Miss Marple, Crime Thriller Awards 2013, Win The Fall on DVD

Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple returns on Sunday (16 June, 8pm) with another starry cast for A Caribbean Mystery, the first of three new films. As you would suspect from the title, Julia McKenzie’s sleuth is far from St Mary Mead, having headed to St Honore in the Caribbean. However, the Golden Palms resort turns out to be less idyllic that hoped for when fellow guest Major Palgrave dies soon after arriving. Antony Sher plays wheelchair-bound Jason Rafiel, who is press-ganged into being Miss Marple’s helper. Robert Webb, Charity Wakefield, MyAnna Buring, Hermione Norris and Warren Brown line up for questioning.

• If you’re a huge fan and bit of an expert on any of ITV’s best-loved crime series, then Cactus TV may want to put you in the hot seat on air. Cactus are the people who are putting together the season of ITV3 programming that will accompany this autumn’s build-up to the Crime Thriller Awards, which recognise the best TV crime shows and authors. They would like to hear from crime devotees who have extensively cased out shows such as Inspector Morse, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Lewis, Poirot, Rebus, Taggart, Broadchurch or Midsomer Murders. You could be bloggers, book club members, run fan sites or fanzines – in which case, you may be asked to go into the studio to show off your knowledge. Other experts, such as scriptwriters, will also be called on and one idea being considered is to have a quiz element pitting the fans against the scriptwriters. Anyone who fits the bill can put themselves forward by email to Roxanne at Cactus TV – roxanne.liley@cactustv.co.uk

• We have two copies of The Fall on DVD to give away. The series starring Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan has just had viewers glued to BBC2 for the last five weeks in a powerful tale of a detective hunting a serial killer in Belfast. The Fall is released on DVD by Acorn Media on 17 June (rrp £19.99, cert 15). To be entered into a prize draw to win a copy, all you have to do is leave a comment or start a new topic on CrimeTimePreview’s brand new Forum.

RULES This offer is open to UK residents only. Prize Draw entrants must leave a comment or start a new topic on the CrimeTimePreview Forum; two names will be drawn on the closing date (Saturday, 22 June) and will be posted a free copy of The Fall. The selectee will need to provide their postal address. No prize alternatives. If anyone comments or starts a discussion but declines the The Fall DVD, an alternative winner will be selected. Good luck!

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The A-Z of Crime ITV3

Julie McKenzie, ITV’s current incarnation of Marple. Pics: ITV

Lee Child, Agatha Christie and Dan Brown are all in the frame for this fascinating and witty look at what makes crime telly so popular.

Crime and thriller dramas are clearly the most watched genre on TV, so it’s no surprise ITV3‘s seasons covering cops and killers in the run-up to the CWA Daggers in recent years has become a fixture in the schedules.

This year the coverage kicks off with a  with a six-part series called The A-Z of Crime, starting on ITV3 on Thursday, 1 September, at 9pm.

Mark Billingham, Denise Mina and Ian Rankin
It has rounded up popular crime writers, policemen, actors and experts for questioning about how the tension, thrills and mystery are created and why they have such appeal.

So, starting with A for Action, Mark Billingham, creator of the Thorne mysteries on Sky1, says, ‘Raymond Chandler famously said that if you were stuck for where to go in a book, you’d just have someone walk through the door with a gun.’

While Denise Mina, whose The Field of Blood hit BBC1 on Bank Holiday Monday, says, ‘The perfect example is Dickens. If you think of physical reaction to something like A Tale of Two Cities, your heart is racing, you’re sweating and you can’t hear people speaking to you. That is perfect narrative propulsion.’

Ian Rankin

The inspiration for Anna Travis
Ian Rankin, creator of Rebus, chips in, ‘[In] the traditional English detective story, there’s not a huge amount of action, there’s intellectual debate and there’s sleuthing but [Agatha Christie] doesn’t need an explosion every five minutes. So I’m not sure crime fiction needs an explosion every five minutes.’ 

Lynda La Plante reveals how she was inspired to create Anna Travis in ITV’s Above Suspicion series, her popular successor to Prime Suspect‘s Jane Tennison. She occasionally gets invited to murder scenes by detective acquaintances (who clearly know how to show a woman a good time), and saw a young female detective throwing up at what was her first scene of death.

