For mystery buffs, what’s better than watching Miss Marple solve a poison pen case in Agatha Christie’s The Moving Finger? Watching TWO Miss Marples solve the same mystery, duking it out for the title of supreme sleuth in the most genteel style imaginable! PBS Mystery aired two series, two decades apart, based on Christie’s books about the elderly detective, who sips tea, knits sweaters and unravels the darkest secrets hidden beneath the surface of idyllic English country life. Joan Hickson played the title character in the 1980s and Geraldine McEwan did so 20 years later.
While each version of The Moving Finger adhered to the same plot of vicious anonymous letters and murder, stylistically, they differ. Miss Marple #1 is more tweedy and precise. Sharp as a tack, she tilts her head in a birdlike manner to ponder matters, and approaches life and death in a no nonsense fashion.
Miss Marple #2 is far more chipper and sprightly. She wears dresses in pastel shades and smiles frequently, her eyes twinkling while making the shrewdest observations.
The supporting casts and sets differ as well. Each episode was shot in a country village, but the 1984 setting appears more natural, the 2006 version more bandbox perfect. Camera work in the earlier series is relatively straightforward, sunny village streets, peopled by men and women in sensible clothing. The later series heightens tension by interspersing darker scenes with the views of half-timbered cottages and ups the body count by one. Costumes are also flashier in round two. While one young woman is described as “painted” in the first version, her character is practically neon by the second.
Set in the 1950s, women wear dresses and hats, doctors make house calls, and people expect their mail to be delivered twice a day.
Even clues reflect another era, such as examining the typewriters of the village to see which matches the crooked keystrokes on the envelopes.
Unlike The Moving Finger, I didn’t arrive at a definitive conclusion. I liked both versions of the tale and both Miss Marples, each on her own merits.
The Moving Finger is episode 4 of Season 1 in the 1984 Joan Hickson version; Episode 3 of Season 2 in the 2006 airing with Geraldine McEwan.
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