The Weekend's Television: Agatha Christie’s Marple, Sun, ITV1
The South Bank Show, Sun, ITV1

The usual suspects

As sketches go Agatha Christie’s Marple is quite funny but wildly over-extended. It’s true that you sometimes need time for a pastiche to establish its accuracy of tone but two hours is surely excessive by anyone’s standards.

Last night’s example of ITV1’s long-running gag was subtitled Murder Is Easy, and, by the time all the suspects were assembled in the church hall for the unravelling of the truth, it was no longer possible to let the phrase pass uncontradicted. It isn’t easy, it’s bloody difficult, particularly if you’re professionally required to keep your eyes open throughout. I can only assume that the popularity of these things has something to do with their powerful narcotic properties.

It was set in Wychwood-under-Ashe, one of those lethal English villages where the sexton has blistered hands, barely able to put down his shovel from one funeral before he’s back in the graveyard digging another hole. As far as I could see, Miss Marple had no connection whatsoever with this community or any of its inhabitants, impertinently pitching up to do her sleuthing after a conversation on a train with a woman who passed on her suspicions about the spate of recent deaths before pitching head first down an escalator. Thelack of local roots wasn’t entirely surprising, since the Christie novel of the same title doesn’t feature Marple at all; she’s simply been shoehorned into one of the plots they haven’t done yet.

Julia MacKenzie is the latest avatar of Christie’s detective, considerably less sharp beaked than either of her immediate predecessors, Geraldine McEwan or Joan Hickson. Both of those actresses had something a little cruel and predatory in them, flickering away beneath the old-lady gentility. But MacKenzie seems fretted and dismayed by the wickedness of the world rather than disapproving. She’s almost apologetic when she makes her observations, blinking timidly, though she also does a lot of pensive narrowing of the eyes to let us know when a salient clue has just sailed past.

The comedy, incidentally, came from the way in which – while the crimes and motives have been darkened to meet contemporary tastes – the inconsistencies that alert Miss Marple to the hidden truth are inextricably mired in pre-war Middle England. Marple wasn’t fooled for a moment by Miss Conway, an American tourist who claims to be on a brass-rubbing tour of local churches. “All I know,” she said sagely, “is that a genuine brass rubber would refer to heelball and not wax.” A little later, another lie was unearthed by her knowledge of baked goods. “I know shop-bought cake when I taste it,” she said, more in sorrow than in anger.

Given all this you expect the motive for the crime to be something equally domestic or bucolic – a spat over best Victoria sponge at the previous year’s fête, say. But it turns out that the dark secret that is the engine for the murderer’s killing spree really is dark – an incestuous rape by a mentally retarded man that leads to pregnancy and fratricide.

I have a feeling that this wasn’t in the original novel either and that it had been worked into the script in the hope that it might belatedly give gravity to the hour-and-a-half of twittering period escapism that we’d just endured. Naturally, Miss Marple has worked out every detail of the crime and takes us through it with excruciating thoroughness, though only after the killer has already worked through the very long list of people she planned to bump off.

The very last series of The South Bank Show kicked off with a film about the Wagner family by one of its longest-serving directors, Tony Palmer. “There’s sometimes been blood on the walls when we’ve worked together,” acknowledged Melvyn Bragg, sketching in the long relationship between the strand and the film-maker in his introduction, and I couldn’t help wondering whether they’d had words about the heavily accented introduction to this film, taken from an interview with Gottfried Wagner, the estranged son of Wolfgang Wagner, who ran Bayreuth for decades.

It didn’t make for the most accessible opening to this account of the dubious legacy of the great composer. I think I might have flashed forward to Winifred myself, anengrossing monster who also offered the advantage of a British connection. Winifred, who was married off to Wagner’s son Seigfried as part of the family’s private breeding programme, had been born in England, but moved to Germany after the death of her parents.

She naturalised with a zeal that was to prove embarrassing in hindsight, embracing Hitler’s ideas (and possibly Hitler himself) and happily collaborating in the conversion of Bayreuth into a shrine to Nazi racial ideology. All this was brushed under the carpet after the war, but, as if they were all in some Wagnerian fable of guilt and retribution, the family then collapsed into vindictive civil war. Operatic was the only word.

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick