The Actors and their Roles
Geraldine McEwan as Miss Jane Marple
Zoë Wanamaker as Letitia Blacklock
Elaine Paige as Dora Bunner
Keeley Hawes as Philippa Haymes
Robert Pugh as Colonel Archie Easterbrook
Cherie Lunghi as Sadie Swettenham
Christian Coulson as Edmund Swettenham
Sienna Guillory as Julia Simmons
Claire Skinner as Amy Murgatroyd
Frances Barber as Hinch
Alexander Armstrong as DI Dermot Craddock
Matthew Goode as Patrick Simmonds
Virginia McKenna as Belle Goedler
Catherine Tate as Mitzi Kosinski
Geraldine McEwan on her role as Miss Jane Marple:
I love her. I love Miss Marple. And when I was asked to play her I just felt it was... well, it sounds a bit dramatic, but I thought it really was right that I was asked to play this part. I felt it was my destiny really, and I've enjoyed every minute of it. She is still evolving for me, and she's still becoming more things to me as I discover more about her.
She's a very independent, self-sufficient person, who lives very much for the moment. She has an avid curiosity about people, and is very interested in their lives. She's not really nosy, just curious. And she's very entertained by people. She has a razor sharp mind, a high intelligence, and is very witty.
Her capacity to advise the police as to how they should solve these crimes is incredible and she's always one step ahead of them. I think that shows that Agatha Christie herself was a very witty woman.
Miss Marple does sometimes pretend to be not as sharp as she really is. She is a very warm hearted and compassionate person, so people open up and talk to her in a way that they might not to other people and this reveals things which are always very useful to her. I don't think she's cynical in any way but she does use this to a certain extent.
She has a kind of natural eccentricity that isn't remotely cultivated by her. She's such an individual person in the way she conducts her life. She's totally herself and doesn't care about extraneous things such as how she looks or what people's opinion of her are... they just don't come into her consciousness. She enjoys every minute of her existence and is not worried about getting old -- she absolutely lives in the present, which is what we would all love to achieve. This is what makes her so fascinating and endearing.
I think it's terrific that we see Miss Marple as a younger woman. The fact that she isn't married isn't necessarily because she's never had the opportunity. She did have a lover when she was younger, but he was married. She's probably had a number of relationships in the past, but has chosen not to marry. She has a very romantic side to her.
She's open to everything, to all experiences. She's as happy going around the village with her tin, collecting for the vicar's fete, as she is speeding along in an MG with one of her younger chums or dealing with somebody she knows has committed the most horrific murder. Even for the murderer she has a certain understanding and compassion. It might make her sound a bit smug but it's not that at all. She's a remarkable woman. I envy her capacity to live her life to the fullest.
I hope I will be seen as being true to Miss Marple and Agatha Christie. I feel very responsible to Agatha Christie; I always do if a writer has written a very special role, and one that has such a widespread appeal. I hope that I have got the essential qualities of Miss Marple but it's true, obviously, that my interpretation will be different from Joan Hickson's or Margaret Rutherford's. But as an actor, that's what's so fascinating and, I think, interesting for audiences. Nobody wants a cardboard cut-out or a replica of how other people have been. Ultimately, I hope that the Agatha Christie devotees will see a different Miss Marple, but one that they think is appropriate.
Zoë Wanamaker on her role as Letitia Blacklock:
This is the first time I've been shot at in a film... and very exciting it was! I wouldn't want to make a habit of it, but it definitely got my pulse racing and involved a great deal of stage blood!
Letitia is firm but nice and everybody seems to like her and wants to be her friend. While she's direct, she is also honest and is one of the many women to have survived the war on her own. She's generous too and has thrown her house open to a variety of people, all of whom are rather lost one way or another.
She was secretary to a successful financier and, when her father died, she and her invalid sister Charlotte moved to Switzerland so that her sister could have treatment. When Charlotte died, Letitia moved back to Chipping Cleghorn and discovered she was to inherit her old boss's fortune when his wife died.
From the moment Letitia sees the announcement in the paper she's very concerned -- it's not a game to her and she certainly doesn't relish it. Unlike her guests, who are all rather curious, she is worried as she really doesn't know what the outcome will be.
Her relationship with Dora is kindly and sweet, but Dora is a bit dippy and a bit silly, and gets things wrong. Despite this, it's a very loving relationship.
