Last Night's TV - Agatha Christie's Marple, ITV1; Coronation Street, ITV1

She's still on the right trail

Christmas television, rather like Christmas itself, is a blend of trends and traditions. And the tradition is to indulge the trend, so that whatever might be the format du jour - game show, talent show, reality show, panel game, nostalgia fest – is given pride of place in the schedules. Nothing gobbles up those schedules quite as satisfyingly, though, as drama. No matter who's been foxtrotting, eating witchetty grubs or singing Christmas Cowells, drama is and always has been the sine qua non of festive-season telly. It's good for us, the viewers, and it's good for them, the broadcasters. For not only does it very usefully occupy up to two hours of primetime, it also shows that they have been spending their money, which, one way or another, is also our money, creatively.

But there is original drama, and there is Agatha Christie. I don't know anyone who still refers to the BBC as Auntie, but we should all call ITV Agatha, especially at this time of year. When they hear the distant tinkle of jinglebells, ITV executives simply dial M for Marple. Or P for Poirot. On Christmas Day, Hercule Poirot was let loose on the Orient Express, and last night Miss Marple wound up at Chimneys, a grand country house owned by Edward Fox, who was not only born to wear a wing collar, but very possibly born wearing one.

I confess to being fascinated by Edward Fox. Did any actor ever play the same character so many times, with so many different names? I suppose the late Robert Morley might have given him a run for his money, as might James Robertson Justice. But not even those two irrepressible old hams had the longevity of Fox, who give or take the switch of a monocle from one eye to the other, has been playing Edward VIII, with or without Mrs Simpson, since 1978.

I don't mean this as criticism. For one thing, I am truly in awe of the ability to make limited talent go an extraordinarily long way. And for another, he plays that character better than anyone. When they came to cast The Secret of Chimneys, and had to draw up a list of contenders for the part of stuffy old patrician Lord Caterham, I'll bet it was a list of one.

You have to hand it to the producers of these big Agatha Christie extravaganzas; they don't half cast them well. On Christmas Day, the Orient Express chugged along bearing Eileen Atkins, David Morrissey, Hugh Bonneville and Barbara Hershey, not to mention dear David Suchet. And as well as lovely Julia McKenzie, Chimneys belched out Dervla Kirwan, Stephen Dillane and Michelle Collins, as well as, intriguingly, both Ruth Jones and Mathew Horne, Gavin & Stacey's Nessa and Gavin.

They were all simply splendid, taking perfectly in their collective stride a plot of sublime silliness that I'm pretty sure bore scarcely any resemblance to anything Dame Agatha ever wrote. I suppose the trick to these things is to play them completely straight. Even the slightest whiff of a suggestion that an actor might be treating it tongue in cheek, and it would all come apart at the seams, which on reflection is a pot pourri of mixed metaphors that might almost sit on Miss Marple's window sill back in St Mary Mead. The point is that we can chuckle our way through it but they mustn't, even though last night's investigating officer, Inspector Finch of Scotland Yard (the ever-excellent Dillane), might just as easily have been Ronnie Corbett's Inspector Corner of the Yard.

As for what actually happened, if you watched then you already know and if you didn't, you really don't need to know. Suffice to relate that we got a shot Austrian count, a poisoned housekeeper, a famous lost diamond, a secret passage and some sumptuous production values. Oh, and the double-murderer turned out to be Edward Fox, nursing a 23-year-old grudge involving his dead wife and a Viennese waltz too far. Did I say Edward Fox? I meant Lord Caterham. Or did I?

Whatever, you could have taken away the wing collars, moved the action to Greater Manchester, made Lord Caterham a bookie, and, hey presto, an episode of Coronation Street. The trouble with the great Weatherfield tram disaster of 2010 is that, soaps being soaps, everything has to return to normality a little too quickly to be entirely plausible. Did I say entirely? I meant remotely. After all, it's barely three weeks since septuagenarian Rita Sullivan (Barbara Knox) was buried under a ton of rubble, and while I for one am chuffed to bits that Rita is still alive to dispense the lemon sherbets, the rudeness of her health stretches credulity well beyond twanging point.

Still, Coronation Street has always offered far more delights than irritations, and sniff as we might at Rita's Lazarus-like comeback, not to mention that of Peter Barlow (Chris Gascoyne), who wasn't so much at death's door following the tram crash as over the threshold and into the parlour, it's hard to think of any plot development in any drama over the Christmas period quite so appealing as Kevin Webster's discovery last night that his cuckolded wife, Sally, had left him nothing in the food cupboard except one can of lobster bisque and another of bamboo shoots. Besides, if plausibility were the be-all and end-all of drama, then Shakespeare himself would have been found wanting. What we require, especially at this time of year, is escapism. Those lively old broads Jane Marple and Rita Sullivan fit the bill perfectly.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

    Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US