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Agatha Christie’s Marple: Greenshaw’s Folly (2013)

January 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Marple Julia McKenzie

Agatha Christie’s Marple: Season 6, episode 2. Greenshaw’s Folly (2013) is a shotgun marriage of two short stories titled “Greenshaw’s Folly” (collected in The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding) and “The Thumb Mark of St Peter” (collected in The Thirteen Problems). So the first question is whether the story is coherent. The answer is a qualified yes. We have relocated the action to a different village. Miss Marple (Julia McKenzie) is a member of the local knitting circle and as embedded in this community as she was in St Mary Mead which creates a slightly uncomfortable feeling. Anyway, we have our protective heroine offering help to a battered wife, Louisa Oxley (Kimberley Nixon) and little Archie (Bobby Smalldridge). Miss Marple has spoken with Miss Katherine Greenshaw (Fiona Shaw) who occupies the nearby country pile (it seems it’s not far because Miss Marple can apparently walk home without breaking sweat). This feisty middle-aged lady needs a secretary which creates a convenient hiding place for the desperate young lady and her gullible sprog who can be convinced there are ghosts to be seen. Despite her home-grown remedy, Katherine Greenshaw’s eyesight is failing and she still has research to be done. Lots of copy typing follows. Yet, assuming this wife and son abuser has any intelligence (he is a doctor after all), he should know of the friendship between his wife and Miss Marple, and therefore have little difficulty in tracking her down. And, indeed, so it proves as the bully is soon giving evidence of his presence.

Meanwhile, back at the Folly, we have the usual cast of likely suspects. Nat Fletcher (Sam Reid) is the good-looking actor due to take a role in the local production of A Tangled Web. Then there’s Horace Bindler (Rufus Jones), the creepy guy determined to get into the laboratory run by the now-deceased Folly owner who was a doctor. He claims he’s there to complete his investigation into the architecture of the ancestral pile but, when challenged by Miss Marple, doesn’t know wildebeest don’t have grommets on their east wings. The grounds of the Folly, yet again played by Hatfield House, are kept trim by Alfred Pollock (Martin Compston) and Father Brophy (Robert Glenister) keeps the orphans in order in the local home. Completing the lineup, Mrs Cresswell (Julia Sawalha) is the housekeeper aided by Cracken (Vic Reeves) the butler. All we need now is a crime.

The cast pose before entering battle

The cast pose before entering battle

And this comes quite quickly as Cracken is pushed off a ladder and fatally cracks his head on the marble floor in the hall. With the whisky bottle suspiciously missing amber liquid, it’s an open-and-shut case of accidental death, and so life goes on with barely a ripple, no-one remembering the butler had not touched a drop in ten years — awfully convenient mass amnesia. Then the architectural snoop also disappears. What makes this really strange is the complete absence of smell. Obviously one of the virtues of a Folly is its ability to produce instant mummification without any annoying bodily fluid dripping or flies buzzing around a few days later. Then there’s the most curious failure of the village to know Father Brophy is a hopeless drunk and heavily into gambling. Quite what he bets on to lose all the money given to the orphanage is not explained, except it seems he does take odds on whether candlesticks rattle in a carrying bag. You would also expect the village to be encyclopaedic on its own history including the remarkable number of orphans who died during the polio epidemic that swept the country — the local cemeteries must be overflowing with young occupants. And I must have switched off my mind at one point because I missed the explanation of how Alfred Pollock acquired a Scottish accent.

We then come to the core murder of Katherine Greenshaw which has the “pile of fish” and other clues from the source stories. This killing has much of the hallmark Christie ingenuity about it to change the time of death so that it does not appear anyone has the opportunity to do the dirty deed. Given the importance of time, the fact of the telephone call to Miss Marple does represent a pleasing problem to be resolved. Unfortunately, the abusive husband and mechanisms for revealing the doctor’s attempts to produce a polio vaccine are padding with the now mandatory requirement for someone to “see a ghost” — it seems almost every Miss Marple adaptation of late must have some attempt at something supernatural with voodoo in the last episode and spectral spirits in this. So putting this altogether, Greenshaw’s Folly has one or two good moments, but is ultimately rather silly with a batty local women “protecting” Archie, and the usual unlikely romantic ending.

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: A Caribbean Mystery (2013)
Agatha Christie’s Marple: Endless Night (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)