Elaine Paige on her role as Dora Bunner:
I thought this role would be something different from anything else I've ever played. Generally I'm known for wearing glamorous gowns and performing on a West End stage, but the character of Dora Bunner couldn't be further from that.
Dora likes to make sure everything is in order and looks nice, but she is a little forgetful and often gets things a bit wrong. She's very scatty, timid, and easily muddled. She's a ditherer and tries terribly hard to appear calm, but constantly trips up over what she says, which is rather sad really. Essentially she's a decent soul.
I think I'm pretty together and rather organized and generally I'd say we're nothing like each other, but I do have moments when I forget from one minute to the next what I'm supposed to be doing. But we all do sometimes, whereas for Dora this is how she is. She's great fun to play because she is this dithering sort of character. When I first read the script I felt rather sorry for her, although I thought there was lots of humor in her too.
Dora is a great lover of pastries and prattles on at tea. Meanwhile, Miss Marple very cleverly interjects and asks the odd question and of course Dora, being a rather open and trusting kind of person, begins to reveal a little more than perhaps she should. We had great fun filming that scene, as much for playing it as for nibbling on the yummy cakes!
I'd arrive on set in the morning with no make-up on at all and before my eyes I'd literally disappear, and another face is there -- it's amazing. I wear an extraordinary wig which I think really changes the shape of my face. And once you're surrounded by the other actors you really do feel like you've stepped into 1950s!
Keeley Hawes on her role as Philippa Haymes:
A war widower with a young child, Philippa is a little misunderstood... She's actually very, very sweet and she just wants to be liked. She has come to the village to find a better way of life for her and her son. She works as a gardener and beekeeper.
She lives at Little Paddocks along with all the other misfits and seems rather settled with her lot. None of them know much about one another, but somehow they all muddle along together. I understand these situations were quite usual during that period, and it certainly adds to the range of characters under one roof.
Letitia seems to really like Philippa -- perhaps it's her widowed status that gives her a tragic element, but Philippa's main concern is the welfare of her young son.
As far as the beekeeping is concerned I had a 'stand-in' for most scenes. I think I got off very easily -- tending the borders was about as much as I had to do. And I'm not that green-fingered really!
Robert Pugh on his role as Colonel Archie Easterbrook:
As a high-ranking army officer, one might suppose that Colonel Easterbrook is a man with high moral values but he is in fact a rather flawed character. He was court-martialed and sent home in disgrace. His affair with the bottle has not helped him and has propelled him into a spiral of despair.
Sadie throws him a lifeline. They're in love and somehow this mess he's in might actually be salvageable, but he's desperate for his past life not to be discovered. His standing in the village would be ruined and his relationship with Sadie doomed.
Edmund, Sadie's son, doesn't like the idea of his mother going out with the colonel for obvious reasons. He knows about his past. Easterbrook's drinking habits don't fit in with Edmund's idea of the kind of man his mother should marry or associate with. Easterbrook finds him very irritating. Edmund tries to derail Archie at a crucial moment in his life, when he is on his way to rebuilding it, which is a bit mean really.
On the face of it, Easterbrook is a great man, but his weaknesses seem to overshadow all that. He's brave and yet seems to have cracked during his posting in India. Rather than building on his life experiences he seems to have got weaker, and yet there is a really rather soft aspect to his character which I also found interesting. For example, in his first scene he discusses the days' events with his companion at breakfast -- and it turns out to be his dog.
He's definitely done a few things that he regrets, but he rather hoped that there would be a chance to move on and say goodbye to his skeletons -- it's a question of whether he can keep them hidden or not.
Cherie Lunghi on her role as Sadie Swettenham:
Sadie has had to endure the stigma of being a single mother for most of her life... it simply wasn't done in those days. She's the sort of woman who thinks love can conquer all, so she's ever romantic and a hopeful character.
She knows that her relationship with Archie is her last chance. She's middle-aged, and she's very conscious of that and she does feel genuine compassion for him. She wants to help him.
Edmund's simply used to having her all to himself. She had been looking forward to having her own life now that he's grown up, but he makes this very hard -- he's terribly jealous of her affections for Archie. It's difficult because they are very attached and are both straining to break the bond. He's possessive of her, which she finds frustrating.
Filming in the countryside during the summer was a treat. The costumes are great, and the characters are fantastic. That's the fun of it! Everything that goes into making a drama like this has great detail and you are involved in everything surrounding your character. For example, I worked very closely with Phoebe De Gaye, the costume designer. We discussed how we were going to express the character... and as soon as you put on your costume you really do feel part of the era straight away -- and for me, it's the underwear funnily enough!
