Miss Marple is a British television series based on the Miss Marple murder mystery novels by Agatha Christie. It starred Joan Hickson in the title role, and aired from 1984 to 1992. All twelve original Miss Marple Christie novels have been dramatised. The screenplays were written by T.R. Bowen, Julia Jones, Alan Plater, Ken Taylor and Jill Hyem, and it was produced by George Gallaccio.
Christie had never been very happy with most filmed adaptations of her works, and according to her grandson Mathew Pritchard, who handled her estate after her death, "did not care much for television" either. Producer Pat Sandys of LWT first approached Pritchard and the Christie estate with a researched, detailed plan to film the novels Why Didn't They Ask Evans? and The Seven Dials Mystery in the early 1980s. Although indifferently treated by critics, the projects were popular with audiences and led to the filming of a number of short stories and the Tommy and Tuppence Beresford stories in the series Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime. With the success of that series, the BBC got the approval to produce the stories of one of Christie's most famous detectives.
Joan Hickson, who played Miss Marple, was an octogenarian herself during most of the series' production. Decades before, she had appeared in a minor role in Murder, She Said, in which Margaret Rutherford played Miss Marple. The adaptations are mainly true to the original novels. Hickson had also appeared in a stage adaptation of the novel Appointment with Death in 1946, after which Christie sent Hickson a note "I hope one day you will play my dear Miss Marple."
There were two other semi-regular characters in Miss Marple. The first was Detective Inspector Slack (later Detective Superintendent), played by David Horovitch, the second Detective Constable (later Detective Sergeant) Lake, played by Ian Brimble. Detective Inspector/Superintendent Slack and Detective Constable/Sergeant Lake appeared in five episodes, The Body in the Library, The Murder at the Vicarage, 4.50 From Paddington, They Do It with Mirrors and The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. Detective Inspector Craddock appeared in A Murder is Announced and The Mirror Crack'd. Gwen Watford also appeared in two episodes as Miss Marple's friend and neighbour, Dolly Bantry.
- Main article: List of Miss Marple episodes
In total, 12 Miss Miss Marple stories were adapted into 5 one-part episodes, 5 two-part episodes, and 2 three-part episodes starting with The Body in the Library (1984) and ending with The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side (1992).
Producer Guy Slater of the BBC cast Hickson. The series was filmed beginning in 1983 in areas including Norfolk, Devon, Barbados, near Oxford, and the town of Nether Wallop, Hampshire doubled as Marple's village of St. Mary Mead. Slater was replaced by producer George Gallaccio starting with the fourth film. Mainly for stylistic reasons, the films were set in the 1950's, in the years of 1951 and between 1954 and 1959. Hickson was fond of the idea of the episodes airing at Christmas or in the Christmas holidays, which was why some aired around that time.
Hickson vowed not to do another film after 1989's A Caribbean Mystery, but was persuaded to return for the final films in 1991 and 1992. A Caribbean Mystery was shot on location at the Coral Reef Hotel in Barbados, where Christie had stayed in her visit to the country, and which had been the inspiration for the setting of the novel. Owners Budge and Cynthia O'Hara, who still owned the hotel 30 years later, were the inspirations for the characters in the novel and were able to share a treasure trove of Christie memorabilia with the cast.
The evocative theme tune for the TV series was composed by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley.
The first episode was enthusiastically received by critics. The Times said "once hooked, you won't be able to turn off", and the Sun said it was a series "with pulling power and real class". For episode two, The Moving Finger, The Daily Telegraph stated "Once again Guy Slater's production is built around the brilliant performance of Joan Hickson, behind whose faded blue eyes and spinsterish sibilants, the wheels of detective intelligence can be seen positively whirring around. The enterprise is impeccably cast, beautifully ordered, lovingly photographed." Reviews for subsequent films were equally positive.
Alan McKee, of the Museum of Broadcast Communications, reviews the series as "a good example of a 'heritage' production", popular in the 1980s. It combines new Victorianism in moral standards and a sanitised version of England's past. Mostly set in a rural past, English architecture and country mansion houses are featured. Like many BBC programs, production values are impeccable and costumes, houses and decor, cars, hairstyles and make-up could all be described as "sumptuous".
McKee also praises the series for "being as faithful as possible to the source material. Miss Marple does not chase the villains herself as Margaret Rutherford does in her film series, nor are the titles of the books altered to make them more sensational.
As for Hickson personally, she is frequently described as the "definitive" Miss Marple as Christie would have pictured her, and Hickson personally credited in large part the bestowal of an OBE award to the role, as Queen Elizabeth II was a large fan of the series and Hickson's performance.
All twelve episodes were shown in the United States on the PBS Mystery! series. Miss Marple was also seen in over 30 countries, including Gibraltar, Spain, the former Soviet Union and China.
Miss Marple was first released in DVD in the UK (Region 2) in 2000. A complete box set of all 12 episodes was released in 2005 by 2 Entertain Video. In North America (Region 1), episodes were first released in 2001.
In summer 2009 the Sunday edition of the Greek newspaper Kathimerini was offering to its readers, the DVDs (one per week) of the series.
In January 2010, the Daily Mail newspaper offered 6 DVDs (from 2 Entertain Video) each with a complete episode from series. The episodes in the DVD giveaway offer were The Murder at the Vicarage, Sleeping Murder, At Bertram's Hotel, Nemesis, A Caribbean Mystery, and They Do It with Mirrors.