Miss Jane Marple was a crime fighter who relied on her feminine sensitivity and empathy to solve crimes. While the police struggled to find a culprit Miss Marple went quietly about her business looking for clues using her instinct and knowledge of human nature. They rarely let her down. The spinster detective who first appeared in Agatha Christie's 1930 novel 'The Murder at the Vicarage' has been portrayed by a variety of actresses in films and television.
Following her first small screen appearance on 30th December 1956, as portrayed by Lancashire lass Gracie Fields in a US produced Goodyear Television Playhouse presentation, the female sleuth was subsequently played on the big screen in rumbustious style by the delightfully eccentric Margaret Rutherford before Angela Lansbury's performance in The Mirror Crack'd led her to a similar role in the U.S. television series Murder She Wrote. In Britain, however, the most famous Miss Marple has been Joan Hickson who many feel gave the definitive performance. Rumour has it that Hickson was actually recommended by Agatha Christie herself.
Back in the 1940s before Rutherford was playing Miss Marple, Agatha Christie met Joan Hickson and allegedly told her that she'd be perfect for the role of the spinster detective who lives in the English village of St. Mary Mead. However, some forty years passed before Hickson got a chance to prove the authoress right and by that time Christie had already passed away.
Hickson herself was of course much older than when Christie had given her the nod and as such her performance had a lot less energy than the Rutherford portrayal. However, Miss Marple is never required to get involved in any physical chase or fight. Instead she solves each mystery by appearing to be a frail, scatty and absent minded leading her suspects into a false sense of security while all the time she is quietly observing and putting together facts in her keen analytical mind until eventually she has enough evidence to unmask the true culprit. Between 1984 ("The Body in the Library") and 1992 ("The Mirror Crack'd"), the BBC in association with America's Arts and Entertainments network, and Australia's Seven network, produced a series of twelve Miss Marple mysteries. Although frail in appearance, Hickson's mere presence, her intensely blue and intelligent eyes and the way she dominated each scene would almost certainly have been the qualities that Agatha Christie had originally spotted in the actress. Joan Hickson finally retired from sleuthing at the tender age of 86.
Miss Marple herself was bought out of retirement by LWT in 2004 in Agatha Chritie's Miss Marple (aka Marple) with Geraldine McEwan in the lead role, which she played until 2009 after which Julia McKenzie took on the role.
Published on January 6th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus (April 2006) for Television Heaven.