As soon as I put on the undergarments, like the corsets, for example... that's when it's a complete transformation. I wore a 'body bandage,' suspenders and stockings that don't have very much give in them -- so the whole thing is nothing like modern life and really changes the way you feel. You really do go skin deep with this and it changes the way you act, your posture, and just the general way that you move is restricted.
Christian Coulson on on his role as Edmund Swettenham:
Edmund is terribly possessive of his mother and is not at all happy about the relationship she has with Archie. Partly I think he's jealous, but also he's learned something about him that confirms that he doesn't want his mother to get involved. It therefore puts an added strain on their already fraught relationship.
Short-tempered, possessive and militant in attitude, Edmund doesn't win many friends in the village -- he's terribly petulant and doesn't care who he upsets. He's definitely got a chip on his shoulder about something, but you're not sure what. He doesn't like Archie, and is concerned about his drinking. He thinks Archie's obnoxious when he's dry and even more so when he's drinking, but I think he uses this as an excuse to drive a wedge between him and his mother.
Edmund is not particularly charming, which is quite fun to get your teeth into. Yes, there is a closeness to his relationship with his mother, but I think Edmund drives her up the wall as well, and pushes her more towards Archie.
Sienna Guillory on her role as Julia Simmons:
Although Julia is related to Letitia, they actually don't really know each other very well... It's post-war Britain and everyone is doing their best to get along and make the best of the situation. There's lots of chatter and friendliness, but Julia is bit of a dark horse. She and her brother seem very close, but she's not instantly likeable. I think you'd definitely have doubts about her.
A Murder is Announced is a classic mystery. There are so many characters and it takes ages to work out who everyone is, and what relationship they have to one another. Everyone gathers thinking it is just a game, but then it all goes horribly wrong. Julia thinks that it's all a bit ridiculous, but then when someone actually gets killed, it all gets very dramatic.
Filming a fifties drama has been absolutely brilliant. It felt terribly glamorous and the clothes were gorgeous, but at the end of the day it's all about relationships and how people tick, a timeless theme. Christie has created a classic formula. All the teases are there, the fascinating characters, and the wonderful settings.
I get quite soppy about old ladies anyway... if I see an old lady struggling, I'll try to help thinking that it could be my Gran. Everybody loves their gran, so the idea that this old lady is so popular with everyone and so clever is great.
Claire Skinner on her role as Amy Murgatroyd:
Amy is a very nice person. She's happy with the life she's found with Hinch. In fact, I think they are the two happiest people in the village and, if life had gone on as normal, Amy would have been perfectly content in her little self-contained world.
Amy reminds me of a character from the 1960s film The Killing of Sister George -- she's very child-like. She's quite simple in her approach to life -- not that she's backward -- but she is totally uncomplicated.
Amy looked after her mother way into her adult life and when she died she had the freedom to work out who she was. When Hinch came along, it seemed perfectly natural to become a couple. They are very discrete and it's not really referred to, although it's patently obvious the way they behave towards each other.
She also feels she has to explain herself to Miss Marple. At one stage she comments 'I know people look at us differently since Hinch arrived, but this is a way that makes me happy.' It's a wonderful scene. And the great thing is, Miss Marple doesn't judge them for it. She's completely open and utterly accepting. That was one of my favorite scenes to film because it was really simple, intimate and quiet and really helped me understand the character.
You discover that Miss Marple knew Amy's mother from the First World War, and so she feels very secure with her. It's a very warm, trusting and maternal relationship -- they're very close, which Hinch finds difficult to accept.
Frances Barber on her role as Hinch:
Hinch is misunderstood. She's the victim of a failed marriage and, having now found happiness with Amy, she's terrified their relationship will be ruined by Miss Marple's intervention. Each time Miss Marple gets close to discovering the truth, Hinch gets more and more nervous, and her actions lead you to believe that she is suspect. Miss Marple seems to know everything but disguises it with her cardigan-wearing image; she's like a hawk and doesn't miss a trick.
When tragedy touches Hinch, she suddenly softens and you realize she was simply trying to cover up her past. It's quite fun to play someone like that and to be so mysterious! You're never quite sure what she will do or say next.
