Miss Marple to return a young and sprightly 60-something as previous incarnations were too old

Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple - Alamy
Angela Lansbury as Miss Marple - Alamy

Think of Miss Marple and images of a little old lady spring to mind. But have we been getting her wrong all this time?

The Agatha Christie estate is planning to bring Marple back to television after more than a decade away.

But she will look different. According to the author’s great-grandson, all previous screen incarnations have been too old.

James Prichard, who is in charge of the Christie estate, said the new Miss Marple will be younger and more sprightly - a mere 60-something.

“I think she’s certainly portrayed in the books slightly differently than we have portrayed her on TV before. I just don’t think she is as old as we have portrayed her,” Mr Prichard told the Telegraph.

While the character is described in the first Marple story, Murder at the Vicarage, as “a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner”, Mr Prichard suggested that was deceptive.

“It’s quite an interesting concept of age. I think she’s far more lively and physically able,” he said.

“This is almost heresy, but even the Joan Hickson portrayal, which the family considers to be the gold standard… Joan was very old when she started playing her and got older as she played more. She seemed quite frail.

“I think we could make quite a good case for Miss Marple in the books being in her 60s, rather than her 70s or 80s.”

Mr Prichard said the Marple stories “jump over time” and no definitive age was given for her.

“In some of the stories, she’s quite active,” he said. In Sleeping Murder, for example, Christie thwarted a murderer’s next attack by suddenly appearing at the scene and squirting him in the eyes with a jet of soapy water. Christie wrote that Marple’s voice was ‘rather breathless, for she had run violently up the back stairs”.

Joan Hickson - Rex Features
Joan Hickson - Rex Features

Hickson was 78 when she first played Marple in 1984, and continued in the role for eight years. She was a firm favourite with viewers, including the Queen, who was said to have told Hickson while awarding her OBE: “You play the part just as one envisages it.”

Other actresses to have played the role include Margaret Rutherford (a version of Marple that Christie hated), Angela Lansbury and Geraldine McEwan. The last was Julia McKenzie, in an ITV run that ended in 2013.

Stringer Davis and Margaret Rutherford in Murder Most Foul 1964 - AF archive / Alamy Stock Photo
Stringer Davis and Margaret Rutherford in Murder Most Foul 1964 - AF archive / Alamy Stock Photo
Julia McKenzie with Benedict Cumberbatch in Murder is Easy in 2009 - Neil Genower
Julia McKenzie with Benedict Cumberbatch in Murder is Easy in 2009 - Neil Genower

Since then, television and film have concentrated on Hercule Poirot, including a BBC drama starring John Malkovich and Sir Kenneth Branagh’s film version of Murder on the Orient Express. In early 2022, Sir Kenneth will star in an adaptation of Death on the Nile.

But Mr Prichard said it was time to bring back Miss Marple.

“We are trying. There are plans, we are in discussions. It’s in the very early stages,” he explained. “I’m desperate to see her back again.

“Growing up, I always was far more of a Poirot fan than a Miss Marple fan, but I’ve re-read a lot of Marples and gained a new respect for her.”

The Christie estate is keen to bring the author’s works to a new audience. Mr Prichard was speaking at the launch of a Death on the Nile mobile game, developed by the British company Outplay Entertainment, in which players solve the mystery alongside Poirot.

As the new Marple adaptation is only at the development stage, it will hit screens in 2023 at the earliest.

In the meantime, the Christie estate has greenlit a three-part adaptation of Why Didn’t They Ask Evans, a 1934 murder mystery that did not feature one of the author’s famous detectives. It has been written and directed by Hugh Laurie, and will air on BritBox next year.