When can murder be an almost pleasant event? When Miss Marple is on the case.
This time she’s on the Caribbean island of St. Honoré for her rheumatism, vacationing at a small hotel called the Golden Palm among the standard array of characters/suspects: grumpy old men, flirty young women, dissatisfied married couples, a dogmatic man of the cloth and, weirdly, Ian Fleming. But we’ll get to that later.
At dinner one evening, Miss Marple is seated beside Major Palgrave (Oliver Ford Davies), a bit of a gasbag, but harmless enough. He’s boring her silly, until he hits on her favorite topic of conversation: murder. He happens to have a pocketful of photographs of people who’ve committed murder, some more than once. Then just as he’s about to show her the snaps, the major loses his train of thought. Or appears to. Miss Marple has her doubts.
When he’s found dead the next morning, apparently of natural causes, she has her doubts about that too.
The general consensus was that the major suffered from high blood pressure, which led to a heart attack that killed him. Jason Rafiel (Antony Sher), a wealthy, wheelchair-bound curmudgeon, insists that this is untrue; that the major had no concerns in the blood pressure department and that the blood pressure medication found in his room could not have been his.
Miss Marple, who reads any question mark as an invitation, begins sifting through the clues and penetrating the web of relationships between the hotel guests. (This being Agatha Christie, you know the characters aren’t a random assembly. They have history. Complicated history.)
Among the faces you might find familiar are Hermione Norris (Ros from MI5) as Evelyn Hillingdon and MyAnna Buring (Edna the conniving maid from Downton Abbey) as Lucky Dyson. Among the dresses you might find familiar is the green one-shoulder that Lucky/MyAnna wears out on the cliff. Jean Truscott/Zoe Boyle wears the same dress in Breathless!
“A Caribbean Mystery” (filmed in South Africa) is what we’ve come to expect from Miss Marple on TV: entertaining but a little thin. This is one instance where I wish the screenplay had stuck faithfully to the original novel. After all, it’s really hard to improve on Agatha Christie and she doesn’t do well with embellishment. Which brings us to the Ian Fleming issue.
Charlie Higson, who wrote this episode, is an actor and writer who also happens to have written the first five volumes in the “Young James Bond” series of YA books and graphic novels. His dedication to Fleming is admirable, but shoehorning him into this screenplay—and taking the role of the auspiciously named ornithologist—seems unnecessary.
Time would have been better spent on the developing warmth between Miss Marple and Jason Rafiel, who later becomes the catalyst for Miss Marple solving the crime in Nemesis. His final remark to her, loosely translated from Latin, is “We who are about to die salute you.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know much Latin,” she tells him.
“But you understand,” he says.
“Yes, I understand.”
We understand, too. Miss Marple, whatever the case, we salute you.
Leslie Gilbert Elmanis the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.
Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.