Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Blue Geranium (2010)
When you start with just the title, Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Blue Geranium (2010), it sounds really impressive. The scriptwriter drawing the short straw for this Herculean task was Stewart Harcourt. Even at the best of times, it’s difficult to take a short story and convert it into a television episode supposed to last 90 minutes (not including ads). What makes this more than usually difficult is that the original includes Dolly Bantree and the idea of yet another episode with Joanna Lumley in it was just too much to contemplate. So everything had to be relocated. With a clear vision of novelty, we now find ourselves switched to Little Ambrose (the internal scenes were filmed at Hatfield House) which is, as you will all know, best approached by road in one of those magnificently preserved coaches from the 1950s. Of course, Miss Marple (Julia McKenzie) is not alone. She has an importunate Eddie Seward (Jason Durr) to interrupt her thoughts. At first, I thought this must be a victim of shell shock (what we now call PTSD). Just after the war, there were quite a lot of men whose experiences during the war led to such anxiety-driven behaviour. Except he later turns out to be a recovering alcoholic. I found his behaviour unconvincing. Men of that era avoided embarrassing themselves with outbursts of this type. I understand that it’s essential for Miss Marple to acquire some information from him, but this seems less than credible when he could just as easily have been bohemian and chatty.
Anyway, we retain something of the original short story by having a frame involving Miss Marple talking with Sir Henry Clithering (Donald Sinden). Now never let it be said I use words loosely. I consider it entirely appropriate to dignify the frame and its consequences of Miss Marple being called as a witness in a murder trial completely idiotic. The script clearly says Sir Henry has retired yet, on he basis of what Miss Marple tells him, he’s able to call up the judge of the ongoing trial and have everything grind to a halt. Instead of all the suspects being called together in the library for the amateur sleuth to explain whodunnit, this episode has everyone sit in court and both volunteer evidence and shout out denials as Miss Marple does the reveal. Neither the judge nor the opposing barristers say or do anything to prevent Miss Marple from hijacking the proceedings. She’s even allowed to publicly berate Detective Somerset (Kevin R. McNally) for making a mess of everything — the poor man was already in trouble because of his drinking and, after this experience, he would probably disappear into a bottle and not emerge for weeks.
As to the broad narrative, this is not without merit. With Eddie Seward almost immediately found floating in the river next to the golf course, we can focus on the village and its usual assortment of interesting characters. At the centre of it all are the two brothers who married two sisters. Mary Pritchard (Sharon Small), ended up married to the philandering George Pritchard (Toby Stephens) while sister Philippa (Claudie Blakley) married the gambling addict Lewis Pritchard (Paul Rhys) whose only contribution as an author has been to produce three children without the means to pay for their upkeep. Mary appears to be one of these chronic hypochondriacs, forever convinced she’s dying and hooked on fortune tellers who feed her doom-laden predictions. This makes her a difficult patient and she’s had a succession of nurses, the current incumbent being Caroline Copling (Claire Rushbrook). The local Doctor Jonathan Frayn (Patrick Baladi) feeds her placebos and takes the family’s money (private medicine was alive and well during the 1950s running in parallel with the NHS). It’s a bear pit of 1950s village normality according to Agatha Christie.
Anyway, to come to the nub of the mystery, Mary the hypochondriac gets one of these dire predictions. Pointing to the wallpaper which is decorated with many different varieties of flower, the fortuneteller predicts that in sequence the Primrose will turn blue as a warning. This will be followed by the Hollyhock turning blue to show danger approaching, and the Geranium turning blue means death. And, hey, what a surprise. They do turn blue and she dies. Life works in mysterious ways in these stories. I suppose it’s not uninventive to try killing a hypochondriac by “frightening” her except, of course, no killer ever leaves anything to chance with a woman who’s as strong as a horse. So there you have it. One more local bites the dust before Miss Marple walks into the witness box to reveal all and not a moment too soon. Frankly the whole thing is a wobbly artifice from start to finish. No-one in their right mind would go through this pantomime magic to change the colour of the wallpaper. The actual murder method is simple and straightforward and, with the woman universally disliked and, more to be point, regularly announcing she was about to die, a post mortem would be unlikely and the murder would have been undetected. Waving a big flag and firing off a canon to announce the murder in advance only happens in short stories blown up into episodes like this. This is not to deny Julia McKenzie does a reasonable job at bringing Miss Marple to the screen. But it’s a waste of effort when more or less everything about the story is fatuous.
For reviews of other Agatha Christie stories and novels, see:
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2004) — the first three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2005) — the second set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2006) — the third set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2007) — the final set of three episodes
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Murder is Easy (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Pale Horse (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye (2008)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Secret of Chimneys (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: They Do It with Mirrors (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Big Four (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Case of the Missing Will (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Chocolate Box (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Clocks (2009)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Folly (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Dead Man’s Mirror (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Elephants Can Remember (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Hallowe’en Party (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Labours of Hercules (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Three Act Tragedy (2011)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Underdog (1993)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Yellow Iris (1993)