The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie (DVD, dir Paul Unwin, 2006)
For anyone of around my age, Miss Marple was always Joan Hickson. In many ways she still is.
Then came the more recent adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple starring Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie.
I was intrigued by McEwan’s casting in The Sittaford Mystery as I remembered her vividly as the terrifying Mrs Proudie in the 1982 adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles. It is clear from the get go that McEwan’s interpretation of Miss Marple was going to be worlds away from Mrs Proudie. She was an incredibly versatile actress, so I wasn’t surprised by the variety.
At the opening of The Sittaford Mystery, Miss Marple travels to Devon in order to spend Christmas with her nephew. However, he’s stuck in France, his cottage is freezing and the fridge is empty, so she ends up staying at Sittaford House, country home of the local Tory MP.
An early attempt is made to murder the MP by sending poisoned Turkish Delight through the post, allegedly from the Women’s Institute. This fails because he is spending the night at a local pub, having secretly married that day. Heavy snow is falling, but Miss Marple sends one of her companions sheltering at Sittaford House to warn him about the danger. Before Trevelyan can enjoy his wedding night, or flee to Argentina to escape prosecution for defective wartime industrial production, he is brutally stabbed.
Thereafter the action in The Sittaford Mystery is split between Sittaford House, where Miss Marple sets about solving the crime even though it is snowing too heavily for her to venture outside, and the pub, where Trevelyan’s body is discovered the next morning.
The willing messengers who supply Miss Marple with the information she needs to discern the murderer are Emily Trefusis, a socialite, and a young journalist who masquerades as her cousin. As with any self-respecting murder mystery, almost everyone snowed in at the pub has a motive to kill Trevelyan.
Agatha Christie quite often generated a situation where her sleuth is challenged by not being on the spot. Poirot once had to solve a mystery while confined to bed with a cold. I rather enjoyed this extra element of difficulty, and it also provided a focus on Sittaford House itself and the legacy of Trevelyan’s unpalatable behaviour in the past while in Egypt as a soldier decades earlier.
Many Agatha Christie murder mysteries feature scenarios which had matured over decades, and this is precisely the case with The Sittaford Mystery. The past, which has scarcely slowed down Trevelyan’s rise to prominence in the Tory party until he is now being spoken of as a successor to Churchill, comes back to haunt him in a very real way.
The Sittaford Mystery is one of the most atmospheric of Agatha Christie mysteries, with an ancient country house and a tiny pub both snowed in on the edge of Dartmoor, and an escaped convict on the loose. I love watching it every time we get snowed in here, something that happens fairly regularly courtesy of our rural location.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested in reading my review of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte here. Or you might like to take a look at my review of Agatha Raisin and the Busy Body by MC Beaton here.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Occupied here.