When she next met the young detective, the woman had changed physically, toughened up, and that alteration was what fascinated La Plante.

Lynda La Plante

Lee Child on creating Jack Reacher
Subjects covered in the opener include Alibi, Alcohol, Bending the Rules, Dan Brown and Agatha Christie, the world’s ultimate crime author with four-billion sales. Julia McKenzie, the actress currently breathing life into Jane Marple on ITV1, has interesting insights into the character – ‘Marple’s only got one weapon – conversation. People think she’s harmless, but she’s not.’

Lee Child, the creator of the phenomenally successful Jack Reacher books and who crops up under C, relates his remarkable transformation from out-of-work TV exec to super-selling author. Losing his job meant ‘becoming a novelist was forced onto me’, he says. He also says he will always write Reacher and is not attracted to the idea of writing standalone stories.

The final D in the programme is for the Daggers, the Crime Writers Association’s awards for the year’s best novels, films and TV shows. This year’s event is on Friday, 7 October, at the Grosvenor House hotel in London, and will be broadcast on ITV3 on the following Tuesday.

And a very Merry Christie to you all

David Suchet as Poirot (all pics ITV)

Murder on the Orient Express, ITV1, Christmas night, 9pm

ITV is spoiling Agatha Christie devotees by gift-wrapping three new dramas featuring Marple or Poirot this Christmas season – including a fresh adaptation of the author’s much-loved Murder on the Orient Express.

This is a different take on the story compared to the famous movie of 1974, more of what David Suchet, who plays the sleuth, calls a psychological drama.

 
David Morrissey as Colonel Arbuthnott
He says, ‘To be making the most famous and iconic Poirot story Agatha Christie ever wrote is possibly the most daunting task I’ve had in over 20 years of filming Poirot.
‘Albert Finney got an Oscar nomination for his portrayal as Poirot so to be making it again is a real challenge. And an exciting one because we’re not doing it as a remake of the film. Stewart [Harcourt, the screenwriter] has approached it from a very interesting and tantalising point of view.
‘Tragic occurrences happen before Poirot even steps on the train which affect him very much. First, a man commits suicide as a result of his evidence, and then he witnesses a stoning in Istanbul. 
Barbara Hershey as Mrs Hubbard
‘We see him, in both instances, full of his own self justification and almost self righteousness in saying “well, that’s the world – it’s nothing to do with me”. Then he boards the Orient Express and is  approached by this horrible man, Samuel Ratchett, who asks him for protection. 
‘Poirot turns him down because he takes an instant dislike to him. The man is later found dead. And so we’re dealing with a very different Poirot. You can’t make Poirot the same as he’s always been with those three things happening in his life. 
Hugh Bonneville as Masterman
‘It’s really a psychological journey for him, one that absolutely breaks him. The decision he is forced to make at the end forces him to drop his whole raison d’être, which is ridding the world of crime. He is made to dig deep and finally do the right thing against his better judgment.’
ITV has lavished a fine production and international cast on this Christmas Day two-hour special. 
Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) plays Edward Masterman, David Morrissey (Thorne, State of Play) is Colonel John Arbuthnott, and Barbara Hershey (Portrait of a Lady) is Mrs Hubbard. Serge Hazanavicius (I’ve Loved You So Long) is Xavier Bouc, Denis Ménochet (Inglourious Basterds) is Pierre Michel, and Dame Eileen Atkins (Cranford) is Princess Dragomiroff.

Julia McKenzie and Dervla Kirwan
 Agatha Christie’s Marple, The Secret of Chimneys, ITV1, Monday, 27 December, 9pm
As well as being the 120th anniversary of Christie’s birth and the 90th anniversary of Poirot’s first appearance, 2010 is also the 80th year since Marple’s debut. 

ITV has continued to mount lavish productions of author’s two amateur detectives throughout this special year, rounding off with The Blue Geranium and The Secret of Chimneys. Among the cast of the latter are Gavin and Stacey‘s Mathew Horne and Ruth Jones, along with Edward Fox, Michelle Collins and Dervla Kirwan.

Classic Christie ingredients are all present here – the country house, aristos, a murdered Austrian count, and a secret love affair.

