As we wait for the increasingly likely news that Poirot will get one final season, there’s been no word on a possible renewal of Marple for a sixth season, and its third starring Julia McKenzie. I thought I’d just spare a couple of paragraphs to look at potential directions for the series.

Ratings have held steady since series three ranging from 4 to 6 million viewers per film (down from the first couple of series, but nevertheless on par with Poirot.) ITV – like all British networks – was uncertain in the last few years about period drama, as the genre’s popularity tends to vacillate quite frequently, and there was a downturn in the latter half of the decade. (The sad reason why we didn’t get a third in that series of wonderful serialised Dickens adaptations which gave us Bleak House and Little Dorrit.) That’s not to say that such things lose all attraction, of course, but networks do get in a tizzy about these things. Thankfully, with the rise of Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, David Suchet has stated that he’s preparing for 5 final films as Hercule Poirot. However, Suchet still has 5 novels to go (more, as you’ll see by clicking on the post linked above) – McKenzie only has one novel left, so let’s have a think.

[THIS JUST IN: Looks like Julia McKenzie will complete the Marple novel canon, as the news has broken that we will get three further episodes to air in 2012 and 2013. Along with A Caribbean Mystery, there’ll be Endless Night and The Seven Dials Mystery. ]

Joanna Lumley as Dolly Bantry and Julia McKenzie as Jane Marple, with Nigel Harmon and Will Young in "The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side"

  • First up, obviously, there’s A Caribbean Mystery. I found it to be one of the greatest bores of the Hickson series and I’d love to see this one redone, although they’ll probably change Jason Rafiel’s name since they already did the novel’s sequel – Nemesis – a few years ago.
  • Then there are the 19 short stories not filmed, originally collected in the UK in The Thirteen Problems, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding and Miss Marple’s Final Cases (and originally published in the US as… oh, you figure it out.) As series five‘s The Blue Geranium made clear, the writers are perfectly capable of expanding short stories to film length, so why not give it a go? Alternatively, as a Christie geek, there are two full series, of 10 x 1 hour episodes, right there for the taking!
The advantage of doing the short stories could be in creating a kind of roster of recurring characters. Joanna Lumley as Dolly Bantry? Donald Sinden as Sir Henry Clithering? Why not bring back a few of the more popular inspectors from throughout the series. While I understand the desire to (and success of) writing a new inspector each time, particularly as it has allowed the series to cast people often known for their comic abilities instead, it would be lovely to see a few of them come back. One of the great little joys of series five was how we saw Marple become well-known to the British police force. Some of my favourites? John Hannah‘s Inspector Campbell, who had a marvelous rapport with Geraldine McEwan in series one; Stephen Mangan from series three‘s At Bertram’s Hotel; Russell Tovey, who was criminally underutilised in series four; and Hugh Bonneville who was mesmerisingly bleak in series five’s The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side.
I see no reason why Marple can’t carry on for a few years in this fashion, after all the series has currently found exactly the right line to tread between showcasing the delightful characterisations on offer, and allowing McKenzie’s Marple – a 1950s spinster who has done a lot in the world but still let her own life pass her by – to become slightly more ruminative. Jane Marple will never be quite as showboating a role as Hercule Poirot, nor does she usually have to face crimes or moral decisions quite as horrid, but she clearly still attracts audiences, and the calibre of adaptations has been very high.
Of course, it’s just as likely that the series will continue in its current vein, pulling away from Marple stories once they film her remaining novel, and instead venturing into other, non-Poirot stories. As I’ve said before, I approve of many of the adaptations, and it seems a respectable way to get some of Christie’s other novels on the screen. At the end of the month, I plan to do a complete list of all novels along with their major adaptations, but here I’ll provide a few possibilities I think would work in the context of Jane Marple.

Geraldine McEwan as Marple and Greta Scacchi as Tuppence in "By the Pricking of My Thumbs"

  • N or M? In series two, Anthony Andrews and Greta Scacchi guest starred as Christie’s lovable detective couple Tommy and Tuppence Beresford (previously played with much brio by James Warwick and Francesca Annis) in By the Pricking of My Thumbs. Why not bring them back to film one of the remaining two Tommy/Tuppence novels yet to be given the adaptation? (Perhaps they shouldn’t bother with the drab Postern of Fate, though, although I’d be up for it to see these characters’ canon completed.)
  • The Seven Dials Mystery – another logical follow-up for the previously-filmed The Secret of Chimneys. 
  • Sparkling Cyanide and The Man in the Brown Suit – these are two novels that are not likely to get filmed on their own any time soon, and I think Marple could easily be inserted into them, in the manner of Towards Zero.
  • Finally, The Lemesurier Inheritance – a very Holmes-and-Watson Poirot short story which was omitted from the earlier seasons of Poirot and will likely not be filmed. David Suchet, as a purist, may object, but I think it’d be nice to see the story done, since it will likely be many decades before anyone mounts another plan to film all Poirot’s short stories.
Incidentally, that leaves seven Christie novels (and a barrage of short stories) which wouldn’t fall under the aegis of Poirot or Marple. Two already have perfectly good adaptations (Endless Night and And Then There Were None) and one is reportedly coming out next year as a film (Crooked House). Three of them are nothing special and indeed function as dimestore thrillers (They Came to Baghdad, Destination Unknown, Passenger to Frankfurt) so should probably not be assigned to an old lady in St. Mary Mead. And the other is Death Comes as the End which has sadly never been filmed but, what with being set a few thousand years ago, probably won’t be on Julia McKenzie’s shortlist, I suspect.