Miss Marple gets a sexy makeover

Agatha Christie's mature lady sleuth is the latest character to get a youthful reboot. Make it stop!

By Matt Zoller Seitz
March 29, 2011 9:30PM (UTC)
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Cast member Jennifer Garner poses on the red carpet for the U.S. premiere of the film "The Invention Of Lying" at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California September 21, 2009. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok (UNITED STATES ENTERTAINMENT HEADSHOT) (© Danny Moloshok / Reuters)

OK, OK, listen to this pitch: Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, only young. And hot. It can't miss! Everybody knows Agatha Christie's name even if they've never read her stories. She's a brand name. And Miss Marple is one of her most famous characters. Problem is, she's an old lady, and in today's marketplace, that's a dealbreaker. But imagine a movie about Miss Marple as a younger woman? Maybe in her mid-30s? And h-h-hawt? Maybe an American doing a British accent. Hey, Jennifer Garner!

I exaggerate, but only a bit. According to Deadline Hollywood, Garner will star in and co-produce a Walt Disney feature film with her Vandalia Films partner, Juliana Janes, about Miss Marple as a young woman.  The script will be written by filmmaker and author Mark Frost, co-creator of "Twin Peaks." It is not known whether the story will take place in England or the United States, but the Hollywood Reporter says it will be set in the present.


There is a written record for Frost to draw on: Christie's Marple often connected whatever was happening in the present-tense story with past experiences in her hometown, the English village of St. Mary Mead; her anecdotes often irritated listeners who thought she was just a dotty old broad tripping along memory lane, rather than a fearsomely smart amateur sleuth with a passion for justice. So it's not inconcievable that the movie could be good, or at least watchable.

Still, it's worth noting that the "Young Miss Marple" project is part of a larger trend of reimagining durable, somewhat older fictional characters as young and hot.  Examples include the Christian Bale Batman films (Bruce Wayne as a young man), the 2009 "Star Trek" movie (the 'Enterprise' crew post-academy), "Hannibal Rising" (portrait of the serial killer as a young man) and the upcoming "X-Men: First Class."  The tyranny of demographics holds that older viewers will watch stories about younger characters, but the reverse generally isn't true. Thus the craze for "Muppet Babies"-type reboots. 

The mass media version of the Marple "brand," such as it is, is built around movies and TV programs starring older actresses, almost all of whom were English: Margaret Rutherford, Angela Lansbury, Gracie Fields, Joan Hickson, Helen Hayes (a rare American ringer), Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie. Is the notion of a more traditional Marple with a grey-haired leading lady -- maybe even an English lady -- really that unthinkable, or uncommercial? There's no shortage of working 60- and 70-something actresses who could play Marple sensationally well -- and if you cast Helen Mirren you'd have the commercially mandatory "hot" adjective covered anyhow.


Readers, tear off a piece of this, won't you?

Matt Zoller Seitz

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