St Merry Mead is a quiet village, a place where gossip flourishes and even the slightest hint of scandal is the source of ladies conversation at afternoon tea.
Colonel Lucius Protheroe (Derek Jacobi) has made a reputation as one of the most despicable residents. He thinks himself superior to everyone else, and finds pleasure in putting down the local vicar, Leonard Clement (Tim McInnerny), even going so far as to covertly express the matter in front of the entire congregation. This is something that Leonard’s new wife (Rachel Stirling) takes offense at. Much younger than her husband, Griselda Clement is often the topic of conversations… especially when it comes to a struggling artist living in the village. Lawrence Redding (Jason Flemying) has a reputation as quite the ladies’ man and in St. Merry Mead alone he is associated with several of the ladies. Commissioned to paint Colonel Protheroe’s daughter, Lettice (Christina Cole), the Colonel is outraged to discover his daughter is suggestively posing for the portrait while his second wife, Ann (Janet McTeer) attempts to keep peace in the household.
Meanwhile, St. Merry Mead’s most revered resident – quite well-known for her tendency to solve puzzles, Miss Jane Marple (Geraldine McEwan) has a front row seat to all the mysterious happenings after a sprained ankle. The vicarage garden shed is the place where so many of the goings-on occur, and the rumors going on raise more questions than answers.
When finally I saw these, they were watched backwards. I started with series five before purchasing the “collection” release for my mom as a Christmas present one year. Though these modern adaptations are far from perfect in some terms, they are probably some of the most intelligent scripts on TV. Dialogue is sharp and witty, and the mysteries are top-notch. Each are complicated all while building the kind of suspense needed to keep us wavering on the edge as to which characters are good and which are not. And I was on the edge of my seat. Writers, directors, and cast reveal in their roles just what capable hands this series is in. All four tele-films are thrilling in their capacity. Murder at the Vicarage is probably the least impressive in terms of the crime but nevertheless it is still entertaining. For a screenplay to juggle so many intricate plots, clues and details is not something to make light of. The Body in the Library is the most ingenious while 4:50 from Paddington (although the end is cute, I will confess, I was rooting for the alternate) is likely my favorite.
Although something often associated to these new adaptations, I’d be remiss not to mention the guest stars are some of the best, most talented Britain has to offer. Derek Jacobi, Christina Cole, Cherie Lunghi, Keeley Hawes, Matthew Goode, and Jack Davenport are only a few of the recognizable names and faces while Julie Cox stars as a young Miss Marple in a heartbreaking flashback. There has been much disagreements and conflict as to which actress depicts Miss Marple the best. Coming from someone unfamiliar with the original context, I can say that now I’ve seen three leading ladies in the role, I think Geraldine McEwan takes two sides of a personality and mixes them to give the best portrayal of Miss Marple I’ve seen. Her interpretation of the iconic figure is just enough of the grandmotherly type – having never married nor raised children she perhaps wouldn’t be the most natural nurturer, while maintaining a slight sinister characteristic when she lays out the crimes. She totes around her knitting bag, is never seen without a mystery novel and still manages to catch a killer… all while knitting (who says you cannot multi-task and still accomplish things?). In spite of all the marvelous attributes and classic material, there are some drawbacks you should take into consideration (more in the "footnote").
Filmmakers more than make up where they fail conservative viewers in the content. Sets and costumes are rich in period detail. The countryside scenery is breathtaking and the camera angles and editing was crafted well. In terms of filming, if one thing does become a bit “old,” it’s the use of so many flashbacks. They are frequent most especially in the opening and in what follows but that does seem to settle down to some extent so that it isn’t quite the distraction it once was or perhaps, I merely became accustomed to them; they all are eight, ten, fifteen years later so that the foundation of the tale is more important than it may have seemed. No matter your motivation for seeing these – cast, genre, era, one thing you can be assured of is an entertaining evening of fun while you try and solve a jolly good murder with the delightful antics of St. Merry Mead’s most famous resident.
(Be aware: Two episodes include a homosexual plot; both of which show a same-sex kiss. Illegitimate children are mentioned as are adulterous affairs, some of which are motive for murder. The first of the set sees a brief tryst between a married woman and her lover when they are caught. Victims are poisoned, others are bludgeoned to death, and another is shot. The worst of the language are uses of b*sst*rd and b*tch.)