I feel I should start this review by pointing out that I am allergic to change; I don’t like it when TV shows substitute a major player with someone else. It happened with Our Tracy Luv on Corrie when she emerged from her bedroom, some years after being sent there, as a completely different person.
Corrie did the same with Nicky, Gail’s must-missing son. Eastenders did it with Sam Mitchell… the list goes on and on, but sometimes, it’s a bridge too far. Such was my initial feeling on watching Julia McKenzie stepping into the dainty but sensible shoes of Joan Hickson as Agatha Christie’s Marple.
For me, Joan was the definitive Marple; a pink faced, grey haired, living, breathing portrayal of the character, who, I’m quite convinced, Christie conjured up for the role using some kind of magic, because any fan of Christie’s original Marple mystery books will know that when reading them, the mental image of Miss Marple is Joan Hickson.
However, that wonderful lady sadly died in 1998 and in order to continue to bring the fabulously innocent but deviously well crafted stories of Christie to a new generation, a new Marple had to be found. Geraldine McEwan took on the challenge but was never convincing enough for me. So now we have Julia McKenzie, and although she lacks Hickson’s amazing ability to say so much with a mere glance, it turned out that she wasn’t all that bad.
In fact, she was pretty good, but I still felt like I was betraying Joan somehow; by enjoying McKenzie’s performance, it felt rather like having an illicit affair behind Joan’s back. But, that aside, it really was a highly enjoyable and surprisingly faithful adaptation of the original work, and the supporting cast contained some fairly big names too, which added to the value of this latest re-working of Christie’s novel.
And of course, the tragic Wendy Richard made an appearance as the cook, Mrs Crump. When she took on the role, Wendy knew she was very ill and the fact that she chose to take the part, despite knowing her time was limited, demonstrates her love of her art, and it was great to see her on-screen again.
It was also fun to see Ralf Little and Helen Baxendale but it was a special treat to me to see Kenneth Cranham. When he was the star of Shine on Harvey Moon in the early ‘80s, I had rather a big crush on him, and he’s still an imposing, handsome man.
So, to sum up, while I didn’t want to like Julia McKenzie in the role of Marple, I did. She can’t replace Joan Hickson and, no matter how good she might be as the character, she’ll never be as good as Joan. However, I didn’t get any feeling that she was trying to be. There was no attempt on McKenzie’s part to evoke analogous Hickson-esque characteristics, so in that regard, she’s sure to make the role her own and who knows, maybe she’ll become as iconic as Hickson was to a new generation of burgeoning Christie fans.