It was a dark and stormy night when Louisa Oxley (Kimberley Nixon) arrived at the door of her “Aunt” Jane in the village of St. Mary Mead. “Aunt Jane will look after us,” Louisa promised Archie, the spirited little boy in a duffle coat, who was traveling with her.
Naturally, Aunt Jane—our beloved Miss Marple (Julia McKenzie)—takes them in. She doesn’t ask too many questions, but it’s clear that Louisa has fled her husband—Archie’s father—and that he isn’t a very nice man. Next day, or thereabouts, Miss Marple has Louisa and Archie situated in Greenshaw’s Folly, where Louisa will work as a secretary for Katherine Greenshaw (Fiona Shaw).
Miss Greenshaw is a chemist now fulfilling her life’s ambition to compile a codex of medicinal plants. Her eyesight is failing and she needs the help Louisa will provide. Louisa is happy for the job and for a safe place to live. Archie is thrilled to have the run of the place, except for an old laboratory that’s strictly off-limits. It’s a perfect arrangement for all of them. Until someone dies.
The victim is Cracken the butler (comedian Vic Reeves credited as Jim Moir). The question is why. We’ve only been involved in this episode for twelve minutes or so and Cracken hasn’t done anything untoward unless you count spinning tales to Archie about a ghost that haunts the house.
That’s not to say there are no suspicious characters around. One is a fellow named Horace Bindler (Rufus Jones), an architectural historian writing a book about 19th century country houses. Miss Marple senses immediately that he’s nothing of the sort and he, poor man, is about to underestimate her at his peril.
Alfred the gardener (Martin Compston) looks awfully threatening when we meet him; wielding a knife and about to butcher a rabbit. The housekeeper Mrs. Cresswell (Julia Sawalha) is all pursed lips and grumbles. Nat Fletcher (Sam Reid), Katherine Greenshaw’s long lost nephew, is an actor—and you know we never can trust actors. The local priest, Father Brophy (Robert Glenister) has bad habits and an unfortunate inability to keep a secret. He’s also in charge of the local orphanage, as if the orphans didn’t have enough troubles.
“Everyone here’s a bit weird,” says Archie (Bobby Smalldridge). Miss Marple has to agree. Then again, she’s spent a lifetime observing people’s habits and behavior. She’d probably tell you everyone everywhere is a bit weird.
Judy Parfitt, whom I’ve loved ever since she was Vera Donovan in Dolores Claiborne (rent it!), has a small role here. John Gordon Sinclair, once Gregory from Gregory’s Girl (rent that too!), is Inspector Welch.
Once again we have typical Miss Marple elements in place: a beautiful country estate, a long-buried village scandal or two, young people in love, the ladies of the knitting circle, and a police inspector who can only unravel the mystery with Miss Marple’s help. The screenplay combines two separate stories, “The Thumb Mark of St. Peter” and “Greenshaw’s Folly,” originally published in 1933 and 1960 respectively. To them writer Tim Whitnall adds a lot of embellishment, some of which veers toward overdramatizing. Nevertheless, fans will find this one satisfying as the cup that cheers.
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.