18 January 2006 | bob the moo
Slow of course and with a ultimately weak mystery but enjoyably layered and engaging
Miss Marple accepts a stay at an expensive and classy hotel courtesy of her nephew Raymond and arrives to find that Bertram's is as beautiful and preserved as people say. As she settles in she meets the various other guests and finds them to be quite interesting characters; a forgetful Colonel, an international traveller, a Lady and a doorman who seems to have a connection to one of the guests in the past. All the talk is of a series of robberies happening around the area but the strange disappearance of the Colonel distracts from this. Concerned by the circumstances of his vanishing, Mrs Marple places a call to Chief Inspector Davy to take a look into it.
Having recently watched a lot of Columbo, Perry Mason and "mystery" series like that, the return to watching the BBC version of Miss Marple has left me a little culture shocked but still enjoying it. Here we have almost an hour going by before the first bit of the mystery happens but this isn't a real problem because we have the background of robberies and the development of the various characters in the hotel. For some this will seem quite dull but in this film I actually quite enjoyed it. The mystery element is quite well done despite the limitations of the material because, it must be said, that if you boil the story down to the core it really isn't that good and the conclusion didn't really inspire me when it finally came down to it. I've struggled with some miss Marple films to get past the slow pace but here the detail (the sets, the people and the story) helped fill the silent, slow patience with something to engage me. It could have been better of course, with a bit more complexity and an ending that works rather than just happens but I still enjoyed it.
The performances help to do this as much as Hyem's writing. Hickson is very much Miss Marple; perhaps not as flamboyant as some would like but to me she fits the humourless, proper, English spinster really well. She is matched here by George Baker, who gives a great performance as the relaxed and slightly unprofessional CI. The support cast are not quite as memorable but generally are pretty good with the likes of Blakiston, Michell, Cossins and McGrath. The film looks good, with plenty of nice period detail, while McMurray directs with a patience and steady camera that suits the material and the performances.
Overall a gradual film whose strength is strangely not the murder mystery. A bit slow for some viewers but had sufficient layers to it to be interesting and enjoyable.