Monday, January 28, 2013

People do tend to confide in old ladies

Although Agatha Christie wrote mysteries with numerous crime-solving sleuths, her two most famous detectives must be the quiet, unassuming Jane Marple and the flamboyant, dandyish Hercule Poirot.  Now, Acorn Media is offering a new DVD set featuring the best cases from each detective, as chosen by Christie fans.  Poirot and Marple: Fan Favorites features the detectives at the peak of their investigational powers, solving crimes and rooting out murderers when the police are baffled (which is most of the time!).

The six discs feature 5 Marple and 6 Poirot cases.  In an unusual bit of casting, Miss Marple is played in 3 of the episodes by Geraldine McEwan, and in 2 of them by the "new" Miss Marple, Julia McKenzie.  Poirot is portrayed by the inimitable David Suchet.  I wonder if in real life he's a bit of a slob, since he has to be so persnickety as Poirot?  There are also plenty of familiar faces popping up in the various episodes, including Joanna Lumley, Peter Davison, Derek Jacobi and Hugh Bonneville.

Miss Marple's cottage
Miss Marple lives in the idyllic village of St. Mary Mead, where there is the occasional murder, but she also has an amazing network of friends, relatives and acquaintances around England that she visits to help with their pesky murder problems.  In "Murder at the Vicarage" from 2004, we learn a bit of Miss Marple's past, and perhaps why she has remained single all these years.  Geraldine McEwan's Miss Marple spends her spare time reading mystery stories and knitting as suspects reveal their secrets.  The police at first regard her as a silly nuisance, but before long they realize that people are only too eager to share confidences with the unassuming little old lady.  The police are generally baffled, even when they work in pairs, until Miss Marple is able to explain how the crimes occurred!  The stories featuring Miss Marple include:
  • The Murder at the Vicarage (2004)
  • A Murder is Announced (2005)
  • At Bertram's Hotel (2007)
  • A Pocket Full of Rye (2008)
  • The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side (2010)

It's been a while since I read any of the Agatha Christie mystery stories, but even though these mysteries seem to be true to their time period in terms of setting and costumes (and frequent references to "the war" -- meaning either the first or second world war, depending on the year events take place), I can't help but think these episodes have been "spiced up" a bit for modern viewers.  There's a presumably lesbian couple, a vaguely predatory homosexual theatrical-type, and a few energetic sex scenes (although not among same-sex couples -- Dame Agatha would have never even implied that, I'm sure!).  For some reason, in these episodes, I preferred Geraldine McEwan's performances.  Her Miss Marple was very sweet and kindly, wearing soft pastels and radiating gentleness.  Julia McKenzie's Miss Marple dresses more business-like and seems a bit more sharp.  Both Marples manage to get the job done, however!

The Hercule Poirot collection includes:
  • Murder on the Orient Express (2010)
  • Hercule Poirot's Christmas (1995)
  • The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1990)
  • The ABC Murders (1992)
  • The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb (1993)
  • Four and Twenty Blackbirds (1989)
Poirot's detection kit
In contrast to Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot has his side-kicks in most episodes, including his friend Captain Hastings, and the hardworking, if somewhat clueless, Inspector Japp.  In "The ABC Murders" in particular, Poirot ropes in a gang of helpers (all possible suspects) to assist him in his work to catch a killer.  Still, it is left to Poirot to actually figure out what is going on and enlighten the others.  I was also interested to see him employ a "detection kit" for collecting evidence in "The Mysterious Affair at Styles."  These episodes also span a long time period.  In "The Mysterious Affair at Styles," Poirot is a Belgian war refugee in 1917.  The very next episode, "The ABC Murders" takes place in 1936, when Poirot and his friend Captain Hastings are reunited and refer to a six month separation!

In all the episodes, there are no shortage of possible killers, and very few of them make a convincing case for their innocence until they are eliminated by the sleuth in charge.  We have a single person killed with many possible suspects, many people killed with lots of motivated relatives, killers working together and people being framed.  You'll never see the solutions coming -- at least I never did!

This set also includes a small booklet, "Delicious Death" which contains a scrumptious looking recipe for a cake of the same name, which is mentioned in "A Murder is Announced."  I haven't attempted to make the recipe yet, but the ingredients and accompanying photo do indeed look delicious!

Disclaimer:  I received a review copy of Poirot & Marple: Fan Favorites from Acorn Media in exchange for this review

Final Verdict for Poirot & Marple: Fan Favorites Four Gherkins, for being a wonderful look at the art of detection from the Queen of Crime!

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