Cranford (2007): the final two episodes

In the remaining two episodes of Cranford, the women tie themselves in knots as we approach May Day. Miss Matty Jenkyns (Judi Dench) is trying to adjust to life without her dominating sister and is supportive of Martha (Claudie Blakley), her servant, who desires romance with Jem Hearne (Andrew Buchan). Later, Jem receives news that he has an inheritance, the letter containing a five pound note drawn on a Manchester bank. Believing himself in funds, he rushes to the local store to buy Martha a shawl. Unfortunately, the milliner refuses the note, asserting that the Manchester bank is in trouble. Overhearing this, Miss Matty gives him cash. Then her world collapses. The milliner was correct and the bank in which she had invested all her money is declared insolvent. Martha and Jem are distressed because they have benefitted from Miss Matty’s desire to help them and begin devising ways in which they can repay her generosity. The kindly manner Dr Frank Harrison (Simon Woods) shows to everyone is misinterpreted as courtship in the wrong quarters. This torpedoes his love for Sophy Hutton (Kimberley Nixon) when Caroline Tomkinson and Mrs Rose publicly claim they are engaged to him. And Lady Ludlow (Francesca Annis) finds herself obliged to mortgage her land to pay for her son’s extravagance in Italy, while blighting Edmund Carter (Philip Glenister), first by sending Harry Gregson (Alex Etel), the poacher’s son, to work in the cow sheds and allocating Miss Galindo (Emma Fielding) to act as his secretary — he may be modern, but not yet modern enough to accept an intelligent woman working with him although, one one occasion, he’s observed smiling at her. Having had an episode focusing on death and the fundamental unfairness of the class-based way of life, we now have a shift to problems of romance when spinsters have nothing better to do with their time than speculate on who should pair off. The only one who comes out of all this with any credit is Miss Mary Smith (Lisa Dillon) who’s a paragon of common sense (although Miss Octavia Poole (Imelda Staunton) does rise to the occasion and buys a silhouette of Mr Holbrook when his effects are auctioned off — this she immediately passes over to Miss Matty, rejecting the offer of reimbursement).

Lady Ludlow (Francesca Annis) and Edmund Carter (Philip Glenister) in sympathy despite class differences

Miss Matty and Jessie Brown (Julia Sawalha) compare notes. They both hope for news from India but agree it’s more painful to keep the hope alive. Meanwhile, Mary Smith is conspiring with the ladies of Cranford to save Miss Matty who may be forced to sell her home and move away. They club together to give her fifty pounds a year on top of her remaining thirteen. Captain Brown (Jim Carter) is introduced to sell this increase in income as an accounting error by the administrators handling the bank’s insolvency. At his urging, she agrees to turn her front room into a shop selling tea. All this, together with a small sum of rent from Martha and Jem as her tenants, should give her enough to live on.

Mary Smith is also busy on the doctor’s case. She has identified his friend as the one who sent the valentine to Caroline Tomkinson. He returns to Cranford to clear up the mess and is just in time to help deal with two crises. Having argued with Lady Ludlow over her decision to mortgage the Hall, Edmund Carter is talking with Captain Brown where the railway line is being driven through the hills when they are both injured in an explosion. Captain Brown may lose the sight in one eye but, despite the best efforts of both doctors, Edmund Carter dies. However, he does have time to dictate a will to Miss Galindo and roughly sign his name. This leaves all his estate to Harry Gregson subject to two conditions. First, he’s to go to Shrewsbury School. Second, he’s to lend the bulk of the money to Lady Ludlow for her to pay off the mortgage. The full amount of capital and interest will be repayable on her death by her son. This produces a moving reconciliation between Lady Ludlow and Harry who’s released from the cow sheds to study with the Reverend Hutton. This will bring his knowledge to a better level and reduce bullying at school. The second crisis comes when Sophy contracts typhoid. Fortunately, the Reverend Hutton relents and Dr Frank Harrison saves her life.

Octavia Poole (Imelda Staunton) and Mrs Forester (Julia McKenzie) bring news of the railway

Mary Smith continues her work as the Fairy Godmother of Cranford by bringing Major Gordon (Alistair Petrie) back from India. He surprises Jessie and they confirm a marriage. Major Gordon also brings Peter Jenkyns (Nicholas Le Prevost) Miss Matty’s long-long brother back for a tearful reunion. Peter finally delivers the muslim promised for Miss Matty’s proposed wedding with Mr Holbrook. Miss Matty gives it to Sophy — as one old rectory girl to another. Caroline Tomkinson marries the butcher (at least she will eat well) and Mrs Rose takes up with Dr Morgan (John Bowe). The marriages represent the end of the original series and produce the requisite quality of “happiness” given the essentially romantic nature of the story.

Dr Harrison (Simon Woods) ties the knot with Sophie Hutton (Kimberley Nixon)

This captures the major problem with the series. I confess my ignorance of the source novels so I don’t know how much could have been added to resolve all the other problems, but leaving this as essentially a romantic drama seems such a waste. This is supposed to be about Cranford, a fledgling town struggling to emerge from its early Victorian straitjacket and embrace the new age. That means dealing with the railway issue as deciding the economic future of the town, and looking more widely at the class issues at they affect the servants and workers on the land. It may be wonderfully “middle class” to neatly tie up all the romantic loose ends in such a pretty way, but this is not the reality for most who lived in the town. The story element featuring Harry Gregson has been a perfect opportunity wasted for we only ever see the rest of the family for a few seconds at a time. Similarly, Martha’s position could have been matched against one or one people working for Lady Ludlow. So despite finding the performances of all the ladies completely entrancing, I’m left feeling a little underwhelmed by the lack of social content.

For the rest of the series, see Cranford (2007): the first three episodes and Return to Cranford (2009).

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