Agatha Christie’s Marple: A Caribbean Mystery (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Season 6, episode 1. A Caribbean Mystery (2013) demonstrates an old truism about amateur sleuths who infest villages. At some point in their careers of solving crimes in these self-contained communities, the authors run out of people who have motives to kill people. Or, to put it another way, there’s no-one left alive. The desperate authors must therefore send their sleuths away on holiday. At this point, estate agents (or realtors for my American readers) become relevant because the substitute for a gripping plot is location, location, location. In this case, as the title suggests, Agatha Christie sends Miss Marple (Julia McKenzie) off to the West Indies where, somewhat improbably, she meets up with Ian Fleming looking for inspiration for his first spy novel. If ever there was a clear signal Charlie Higson, the scriptwriter, thought he was in trouble, this is it. Trying to distract us with jokes about eccentric twitters who announce themselves to the world as Bond, James Bond is the ultimate act of desperation.
Anyway, throughout this ninety minute extravaganza, we’re treated to shots of palm trees in daylight, palm trees as the sun goes down in a dramatic sunset, and palm trees in contrived jungle conditions. And then there’s the beach, and two dramatic and big rocks overlooking a dangerous cliff top, and the shanty town replicating the West Indies of the 1950s. And all those marvellous old cars. . . As always with these productions, everything looks right. Even the clothing is almost entirely unsuitable for a hot climate and very much in fashion for middle class holiday getaways. So where are we? Tim (Robert Webb) and Molly Kendall (Charity Wakefield) run a quaint little hotel called the Golden Palms on the fictitious island of St. Honoré — and just to prove how fictitious the entire exercise, the locations for whole episode were apparently in and around Cape Town, South Africa. Not that there’s ever any obligation to use the real setting for “foreign” locations but it seems a long way to fly to get the result.
As is required for these Golden Age murder mysteries, a group of eccentric white guests huddle in their hotel oasis surrounded by all these foreigners. For the most part, they are afraid to leave and this creates the necessary ring fence more usually engineered by snow fall, bridges being washed away in sudden storms, and so on. Culture can trap people just as effectively as geography and extreme weather events. Leading the pack is a slightly over-the-top Antony Sher as Jason Rafiel who later triggers the events described in Nemesis. He’s accompanied by Warren Brown taking a rest from Luther, and avoiding Oliver Ford Davies as the delightfully boring Major Palgrave who has pictures of all his favorite murderers with which to regale the other guests. Then there’s the usual cast of “characters” from the slightly loopy clergyman to the loud American couple.
I suppose the virtue of plots like this is that, the more nonsensical they are, the more clever we’re supposed to think them. If only we were brighter, we could have picked up that “clue” earlier. Yes, well, pigs will fly one day. So for inspection by Miss Marple and Jason Rafiel, we have a group of people who, for one reason or another, all know each other. Imagine how this works. Here’s this hotel on an island and, having travelled the world, here comes Major Palgrave with his photographs. This is not his first visit, you understand. So it never occurred to him that he might have met one or more of these people “somewhere else”. He’s old. He only has one eye. And he’s old, so he has never noticed until sitting beside Miss Marple, that one of the people in his line of sight is that well-known murderer. . . Well, he’s old and so he gives a great start of surprise and alerts said murderer that the Major’s one eye and two little grey cells have finally identified the fiend. Naturally, said murderer cannot permit the Major to live another day. He might tell the same story again to someone who might actually believe him and that would never do. Now let’s switch the point of view. All the guests have had the chance to see the Major over their visits so, to avoid any embarrassment of the old guy suddenly pulling out his photographs and remembering, the killer simply needs to stay away, or leave early if it’s the first visit. Or if the fiend is one of the hotel owners or staff, it’s a simple matter to reject the Major’s request to stay — sadly the hotel is fully booked this year. The entire premise of this story makes even less sense than usual for a Christie.
Having killed off the second most interesting actor on display, we then get a story about people holidaying on an island and, every now and then, Miss Marple walks into shot. There’s an incredible amount of action and dialogue shown as filler to create atmosphere and suspicion until our sleuth can do her thing and overhear something or gossip to glean facts. I suppose the second murder is quite ingenious but, as is often the way with screen adaptations, the melodrama of the shooting at the end is laughable. And the screen romance which may be coming to fruition. . . Well let’s just say it’s one of these remarkably unlikely outcomes that Christie might have enjoyed. If there’s anything to like about this episode at all, it’s the performance of Antony Sher. It’s nicely judged and, for once, there’s real chemistry with Julia McKenzie. Put all this together and A Caribbean Mystery is nothing to mention in a postcard from a holiday destination that, at times, actually looks worth visiting — such great palm trees.
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 Blue Geranium (2010)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Endless Night (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Greenshaw’s Folly (2013)
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: Curtain. Poirot’s Last Case (2013)
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)