There were two interesting casting decisions made this week in showbusiness.
One was generally favoured and both we and British Vogue reported it: the casting Karen Gillan, Doctor Who’s Amy Pond, as the Shrimp. Jean Shrimpton would have been labelled a supermodel if the term was coined in the 1960s, and like Gillan, we are talking tall, beautiful and leggy.
Last we heard, Shrimpton was running a pub somewhere in the UK.
In fact, we wouldn’t have minded if there was news that Jean Shrimpton had been cast as the new Miss Marple, but we weren’t so lucky.
Getting not a few criticisms was the fact that Jennifer Garner, 38, had been cast in a modern-day, Americanized, glamourized Miss Marple.
Miss Marple was never described as a supermodel by Agatha Christie but now, we are talking tall, beautiful and leggy.
It’s as bad an idea as the rumour that Brad Pitt was the new Steve McQueen in a Bullitt remake a few years ago. But unlike that bit of news, this one seems more set in stone: there will be a new Miss Marple, and Garner takes her crime-ﬁghting side from Alias to Elektra to St Mary Mead. Which is now somewhere, presumably, in California.
It wasn’t an April Fool gag that went out a day early.
But why have we reacted so? Surely it cannot be the casting of an American, because the Americans don’t particularly get upset when all their leads are played by foreigners of late (Fringe, Hawaii Five-0, the remakes of Eleventh Hour and Life on Mars, Lie to Me, Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles, The Bionic Woman, and, till recently, the Governor of California). A Scotsman, a Welshman, and Irishman and an Australian have played James Bond, and several Yanks and even a Kiwi came close. His Excellency John Gavin (Psycho) was even cast as Bond at one stage.
It may be more the fact that a quintessentially English character in an English setting has been taken across the Atlantic, and our desire to hold the literary world more highly in esteem than the creative minds working on the box.
Some things went Stateside and managed to have lives of their own—Pop Idol and Man about the House come to mind—but they were never that tied to their countries of origin. (In fact, one might say that the proto-Pop Idol was, in fact, Popstars, which came from New Zealand; and if you go back far enough, there were various Japanese shows along similar lines.) Ugly Betty comes from Colombia, but it could take place anywhere, and its adaptations do; those horrid Funniest Home Videos shows are licensed from Japan.
Therefore, it wasn’t that unlikely that there would be Law & Order programmes in the UK, France and Russia, or Married with Children in the UK and Russia.
Open more to debate is Life on Mars, and whether that could realistically have been set in Madrid or New York, though it would be daft to set it 78 million kilometres from earth. No one would be that crazy.
So these literary ﬁgures aren’t just the ﬁgures: they come with all their baggage of settings and histories.
Never mind which country does it: even if the same nation redoes its work, it doesn’t always work out that well. Peter Ustinov was wonderful as Agatha Christie’s other famous detective, Hercule Poirot, until in one movie the character was inexplicably thrust forward in time to the 1980s. Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman had some appeal one season set in World War II, till she, too, was thrust forward in time to the 1970s, with suitable product placement from Mercedes-Benz.
It’s now fashionable to call remakes ‘reimaginings’, to get around purists who insist on things being exactly the way the author described it.
But they serve some function. As long as viewers know these are unfaithful adaptations, should we be concerned? While it’s hard for us to imagine a sassy, leggy Miss Marple, to some viewers, the English setting could well be a turn-off. And not just American viewers. Period dramas are not for everyone.
Would Romeo & Juliet—the one with Leonardo di Caprio and Claire Danes—have appealed to such a wide audience if it had not been set in the modern day? Who are we to deny the young people who saw it a chance to experience the Bard? It’s known, even by the teenagers who saw that version of Romeo & Juliet, that Shakespeare didn’t have his heroes drive automobiles.
Few complained when Richard III was set in a 1930s fascist Britain, when Sir Ian McKellen took the role in 1995. In fact, this version received a lot of acclaim.
We don’t think of Christie quite in the same vein, but, given time, we will. Miss Marples will likely be made many times in the next few centuries, and some might think in the future that arguing over a few decades is petty.
So, creatively, there should be no issue.
Which leaves only one thing: this idea that ﬁlm and television heroines must be youthful and attractive.
While we have brought up Gillan, it hasn’t escaped our attention that the various Doctors in Doctor Who have become progressively younger. The old man of William Hartnell is the 20-something of Matt Smith.
It was said that Peter Falk could not get his last Columbo script made because the studio did not want to back a show headed by an octogenarian. We say that is cobblers. Falk’s health isn’t as good as it was when Columbo’s Last Case was being shopped around, so this may never be redressed. But that long-held obsession for ever-younger heroes surely has run its course in 2011, after our exposure to Dame Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep?
Garner isn’t the youngest actress Hollywood could have cast. And, to be fair, she is very competent and knows her craft well. One hopes, then, for the sake of a fairer and less judgemental society, that should this new Miss Marple get off the ground, she will act in various adaptations for many years to come. After a dozen or so years she will be at the age Christie imagined when she created the character and, hopefully, put another dent in this belief that younger and ﬁtter is always better.
You would think, in a year where The King’s Speech took home so many Oscars, that the world was ﬁnally shifting to recognizing quality over spectacle.
So, please, may there be no explosions in the opening scene of US Miss Marple.—Jack Yan, Publisher