“GREENSHAW’S FOLLY” (2013) Review

“GREENSHAW’S FOLLY” (2013) Review

It must have been a chore for both the BBC and later, the ITV, to maintain a television series featuring novels about Miss Jane Marple, one of Agatha Christie’s most famous literary characters. I say “chore” because I was surprised to discover that the mystery novelist had only written a limited number of novels and short stories featuring the character.

As it turned out, Christie wrote twelve Jane Marple novels. Twelve. All of them have been adapted for television more than once between 1984 and 2013. Christie also wrote a lot more short stories featuring the sleuth, but only a handful have ever been adapted . . . and only in recent years. One of those adaptations is the 2013 television movie from “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MARPLE” is “GREENSHAW’S FOLLY”.

“GREENSHAW’S FOLLY” is a loose adaptation of two Christie short stories – 1960’s “Greenshaw’s Folly” and 1932’s “The Thumb Mark of St. Peter”. Instead of revealing the plots of both stories, I will recap the plot for the 2013 television movie. “GREENSHAW’S FOLLY” begins with a woman named Louisa Oxley spiriting her young son Archie from an abusive husband. The pair arrives at Miss Jane Marple’s home in St. Mary’s Mead. To help them further, Miss Marple arranges for Louisa and Archie to stay at an estate called Greenshaw’s Folly, where the owner, an eccentric botanist named Katherine Greenshaw, hires Louisa to be her secretary. Louisa and Archie becomes part of a household that includes Mrs. Cresswell, the housekeeper; Nathaniel Fletcher, Miss Greenshaw’s actor/nephew; a house guest named Horace Bindler, who is a journalist claiming to be an architect, looking into the past of Miss Greenshaw’s father; the owner’s butler, whose name is Cracken; and a groundskeeper named Alfred Pollock. Nearby is a local priest named Father Brophy, who hopes to solicit money from Miss Greenshaw for the orphanage he manages. Also involved in the story is Cicely Beauclerk, one of Miss Marple’s elderly friends from St. Mary’s Mead, who had experienced a past trauma at the hands of Miss Greenshaw’s father years before.

Louisa and young Archie’s refuge is threatened when Cracken falls from a ladder and fatally cracks his head. His death is ruled by the police as accidental. However, Miss Marple, who has also been staying at Greenshaw’s Folly, begins to harbor suspicions when Mr. Binder mysteriously disappear. But when the estate’s owner, Miss Greenshaw, is brutally murdered, Miss Marple realizes that she has a full blown mystery on her hands.

What is there to say about “GREENSHAW’S FOLLY”? Although the television movie is based upon two Miss Marple short stories, the majority of the narrative seemed to be based upon the 1960 story – “Greenshaw’s Folly”. The other story, “The Thumb Mark of St. Peter”, had merely provided a foil for Louisa Oxley in the form of her abusive husband, and a “weapon” to be used in Miss Greenshaw’s murder. Although the narrative had started on a slow note, I must admit that it proved to be a very interesting tale about the Greenshaw family history and how many of the characters – aside from Louisa and Archie Oxley – had such a strong connection to it. Let me rephrase this. I thought the connection between the majority of the characters and the Greenshaw family worked. These connections include Nathaniel Fletcher’s blood connection to Miss Greenshaw; Mrs. Cresswell, Cracken and Alfred serving as Miss Greenshaw’s servants; Alfred’s past as a convict threatened to end his employment; Mr. Binder’s unexpected investigation into Miss Greenshaw’s past; and Father Brophy’s attempts to solicit money from Miss Greenshaw for his orphanage. What is more interesting is that Mr. Binder’s interest in the Greenshaw family past may have been threatening to the killer as well.

On the other hand, I had a problem with with subplot involving the past trauma that Miss Beauclerk had endured at the hands of the late Mr. Greenshaw. When you look at it, she had the strongest motive to kill Miss Greenshaw. It would be easy for her to scapegoat Miss Greenshaw for what the latter’s father had subjected her to as a child. But as the oldest suspect, it would have been nigh impossible for Beauclerk to carry out the murders. I realize that she could have recruited help from any of the other suspects. But . . . Miss Beauclerk’s age seemed like a minor problem in compare to a bigger one. There seemed to be something about her subplot that failed to resonate with me. In the Miss Beauclerk character, screenwriter Tim Whitnall had the strongest suspect for this story. And yet, I got the feeling that he was not particularly interested in her character or arc. Instead, it seemed as if the narrative ended up under utilizing the character . . . other than have her inadvertently direct Louisa Oxley’s abusive husband to his abused wife and son at Greenshaw’s Folly.

The production values for “GREENSHAW’S FOLLY” struck me as pretty solid. The majority of the story is set at a small English estate in the early-to-mid 1950s. This meant that production designer Jeff Tessler did not have to make any extra effort to re-create the television movie’s setting. But I will give credit to Tessler for doing his job in a competent manner and not providing any sloppy work. I can say the same about the production’s art department and costume/wardrobe department supervised by Jenna McGranaghan. The only wealthy character in the cast was Miss Greenshaw and being an eccentric botanist with no fashion sense, it was only natural that McGranaghan and her staff did not have to go the extra mile for the television movie’s costumes.

But I was impressed by the production’s cast. I thought Julia McKenzie did a tremendous job in conveying Jane Marple’s struggles to maintain a refuge for Julia and Archie Oxley, solve the murders in the story and evade the police’s attempts to put an end to her investigation. And she did all of this while maintaining Miss Marple’s quiet and reflective personality. Another performance that impressed me came from Fiona Shaw, who was first-rate as the warm, yet obviously eccentric Katherine Greenshaw. Kimberly Nixon gave a nuanced performance as Louisa Oxley, the abused wife whose attempts to befriend others in her new surrounding is muted by her fear of being discovered by her husband. I also have to give kudos to Martin Compston, who skillfully portrayed Alfred Pollock, the reserved groundskeeper, whose past as a convict threatens his current job and his future. “GREENSHAW’S FOLLY” also featured excellent supporting performances from the likes of Julia Sawalha, Sam Reid, Judy Parfitt, Joanna David, Bobby Smallbridge, Rufus Jones, Oscar Pearce, Vic Reeves, John Gordon Sinclair as the no-nonsense Inspector Welch and Robert Glenister as the very ambiguous Father Brophy.

I have to confess . . . I could never regard “GREENSHAW’S FOLLY” as one of those memorable Agatha Christie adaptations. Not by a long shot. Aside from the Cicely Beauclerk subplot, I could not find anything wrong it. But I cannot deny that while watching it, I actually managed to enjoy it very much. And this is due to a still first-rate screenplay by Tim Whitnall, solid direction from Sarah Harding and an excellent cast led by Julia McKenzie.