Tuesday, 8 September 2009

A Pocket Full of Rye


I was quite prepared not to like Julia McKenzie’s interpretation of Miss Jane Marple (or ‘Marple’ as ITV now calls her, for some reason) but I was pleased, and maybe a little surprised, that her debut in A Pocket Full of Rye proved to be a good performance in a well-made adaptation of an enjoyable story.

The screenplay was by Kevin Elyot, who is experienced in the art of Christie adaptation, and I thought it was impressive that he handled the final revelations in a wholly unmelodramatic way. I was a huge fan of the Joan Hickson series (and Hickson is the definitive Jane Marple) but the Hickson version of this story, in which Peter Davison played the villain, ended, as I recall, with a rather over-the-top climax.

In this version, the emphasis was on Miss Marple’s fondness for Gladys, the maid who was the unwitting tool of a ruthless killer, and her determination to see justice meted out to the man who destroyed her. This reflects, properly, Christie’s attitude to crime and punishment, and her concept of Jane Marple as a wise woman and a righter of wrongs. The whodunit mystery here is quite cleverly constructed, but there is a bit more to this particular story than the puzzle.

The production was a little slow at times – 90 minutes would have been better than two hours, I think. But the acting was good, and generally avoided the tongue-in-cheek, or the hamminess that ruined some of the episodes starring Geraldine McEwan as the spinster sleuth. Helen Baxendale was good as usual, and it was nice (although sad) to see the late Wendy Richard and the late Ken Campbell playing Mr and Mrs Crump.

Final verdict – on this evidence, McKenzie may turn out to be a distinct improvement on McEwan. I’ll be watching her again.

15 comments:

bookwitch said...

Anybody will be an improvement on G McE. I don't know why they thought Miss Marple could be sexed up and poked fun at with totally new plots. Actually, I suppose I do. It's what one does these days.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I'm trying to remember if Ms. McKenzie's portrayal was the one that recently aired in the States on our public broadcasting. I'll have to Google it. The actress was new to the role and the production wasn't the campy style I'd seen previously (and didn't care for.)

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

crimeficreader said...

Martin, I am with you on the length. I actually stopped watching as I found it too slow. But I also had other, more pressing things to do at the time...

Dorte H said...

I have also heard that McKenzie should be in nearly the same league as Hickson.

Now I hope they will let us see the episodes in Denmark before I am too old to notice the differences.

R. T. said...

I share your disappointment with the lead-role casting; however, I was much impressed with the episode you discuss, and I particularly liked the portrayal of the gullible Gladys. Perhaps Julia McKenzie is hampered by following in formidable footsteps left by previous portrayals of Miss Marple (especially in the mid-20th century films with Margaret Rutherford).

R. T. said...

Postscript: As a follow up to my previous comment, though slightly off-topic, surely no one can imagine a successful portrayal of Poirot in the wake of David Suchet's performances. His work eclipses all previous Poirot's and preempts any attempts that might follow in the future.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for all these comments.
Bookwitch - I agree. The Sittaford Mystery in particular was a travesty.
Elizabeth - sounds like you got to this version first!
Crimefic - it was indeed slow, but overall I did enjoy it.
Dorte - plenty of time yet, then!
R.T. - yes! Suchet is brilliant and unsurpassable.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Martin,

I'd like to have you guest blog at Writing Advice and Good Books: http://advicefromeditors.blogspot.com/

Contact me at Seniorsleuth@aol.com

Jean Henry Mead

seana said...

It's odd that it would have played here in the U.S. first, but I saw it as well, or at least I think I did. I thought her interpretation was suitable, but it is hard to follow Joan Hickson. The Geraldine McEwan interpretation was quite a leap, and I think it largely failed. But it didn't help that they rewrote an ending or two either!

Suchet is marvelous, as was Jeremy Brett for Sherlock Holmes, and along with Hickson, these are all definitive roles, but never say never when it comes to actors. It may yet turn out that another actor will speak to another generation in a completely different way.

BooksPlease said...

It was slow and like you I was prepared not to like Julie McKenzie's Jane, but I did, not as good as Joan Hickson but then for me she was Miss Marple. I'm looking forward to more, but I wish they hadn't dropped the "Miss" from the title!

Martin Edwards said...

Will do, Jean.

Martin Edwards said...

Seana, you express it perfectly. Even though Brett went over the top towards the end, at his best he was truly brilliant.

Martin Edwards said...

BP, it's interesting how similar your reaction was to mine, and I think to that of many others. It will be intriguing to check the quality of future episodes.

Kerrie said...

Martin, would you like to submit this to the next Agatha Christie Blog Carnival?

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Kerrie. I have done so.