Sunday 8 November 2015

A Murder Is Announced: Two Joans at their very best

I recently watched the classic Miss Marple drama A Murder Is Announced on one of the myriad of satellite television channels that churn out old programmes again and again. For once, I'm really glad they did as I had forgotten just how wonderful this Miss Marple is.

The BBC produced twelve Marple adaptations between 1984 and 1992, each starring the irreplaceable Joan Hickson as Agatha Christie's famous elderly sleuth. They are so faithful to the original stories and to the post-war Britain they represent. I prefer some of the tales more than others but they are all excellently scripted, beautifully filmed and perfectly cast. 

A Murder Is Announced in easily my favourite. First of all it is an excellent story. Most importantly for me, it boasts a cast of truly excellent actors which include Ursula Howells, Renee Asherson, Kevin Whately, John Castle, Samantha Bond and Sylvia Syms. Leading the cast is the magnificent Joan Hickson. Joan, known to us for her super turns in five of the Carry On films, really came into her own as Miss Marple. After decades as a working actress, well-loved by her peers and regular cinema and film goers, she eventually became a world-wide star as Jane Marple. The series catapulted her to fame on both sides of the Atlantic at a time when most people have long since retired.

Joan Hickson was the most subtle of actors. The eyes always told you everything. I'm thinking in particular of one of my very favourite scenes which sees Marple take tea with Asherson's simple Dora Bunner at The Bluebird Cafe. Over coffee and rather dreadful post-war cakes (Not that one, it tastes of salmon) Jane Marple quietly yet shrewdly persuades Dora to relax, trust her and open up, sharing important information that ultimately helps Marple to crack the case. It's a beautifully played little scene showcasing Hickson at her very best.

A Murder Is Announced also features the gorgeous Joan Sims in the supporting role as Miss Murgatroyd. The simple, plain Amy Murgatroyd is a delicate role for Sims and she captures the character perfectly. It is so different from the roles Joan is best known for and I always watch it wishing she had been given more opportunities to play in this kind of classic drama. Joan was quite simply an excellent straight actress with a flair for comedy. In A Murder Is Announced, Murgatroyd lives with Miss Hinchcliffe (wonderfully played by Paola Dionisotti). While it is never referenced fully in the drama, it is quite clear to us that these two are lesbians. It is all very subtly played but after Murgatroyd's very sad demise, Hinchcliffe's grief at the loss of her partner is very clear to see and painful to watch. 

I love both Joans in this classic period drama. Both performances are so far removed from anything they did in the Carry On series, which is not to knock those roles or the films. I just love seeing Carry On actors doing something a little different on screen. We all know the Carry Ons were so successful mainly down to the quality of the actors Rogers and Thomas cast again and again. It's just nice to see the breadth and depth of that quality in other roles. So if you haven't seen the BBC adaptation of A Murder Is Announced, check it out next time it appears in the television schedules. You won't regret it.

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