Miss Marple: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – A Recap & Review

Image from Miss Marple: The Mirror Crack'd: Joanna Lumley and Julia McKenzie © 2010 MASTERPIECESpinster sleuth Miss Marple returned to Masterpiece Mystery last Sunday with her sensible shoes and ingenious deductions in one of Agatha Christie’s venerable warhorses, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. What true classic mystery aficionado has not seen one of the movie adaptations of this wonderful 1962 book of the same name? It has been trotted out no less than two times prior to this new production showcased by former Miss Marple’s: Angela Lansbury and Joan Hickson. Now Julia McKenzie gets her chance to slip into the Marple mantle and solve a double murder at a grand manor house  in her own village of St Mary Mead.

The locals are all aflutter when an American film actress Marina Gregg (Lindsay Duncan) takes up residence at Gossington Hall with her fifth husband, a dashing young English film director Jason Rudd (Nigel Harman) who has resurrected her waning career and the country estate formerly owned by Miss Marple’s friend Dolly Bantry (Joanna Lumley). A charity benefit hosted by the glamorous couple includes the press and all of the community but Miss Marple who must regretfully remain at home with a sprained ankle. During the party, the inquisitive Dolly Bantry observes local Marina Gregg fan Heather Badcock (Caroline Quinten) rambling on to her hostess about their meeting years earlier. Marina’s mysterious reaction to Heather’s recollection is to stare off into the distance in frozen shock? Dolly thinks it quite odd, but is later distracted by a more tragic event. Heather is dead and a poisoned daiquiri is suspected.

Dolly wastes no time in revealing all the details of the party to her friend later that afternoon. Miss Marple suspects murder and wonders if the cocktail was really meant for Marina but given to Heather by mistake? Dolly continues her report by equating Marina’s death-like daze to a Tennyson poem, “Out flew the web and floated wide – The mirror crack’d from side to side; “The curse is come upon me,” cried The Lady of Shalott.” As the investigation continues, Inspector Hewitt’s (Hugh Bonneville) suspect list lengthens as all the guests are interviewed. Is it Marina’s ex-husband the spiteful gossip columnist, her husband’s ex-girlfriend the jilted starlet or the suspicious young female photographer snapping shots of the guests at the party? It appears that many at the party have secret reasons to want Marina dead, including Marina herself.

It is easy to understand why The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side has been adapted so many times by movie producers. It is an intriguing story dripping with Hollywood glamor and colorful characters.  In this instance, the campy screenplay by Kevin Elyot moves Chrisite’s characterizations and plot twists even further toward a farcical spoof of the mystery genre than written or previously filmed. Director Tom Shankland’s use of over-the-top melodrama through clips of Marina’s films and the Movietone-like newsreels poke fun at the era and set the tone for the entire film. Oddly, Miss Marple is sidelined with an injury early on so her friend Dolly becomes her eyes and ears. Watching actress Joanna Lumley as Dolly acting like a giddy school girl over the celebrity parade and snooping on her neighbors was the highlight for me. Lumley’s infectious energy and deadpan comedy is so well suited for this type of role reminding me that Julia McKenzie’s low key and flat Miss Marple has yet to grow on me. The next episode of Miss Marple is an encore presentation of A Pocket Full of Rye on June 6th.

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE

Foyle’s War: Killing Time on Masterpiece Mystery PBS – Recap & Review

Image from Foyle's War: Killing Time: Michael Kitchen and Adam James © 2010 MASTERPIECPrejudice and bigotry permeate Killing Time, episode two of season VI of Foyle’s War on Masterpiece Mystery PBS. Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) is faced with the unpleasant reality of American vs. British solutions to racial tension in post war England. While attending a local civic meeting, segregation between the black GI’s stationed at a Bristol military base and the locals of Hasting is proposed by the commanding officer Major Wesker (Adam James) in reaction to recent altercations. In his usual cool and stoic manner he reminds them that segregation is not practiced in England, but is voted down by the committee. Meanwhile, Sam Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks) is experiencing her own challenges with racial prejudice when Mandy Dean (Charlotte Riley) a young mother residing in the boarding house that she and Adam Wainwright (Max Brown) are running together causes other residents to depart because of her mixed race baby. When Mandy’s ex-boyfriend Tommy Duggan (Sam Spruell) a conscientious objector during the war returns home to find her disowned from her family and a mother of black GI Gabe Kelly’s (Obi Abili) baby, he throws her off and hits the bottle in despair. The local police are also investigating a spree of highway robberies under way on the local Bristol and Hastings roads. When Mandy’s dead body is found on the US military base, Major Wesker locks up the black boyfriend and conveniently overlooks the possibility of the white ex-boyfriend. Foyle is unconvinced of Gabe Kelly’s motives and suspicious of his confession. Are the local robberies and the murder connected, and why is the US Army using all its power to stymie his investigation?

I found this episode very disturbing, stirring up the ugly and painful issues of racial prejudice and greed, two of the worst and in this instance deadliest of human failings. I squirmed when Foyle reminded us that racial segregation was not practiced in England, however they did use it in their colonies in India, Africa and the West Indies so it is a wash; not that anyone should be keeping score. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Charlotte Riley as the young mother caught between two worlds. She gave a much more convincing portrayal as a distraught mother then her passive interpretation of Cathy Earnshaw in Wuthering Weights on Masterpiece Classic last year. That may be due to director David Richards’ succinct and un-melodramatic rendering of David Kane’s smart script. This is a serious subject that could have all gone south if they had not played it straight.

The friendship/romance between Sam and Adam is developing in an interesting way with a few roadblocks thrown in for good measure. He is obviously attracted to her, reticent to make the move or to shy to be open about his feelings. She on the other hand is bound by the strictures of the time to act like his employee until they have reached some kind of mutual understanding. If memory serves, isn’t the “who can make the move” thing reversed in Britain during this time, so maybe that is why he is holding back? US service men were warned of this so they would be prepared when they were stationed in England. The robbery story had a nice twist in the end. Honestly, I was suspicious of the murderer from the get-go. Weren’t you? In next week’s episode The Hide we meet Nazi’s. As Indiana Jones says in Raiders of the Lost Ark, “Nazi’s. I hate these guys.” DCS Foyle is too much of a gentleman to ever admit to hating anyone, but we can for him.

Image courtesy © 2010 MASTERPIECE