In a market where crime is the most sought after drama, Agatha Christie remains its supreme pioneer. The world’s all-time best-selling author, her novels have been adapted for stage and screen countless times, each reinvention appealing to a new demographic. However, for the Hollywood film set, Detective Hercule Poirot leads the millennial charge, with adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile released in the last five years. But why has no one thought to bring the 18-time featured protagonist Miss Marple back from the brink of obscurity?
While many question why Agatha Christie remakes feel unnecessarily endless, the answer is perhaps simple—she’s the murderous equivalent of William Shakespeare. When a story is archetypal or sets a precedent, people want to keep it alive. Transcending time and era, such texts mean something to the masses. Even 46 years after her death, Christie’s work remains cherished. Along with infamous standalones like And Then There Were None and Witness For The Prosecution, she also birthed two of world’s most famous crime solvers. Unsurprisingly, only one revisits the big screen.
If Kenneth Branagh’s latest iterations of Poirot classics achieve anything, it’s the unification of discontent. Fans were quick to express their concerns for the second filmic outing of Death on the Nile, keeping David Suchet’s beacon of Belgian charm aloft on its pedestal. Regarded as the world’s most beloved detective, many Poirot portrayals are cloaked in gimmicks of accents, moustaches and drawing room accusations. Stripping back his layers of debonair panache, there’s no real reason why he should solely sit at the top of the Christie kingdom. Are we unmasking crime in an old man’s world? The lack of Miss Marple’s ongoing presence seems to suggest that as correct.
A curiously charming senior in a striking hat, Jane Marple is the unsung hero of Agatha Christie’s world. With a bite of sass and a nose that leads her to all the wrong places, she’s the type of grandma anyone would wish for. Although it’s been almost 60 years since Miss Marple graced the silver screen, she’s not been far from our grasp. Unlike the popular belief of Poirot’s excellence existing in one actor (David Suchet), Marple has been played equally successfully by a plethora of women—Margaret Rutherford, Joan Hickson, Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie the most notable. Even Angela Lansbury and Kaoru Yachigusa turned their hand to the role.
It’s this level of characterised flexibility that perhaps ignites the belief that Miss Marple is one of the greatest female crime characters of all time. The fact her qualities can be embodied effortlessly by so many indicates she has a level of resonance not captured by her male counterpart. Humble yet endearing, she never centres the drama around her own ego, willing to keep in the background while an unfolding murder takes the viewer’s eye. Marple follows her own intuition for the sake of the greater good, reaping none of the self-satisfaction. Stories like The Body In The Library, A Pocket Full Of Rye and The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side are beloved and widely read, effortlessly gracing our televisions multiple times over. Yet, these detective greats have rarely translated to cinema.
If Miss Marple is truthfully regarded as a detective giant—and rightfully so—perhaps her absence from film is down to a question of image. In Poirot’s latest outings, Branagh is able to repackage his classic traits into a palatable silver fox, enhancing his endearing nature in a way appealing to the current industry. If Miss Marple was to remain true to her character, it’s unlikely producers would want her as a feature star. Unless the likes of Dame Judi Dench or Helen Mirren rose to the occasion, the image of an old woman wouldn’t be on the calling cards of many filmmakers. If Marple was a Hollywood version of old, her rustic, ageing charm would fall completely flat.
Aside from the fact she’s an incredibly intriguing detective in her own right, the image of Miss Marple is one with hidden potential. A new way to navigate an oversaturated genre, her character could be a hallmark for redefining women’s legacy in cinema. Previously characterised as a spinster, a millennial makeover could see Marple taking the baton from her male counterparts and asserting empowered confidence into a patriarchal framework. With no kids and no real family to speak of, she’s a blank canvas. Her agency is huge, extending beyond the scripted limits that currently exist.
Everyone deserves to see themselves represented on screen. With a kind heart, a wrinkled face and a lack of ego, Jane Marple is the unused vehicle of relatability in the enjoyable field of crime drama. If Agatha Christie remakes are bound to continue, Miss Marple is undoubtedly an excellent choice of lead.
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