“I love playing Miss Marple so I was delighted to return to the character,” says Julia McKenzie. “In the beginning, I think I might have thrown too much energy at the character but I’ve since taken more time over her and I feel much more confident and comfortable with the characterisation.”
This Sunday sees McKenzie looking completely at home for her ninth outing as Agatha Christie’s spinster sleuth in an adaptation by Charlie Higson of A Caribbean Mystery that features Robert Webb and MyAnna Buring among its guest cast.
Miss Marple, though, is about as far away from her usual terrain of cosy English villages as it’s possible to be as she takes on a case set on the tropical island of St Honore. But the Golden Palms resort is soon proving itself to be not quite the heavenly retreat it initially seems. And it isn’t long before fellow guest Major Palgrave (Oliver Ford Davies) is keeling over and dying following an evening of exotic food, Planter’s Punch and a specially arranged “voodoo show”.
“The script is a real treat,” comments McKenzie. “It has a lightness despite the fact that characters are being killed and you get to see Marple in a very different world. The fact that we were filming abroad gave me something else to play with that the audience hasn’t seen before.”
However, the location filming in South Africa did throw up its fair share of problems for both cast and crew: “When we began filming last September, we only had three days of sunshine. I was fortunate to stay at the Mount Nelson Hotel – a really old-fashioned and wonderful place with a gorgeous spa. But the weather was cold and wet. We’d had such a rotten summer in the UK and I was expecting to see some sun, but sadly there wasn’t much!”
In the episode, viewers will see Miss Marple become unconvinced by he “official” verdict that Major Palgrave died from a heart attack. So after recruiting a curmudgeonly business tycoon Jason Rafiel (Antony Sher) to be her reluctant sidekick, the pair of them begin to unpick a web of deceit and “dark magic”.
“Mr Rafiel is rude to her and she’s rather rude back but I actually think she gets quite fond of him. As those watching at home will see, Mr Rafiel is very poorly and out last scene together is quite touching. Marple is aware that he knows he’s going to die because of ill health and she respects him in many ways.”
McKenzie herself is full of respect for screenwriter Charlie Higson, the Fast Show writer and author of the Young Bond series, who even appears on screen as James Bond, an American ornithologist who – in real life – went on to lend his name to Ian Fleming’s superspy:
“On the night Charlie filmed his cameo as James Bond, it was raining so heavily that we were all sheltering inside. We got to have a little natter then and he’s a very sweet and intelligent man. I think he was slightly taken aback as he said, ‘I can’t believe all these terrific actors are saying my words’.”
Agatha Christie’s Marple can be seen on Sunday 16 June at 8pm on ITV