x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Playing Miss Marple calls for some acting chops

With the announcement that Jennifer Garner is set to play the latest incarnation of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, a look at the history of the character.

At an age when most people would be knitting, sucking on boiled sweets and playing card games (feel free to throw in any ageist stereotypes you can imagine) Agatha Christie's eternally septuagenarian sleuth, Miss Jane Marple, was solving murders.

First introduced in 1926's The Tuesday Night Club, a short story of Christie's that was published in The Sketch magazine the same year, the quintessentially British spinster features in 19 other short stories, as well as 12 novels - the final of which, Sleeping Murder, was also the last of Christie's works to be published. Believed to have been written during the Blitz, the book was kept in a vault for roughly 30 years, finally reaching the public soon after Christie's death in 1976.

Christie based the character of Marple, whom she described as a kind person, on the old ladies she had chanced upon in various English countryside villages where she had gone to stay as a child.

Thought of by many as the female version of the author's first character, the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, Marple has withstood the ravages of time to become as admired as the mustachioed crime-solver. Such a well-loved character is always going to be tricky to cast, which is why it's no surprise that Disney's announcement about its new adaptation was greeted with howls of outrage. The forthcoming version will relocate the plodding but unmissable "action" to the US; the character of Miss Marple being played by the notably wrinkle-free Jennifer Garner.

That's 38-year-old Jennifer Garner, best known for her role as an indestructible super agent in the long-running series Alias. Lest we forget, this is a woman who - quite apart from the sparkly white teeth and impressive physique - is more than young enough to be the original Miss Marple's daughter.

Questionable casting choices aside, Garner has some big shoes to fill. Dame Margaret Rutherford was cast in the first series of Miss Marple adaptations in the 1960s. A stern-looking woman, Rutherford began her career at the acclaimed London theatre, the Old Vic, before finding everlasting fame as the ageing busybody. Starring in four films, the actress supposedly insisted on wearing her own clothes during filming, as well as managing to secure a role for her husband and fellow actor, Stringer Davis.

Rutherford was a success in the role, but Christie herself was not a fan of the portrayal. According to an interview with the actress Joan Hickson on Christie's official website, the author did not agree with the decision to cast Rutherford as Marple, apparently voicing her wish that Hickson take on the role. Rumour has it that while watching the RADA-trained actress perform in one of her plays, Appointment With Death, at some time in the 1940s, Christie sent Hickson a note backstage stating that she hoped to see her play Miss Marple in the future.

Christie didn't live to see it, but her choice was apt: some 40 years later, Hickson was cast as Marple in the globally acclaimed British TV series that ran from 1984 to 1992. Starring as the self-appointed sleuth in all 12 televised adaptations of the Miss Marple novels, Hickson picked up several Bafta nominations as a result - not surprising given that the show was sold to more than 30 countries.

Other stars to have portrayed Marple include Murder, She Wrote's Angela Lansbury, who starred in probably the most high-profile adaptation of the 1962 novel The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side (retitled The Mirror Crack'd for the big screen). Lansbury was joined on the production by Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, Kim Novak and Elizabeth Taylor.

Of little consolation to the many actresses more suited for the plum role, Garner - who will also produce the Disney remake - is expected to be starring as a younger version of Marple.

But who knows. With wigs and prosthetics nowadays, plenty can be achieved.

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