The Blue Geranium, Wednesday, ITV1, 29 December, 8pm
Yet another star cast is in the dock for this final Marple of 2010, including Donald Sinden, Patrick Baladi and Toby Stephens. Here, Jane Marple is appealing to an old friend, Sir Henry Clithering (Sinden), to get a court hearing into the death of unpopular Mary Pritchard (Sharon Small) stopped because she has some new evidence.

While Julia McKenzie still feels like the new girl in this role, The Blue Geranium is actually her eighth outing as Marple (and her fourth this year). After a lukewarm reception to her portrayal in some places, she now seems to have put her own brand on the character.

She says,  ‘I’ve gone for the sturdier version, as it were. Agatha Christie wrote Jane Marple in two different ways. When she first invented the character she was a more fragile, rather Victorian soul. Then she rewrote her about 10 years later and she came up a bit tweedier and more solid. I’ve really gone for the latter one because of the modern audience. I think, for her age, Miss Marple is quite a modern woman. She’s certainly got a tremendous intelligence and intellect that I have had to work hard at! But, I’ve based most of her on the fact that she’s a woman who’s very much of her period, but also modern.

‘I feel I’ve settled into it and would like to play her for the rest of my working life, if there are enough stories to go round.’

Agatha Christie Marple, ITV1 PREVIEW

Julia McKenzie
(© ITV)

Rating ★★½

ITV1, Bank Holiday Monday, 9-11pm

Someone said to me last week that in her younger days she had read all 80 detective novels by Agatha Christie.

Talk about misspent youth.

That the Queen of Crime is popular cannot be contested. Only outsold by the Bible, she makes even JK Rowling’s success look humdrum.

But are her cosy whodunits any good? Every now and again there’s a hoo-ha when some writer disses the old Dame for her flat characters and dull prose, but having a go at her worldwide popularity is like trying to force back the sea.

Millions adore her still, and that’s why ITV has long been pumping money into productions of Marple and Poirot.

Marple’s still got all her marbles
Watching the latest Marple starring Julia McKenzie – The Pale Horse – clues to the character’s appeal can be detected. The idea of a pensioner underestimated as a silly old lady by some but who outsmarts the poisoners and shooters makes her something of a champion.

I find Julia McKenzie too unassuming in the role, and would prefer a little eccentricity, but she seems to be building a following.

The post-war setting obviously seduces some viewers too, with its steam trains, country drawing rooms and domestic servants – all a long way from rowdy, multicultural, ill-mannered contemporary Britain.

Finally, there is the parade of familiar actors doing turns as various stuffed shirts, stock sinister types and pretty maidens. Here we have Neil Pearson (Lejeune), Pauline Collins (Thyrza), Holly Valance (Kanga), Nigel Planer (Venables), Bill Paterson (Bradley) and others.

‘Wickedness’ at the Pale Horse
All these ingredients are in place at The Pale Horse Inn, where Miss Marple has come to discover who is behind the murder of her old friend, Father Gorman (Nicholas Parsons).

It gets off to a nicely menacing start on a foggy night with Gorman attending a dying lady, to the soundtrack of a radio play of the witches’ scene from Macbeth, and talk of ‘wickedness’.

The witch theme is continued at the inn, whose village is celebrating the burning of a local witch in 1664, and whose inhabitants include some women claiming to be witches. Pauline Collins’ Thyrza even claims modern witches can control victims’ minds and force them to kill themselves.

So there are bonfires and weird locals, but the Agatha Christie template is so well worn these days that it is easy to tell the red herrings from the real clues (the author’s experience working in a hospital and pharmacy means anyone using ointments or exotic drugs in her stories is nearly always connected to her killer).

Which cardboard character will fold under questioning?
‘Good Lord, Mr X must be rolling in money.’

‘Yes, and no one knows where it came from. He’s quite the mystery man.’

So it definitely ain’t Mr X. A lot of characters come under suspicion, all with as much personality as Colonel Mustard in the library, but we know whoever looks most likely is never the guilty one.

The Pale Horse is no different, being the usual contrivance, and predictable in its far-fetched conclusion – but the evidence suggests millions will love it. Perhaps someone is controlling their minds.

Best scene: the creepy, fog-bound opening moments

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