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.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor