Honoring the Heroine: Miss Jane T. V. Marple

Agatha Christie purists most likely shuddered in disgust the moment they saw which “Miss Marple” I picked from all the ones out there. There is no denying that the depiction of Margaret Rutherford is the one furthest removed from the character in the book. She doesn’t even remotely look like her (Miss Marple is supposed to be a somewhat frail woman with a sharp mind). It is nevertheless my favourite. I said it before, but it bears repeating: The more faithful adaptations tend to bore me out of my mind.

Miss Marple tends to be a little bit stale in a faithful adaptation. Which is most likely the reason why the Margaret Rutherford version is the most popular and well-known – not despite the changes they made to the character but because of them. She graced our screen in four movies. “Murder She Said” (1961) is based on the story “4.50 from Paddington”, and is actually fairly close to the source text. There are some twists which allow Miss Marple to be present in the house during all the important murders, but it’s still close enough to the original overall to be called a decent adaptation (and a really good movie). “Murder at the Gallop” (1963)  and “Murder Most Foul” (1964) are both based on Poriot stories, though the latter one very, very loosely. “Murder Ahoy!” (1964), arguable the weakest of the four, isn’t even based on a Christie story at all, though there are still the usual nods to Agatha Christie’s work.

So what makes this Miss Marple so great? Ironically exactly the aspects which remove her from the book version. She is old, but still very active. She isn’t just nosy but an annoying busybody who relishes in investigating at places where she isn’t wanted, irritating a lot of people in the process. While she likes to dress up like a woman from another era, she isn’t really that much for convention – but not above using them for her advantage. All in all she is quite the eccentric – and  a master in leading conversations in a way that in the end she gets exactly what she wants.

Miss-Jane-Marple

There are also a lot of hints that she lead quite an active life when she was younger. She is a good shot as well as a good fencer, golf player and dancer. And she is not afraid to be ugly. No offense to Margaret Rutherford, who was certainly a beauty when she was young and still had a lot of charisma in her later years. But the way she moved her lips combined with the often odd clothing she picked for the role made her look more comical than elegant. Which was, I guess, the point. Miss Marple is basically everything a woman shouldn’t be, and yet she is the one to pay attention to. It’s not even unbelievable that she gets proposed twice during the series – and that she each times declines because she has other suitors and other interests.

Quote: “I’m quite sure you mean well, Inspector, but if you imagine that I’m going to sit back and let everyone regard me as a dotty old maid, you’re very much mistaken.”

If you like crime stories, just watch the movies. Purists might have problems with them, but for the casual watcher they are a lot of fun – even if you already know, who the murder is from a previous watch. Just watching Miss Marple outwit everyone else is so much fun that I never get tired of them.  

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6 thoughts on “Honoring the Heroine: Miss Jane T. V. Marple

  1. I think Margaret Rutherford put so much character into her role that you feel like she’s very real and very convincing. She was a great comic actress, but also a very good dramatic actress, and I think it’s great that she had an instinctive way to balance the two. Thanks so much for sharing this!

    • She was awesome…though part of the credit goes to the script writer too. One of my favourite scenes in “Murder, she said” is when the policeman tries to figure out where the poison in the meal was…and she declares that she tasted everything with the exception of the rice – after all she wanted to pay attention to her weight. Plus, she had to make up for eating two piece of cake. The deadpan delivery makes me laugh every single time.

  2. Great post, but I think Agatha’s fans probably shudder because her name is spelt Christie and not Christy as far as I’m aware 🙂 p.s.- You picked the perfect quote.

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