In a small community in the post-war era, gossip can make life very uncomfortable for a couple like Amy and Hinch. I'm sure things are not so different now. If a lesbian couple set up house tongues would still wag! Amy is much more concerned about this than Hinch -- she simply doesn't really care what people think. She has distaste for everyone in the village and she thinks they are all hideous and stupid! And if she had her way, she wouldn't have taken part in the murder game in the first place!
Hinch likes a drink and she does behave very much like a man! There are a few scenes where I have to slap backs to greet people -- I kept warning Robert Pugh that I might hurt him unintentionally! At the murder game she has one too many because she knows that she just has to endure these things.
In my very first scene, the pigs were my co-stars. I was just told to whack them really hard to get them to go into the pen... so I was doing that one minute and then saying my lines, which in turn had an effect on the cock and made it crow! Then, in the middle of another scene, a chicken laid an egg. I'm not great with animals at all, so it was all rather bizarre!
Alexander Armstrong on his role as DI Dermot Craddock:
Inspector Craddock and Miss Marple clash the moment they meet -- literally. He trips over her bags at the hotel and his pride is immediately dented. He's very dismissive of her and pretty irritated by her persistence at providing him with snippets of information about the hotel porter. He just wishes she'd go away. But to his credit, it doesn't take him long to realize that actually she's a real ally. He's not afraid to ask her advice and he very happily defers to her. For a young DI to suddenly form such a friendship with a spinster is a wonderful turn of events.
In a sense, filming Miss Marple was quite close to filming comedy. It's full of interesting characters, you know, and all these people are would-be murderers, so it was really refreshing to play the straight man for once. I was aware that my character has to ask a lot of questions, so it was a challenge not to make him seem two-dimensional.
Matthew Goode on his role as Patrick Simmonds:
Patrick is at university nearby and living with his sister Julia at Little Paddocks, and so has a wonderful excuse for being there. But you can't help feeling that he isn't who he seems to be. Or is he? It's typical Christie style. She is the master of creating characters who are perfectly plausible, but not necessarily who they say they are.
It's very much the post-war era; a lot of people had changed identities and could settle into a rural town without questions being asked. I love the thought of being able to completely reinvent yourself knowing that your past can never catch up with you -- it's really liberating.
Christie's stories are very complex, but once the characters speak the words you really get a sense of the period and personalities involved. She writes a fantastically good yarn and all the characters are flawed... the stories are intriguing and keep you guessing right up to the moment it's revealed who's done it. Patrick is definitely a flawed character -- but the question is, is he capable of murder?
Virginia McKenna on her role as Belle Goedler:
Despite this role being quite small, it's critical to the story. Will the inheritance go to the mysterious niece and nephew, or someone else? Belle's death becomes crucial to the outcome of the story.
Over the years I've found that sometimes small parts can be much harder because you never have time to really develop your character... it all has to be contained in the few scenes that you have. But luckily, this character is very defined, so you get a sense of who she is quite easily. I certainly look ghastly, but that is the point really!
I approach every job in the same way. I look at the character and see how I can tackle it and put my personal touch on it. It's always fascinating to create little mannerisms or something quirky about a character, which makes it more interesting. But generally I tend to start thinking about the character straight away from all angles before I play them. So preparation is everything to me.
Catherine Tate on his role as Mitzi Kosinski:
I was thrilled to be cast as Mitzi, a Jewish refugee from Poland who came to Britain during the war.
I trained as an actor, but somehow the comedy side of my work seems to have been most successful, so when I was cast in this role I was really chuffed! Having said that, the director commented that Mitzi is probably the most comic character in the piece, but I was really keen not to make her too comedic. I wasn't really looking for a straight role, but when this came up I knew I'd love it.
Mitzi feels that working for Mrs. Blacklock is actually quite beneath her. She trained at university to be a lawyer and has a very fiery and temperamental personality. She's a stubborn and belligerent character who actually looks down on all the English people because she thinks they are quite ignorant and rude.
All the characters are very mistrusting of anyone who isn't British and they automatically assume that anything she says is a lie. They credit her hysterics to her temperament rather than having anything to do with reality. They think she exaggerates even the atrocities she saw in Poland, so naturally her stance is very defensive. She feels she's always got to prove herself. It's fun to play someone like that who doesn't care and is very true to herself.
I had a session with a voice coach which was fantastic... she gave me a physicality to work with. It's great to play someone with such a different accent to my own and with a different look -- despite her looking so grim! I don't feel Mitzi is the sort of person who would get her head turned by the latest fashion. I love playing someone so distinctive, although I had to accept that I wasn't looking my best!
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