Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The mysterious affair of the rotten actress

Agatha Christie in the '50s
When things get a bit trying the only thing to do is re-read an old favourite, preferably in the bath. So given that I’ve been unwell this week and today I almost poisoned one of the cats (Lyle, he’s ok, just feeling a bit sorry for himself. And apparently my typing is disturbing his sleep because I just got A Look), with things not being too rosy what I needed was a dose of some of my favourites: Agatha Christie or Georgette Heyer. I must have been pretty sick because I didn’t even feel like reading. So I settled myself on the sofa with a rug, a cup of tea and some fruit toast, and Lyle and I snuggled down to watch one of my latest library finds: a Miss Marple dvd from a 1980s television series. A series I had never seen before! My childhood television was pretty much confined to British series. My entire world view was based on episodes of All creatures great and small. I grew up dreaming of milking cows, walking on the village green and gathering tussie mussies. How come I don’t remember this series?

Now I must say that Agatha has a firm place in my heart. I spent most every weekend at my grandparents, sitting in their jacaranda tree, reading my nana’s Christie collection while my grandad brought me cups of tea and shortbread (with 'extra rations' for my ‘brother in the army’ – is it any wonder I feel I’m still living in the 40s?). So I have extremely FIRM VIEWS on how these books should be portrayed on screen. As far as Miss Marple goes, things so far have been disastrous.

Margaret Rutherford. Looks like a horse. Wouldn’t be surprised if she smoked a pipe. Christie tells us in every second paragraph that Miss M is 'fluffy'. Miss Rutherford is as fluffy as a Rottweiler.

Geraldine McEwan. Waspish. Really, she’s such a bitch. But worse – they COMPLETELY CHANGED THE STORIES. Now this series has been much lauded and yes, the frocks are lovely, but the changes! It’s a travesty! And we’re not just talking little changes. We are talking the guy who dunnit is now the lesbian couple who dunnit. Apart from the fact that this is just WRONG dear Agatha never did lesbians. Yes, there are ladies who lived together. This is an accurate depiction of an historical situation. These are women of a certain age. They would have lived through the First World War. Now a fair number of men were killed in this war. There was a man shortage! (You can read about this in …) For many women, the future was grim. Work choices were limited. Spinsterhood loomed. The only opportunity to gain some independence from family was to pool resources with a similarly situated friend and set up house together. In any case, one of Christie’s endearing qualities is her complete confusion about such things. You can see it in her later books of the 60s when she simply doesn’t know what to make of long-haired boys in bohemian dress. ‘Peacocks’ she calls them. The mistrust is evident. You can be sure that these characters will be bad uns. You can almost hear her sniffing ‘drugs!’ as she describes these suspiciously effeminate youths. This series is a crime.

So now I have Joan Hickson. Christie once saw her on the stage and declared her to BE Miss Marple. She’s not bad at the fluffy but she tends to overplay the whole thing and winds up looking a bit fey. There are lots of shots of her looking off into space (ah, we say, she is THINKING). This actually makes her seem a touch psychotic. Apart from a mad main character, the series is plagued by woeful production values. The whole thing is a bit stagy and it all looks like the 1980s. I got all pedantic looking at the clothes and hairstyles. (And where were the ration books?) To top it off, the music is hilarious. Elizabethan lute music for scenes in the old ancestral home, crashing organ music for the business man. It put me in mind of the music from Psycho.

So. Series abandoned. Discovered that what I really needed to do when I was feeling sick was have a rant.

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