Agatha Christie's beloved Miss Jane Marple, the spinster amateur sleuth from the English village of St. Mary Mead, made her print debut in the short story "The Tuesday Night Club" in the December 1927 issue of The Royal Magazine. There would be a dozen Miss Marple mystery novels plus a number of short stories. The character did not appear on screen until the 1956 TV show "A Murder is Announced" as part of NBC's "Goodyear Television Playhouse" series. Famed British singer-actress-comedienne Dame Gracie Fields played Miss Marple, but her performance cannot be judged becuase the episode is not readily available.
The most popular portrayal of Miss Marple is Dame Margaret Rutherford in the successful film series "Murder She Said" (1962), "Murder at the Gallop" (1963), "Murder Ahoy" (1964) and "Murder Most Foul" (1965). Casting a much beloved and soon to be an Academy Award winning (for 1963's "The V.I.P.s") actress as Miss Marple seemed a natural fit but Christie felt that Rutherford was the wrong physical type to portray her creation. But MGM desired Rutherford's box office appeal. Rutherford's interpretation is not even remotely close to what Christie envisioned but it delightful viewing anyway. The films themselves are very loosely based on Christie's works ("Murder Ahoy" is an original script based on Christie's characters) and possess a strong edge of humor. A gifted comedienne, Rutherford plays Miss Marple in her trademark humorous almost doddering old lady style. The actress does her own thing and it works, unless the audience is picky about being faithful to Christie.
Hollywood produced all-star adaptations of Christie were en vogue during the 1980s and "The Mirror Crack'd" (1980) boasted an impressive ensemble led by Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis and Kim Novak. Relegated to a supporting role, Angela Lansbury is merely adequate as Miss Marple and even rather bland. Helen Hayes took on the part in the TV movies "A Caribbean Mystery" (1983) and "Murder with Mirrors" (1985) and can be deemed the worst Miss Marple. She just does not embody a British spinster in convincing fashion and tends to overact. You are always aware it is Helen Hayes, first lady of the American theater.
The BBC decided to present faithful adaptations of the Miss Marple stories and cast 79-year-old veteran character actress Joan Hickson as star. Hickson had played a small role in "Murder She Said" with Rutherford. The choice was inspired because it was if Miss Marple had stepped directly off the pages of Christie. Hickson became the definitive characterization beginning with "The Body in the Library" (1985) to "The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side" (1992). She looked and acted like Miss Marple should and no other actress has been so natural and nuanced in the character. Perhaps the greatest compliment came from Miss Marple fan Queen Elizabeth, who told Hickson she was the vision of Miss Marple during the ceremony bestowing an O.B.E. upon the actress.
In 2004, the BBC revived Miss Marple in a new series of handsomely produced TV films. However, the adaptations are not particularly faithful and filled with contemporary touches nowhere to be found in Christie. Even stranger is Miss Marple being injected into adaptations of non-Miss Marple Christie works such as "Ordeal By Innocence." Geraldine McEwan played Miss Marple in a dozen shows (2004-07) and Julia McKenzie in the last eight (2008 ongoing). McEwan is similar to Hickson appearance-wise and plays the role with somewhat of a cherubic nature. McKenzie is a much sharper sleuth and is probably the second best interpretation.
There is a rumor Hollywood is planning a modernization of Miss Marple with Jennifer Garner mentioned as star.