (Edward Fox) must entertain an Austrian count Ludwig van Stainach (Anthony Higgins) at his grand, but fading, country estate Chimneys to seal a deal for iron ore that England is desperate for after the war. The guests assemble for the weekend including cousin Miss Marple (Julia McKenzie), eldest daughter Lady Eileen “Bundle” Brent (Dervla Kirwan), National Trust advocate Miss Hilda Blenkinsopp (Ruth Jones) and faithful servant Miss Treadwell (Michelle Collins).

The count arrives and agrees to the deal on the condition that Chimneys be given to him in compensation. This does not sit well with anyone but Lord Caterham whose reputation and finances went south after the theft of the Mizoram diamond at a Chimneys party twenty years ago. His daughter Bundle is determined to carry on in grand decline, Miss Blenkinsopp wants the property for the National Trust and Miss Treadwell silently observes in disapproval. When the count is found shot with Virginia’s beau Anthony Cade (Jonas Armstrong) standing over him and the smoking gun near-by, scandal seems to be following the family across the generations as Miss Marple and chief inspector Fitch of Scotland Yard (Stephen Dillane) team up to investigate the murder discovering clues to the past that will unearth the deadly secret that happened at Chimneys so many years ago.

Faithful readers of the Miss Marple mysteries will be quite puzzled by this new adaptation. The original novel of the same name does not include Miss Marple at all, the plotline has been changed drastically and characters have been interchanged at random. Even the murderer is not the same. If this was a Jane Austen adaptation I would be screaming bloody murder in her defense. Having not read the original novel, I just took it for face value and loved it. Happily, Miss Christie did not write only six major novels so the offense seems less invasive to me, but short shrift for Marple book fans. Screenwriter Paul Rutman who I have admired in the past for his previous Miss Marple episode from last year, They Do it with Mirrors (2009) and two Inspector Lewis episodes, The Vanishing Point (2009) and The Great and the Good (2008) is a superb storyteller and a master at multilayered suspense. I am certain that the Marple die hards will not agree with me on that, but que sera, sera. It was a great story and ironically a cut above some of the previous episodes even though it has little Christie in it. I was thrilled to see Miss Marple do something besides observe and drop hints to the inspector on the case and enjoyed Julia McKenzie’s performance thoroughly. Finally they gave her more than one sentence of dialogue at a time.

The staid and measured performance by Stephen Dillane as Inspector Fitch was the highlight for me. He stole every scene that he appeared in because I was so intently listening and watching his every word and gesture that the other characters were secondary. If he could have his own series I would be enthralled. Virginia’s beau Anthony had me squinting in deep thought to place him before I realized it was Robin Hood without his bow and arrows. Ah, and Edward Fox as Lord Caterham. What distinction. What grace. Besides coming from the distinguished Fox acting dynasty (his brother is James Fox, nephew Laurence Fox and daughter Emilia Fox) he is a national treasure and never disappoints. As usual, the locations and costumes were superb. I want the Austin Healey that Miss Marple and Virginia arrive at Chimneys in. Ah, perchance to dream.

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE

26 thoughts on “Miss Marple: The Secret of Chimneys on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

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  1. I think I’d watch anything with Edward Fox in it. But my favorite is when he played Rupert Everett’s butler in the Importance of Being Ernest. He had such a small part, but he very nearly stole the movie.


  2. Lovely review Laurel Ann [and where did you find the time in the middle of the P&P trek?!] – I heartily agree with you – a great show [and I didn’t know this Christie story at all either – so thanks for clarifying that…] – Stephen Dillane has been a favorite of mine for years – he was perfect here- that sly smile, raised brows – certainly he should have a show of his own! – I recall feeling quite silly that I had the hots for Thomas Jefferson [Dillane played Jefferson in John Adams – all those lovely fashions!] – didn’t think that was seemly for a Founding Father! – now a Scotland Yard Inspector is much more acceptable!


    1. How did I find the time? I’m nuts. I made a commitment for Masterpiece Mystery months ago, so am just being a dutiful daughter. I must watch John Adams now that I know Stephen Dillane is Thomas Jefferson. In my free time of course!

      Thanks for your comments Deb. LA


      1. Laurel Ann

        Kudos for your highlighting the Austin Healey. Charlotte Salt was captivating. I too think this is one of the very best in the Miss Marple V grouping. The MG in Murder Is Easy is a longtime particular favorite, as well. I always enjoy seeing the cars along with the great architecture.


  3. I enjoyed it also. I had never heard of it before but I don’t know all of the Miss Marple series anyway. It was well done. And it truly was a surprise ending.


  4. I totally agree with you about Inspector Fitch! One got the feeling that he has a fascinating background that would make a great spin-off.

    I always love Edward Fox, but sadly, I got the feeling that he may not have been well during the filming. It seemed like the scenes he was in were shot so that he wouldn’t have to exert himself too much. Hopefully, that was just part of his character, because I hope to see him in films for many years to come.


  5. I have not had the good fortune of seeing Secret of Chimneys yet as I am in Australia with no knowledge of when it is scheduled to be screened here.
    I am a very devoted Fan of the brilliant and youngest Robin Hood so far, Jonas Armstrong, and I believe he plays an excellent, but brief part in this adaptation.
    It is to be hoped we will see him in many more productions, and soon, as he is a very talented and handsome young man. He has already been away from the screen for much too long since the end of Robin Hood and it is hoped we will see him in other productions very soon.


  6. My amateur opinion for what it’s worth goes like this: The production crew did an excellent shakespearean uptake in re-writing another’s work, changing the characters and the plot of the story, making an interesting work moreso. Being a fan of Stephen Dillane, I was somewhat disappointed in lack of depth of his attention to the inspector’s role. However his presence even in standing around brings class.


  7. This is one of those cases where reading the book first could really affect your enjoyment of the adaptation. Bundle Brent (her real last name) is one of my favorite Christie characters, and I didn’t take kindly to how much she was changed here. With that & the other changes, I didn’t get much pleasure from this story. The production values were great and the actors did the best with what they had, but I kept thinking of Ithe real story.

    I haven’t read “Blue Geranium” so maybe I’ll enjoy that one a bit more. Why do these producers say they want to “bring Christie to a new generation” and then proceed to bring something that is NOT Christie to the viewers? They might as well make up totally new stories (the “lost Marples” maybe?). Christie’s grandson could still make money off Miss Marple, and it wouldn’t invite comparisons with the originals.


    1. Marty, I thoroughly agree with what you have said here because the writers and producers of the BBC TV adaptation of Robin Hood did much the same with their version – changing it to bring the legend to a new generation only tptb got it so far wrong they broke all the tradionalists’ hearts in the process, mine most of all. The actors, particularly Jonas Armstrong who played Robin Hood and the excellent ensemble cast did their absolute best with what they were given. Wouldn’t you think these people would learn you cannot stray too far from an original before ruining it altogether?


  8. So many great actors in this episode! I must admit I was surprised to see Dervla Kirwains role have so little screen time.

    Just a side note, do you know the name of the waltz used in the movie? It was also in the Forsyte Saga.


      1. Can you please tell what’s the name of the song at the end of the film when the credits are rolling? I cannot find it. Thank you


  9. I’d watch anything (and I have) with Stephen Dillane. If you haven’t seen him as Thomas Jefferson in the John Adams mini-series on HBO, you are in luck as it will be replayed on July 3. He’s a wonderful actor.


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