fri 03/12/2021

Agatha Christie's Marple: The Secret of Chimneys, ITV1 | reviews, news & interviews

Agatha Christie's Marple: The Secret of Chimneys, ITV1

Agatha Christie's Marple: The Secret of Chimneys, ITV1

Plodding adaptation with minimal characterisation: nice location though

If there’s one thing the British love on television at Christmas time, it’s a period drama, and even better, a period mystery. So what joy when there’s a bit of sleuthing by Agatha Christie's yin to Hercule Poirot’s yang, the eagle-eyed wise old bird Miss Marple, in The Secret of Chimneys.

Miss Marple (Julia McKenzie) is asked by Lady Virginia Revel (Charlotte Salt), the daughter of a dead cousin (what a lot of those the old girl appears to have), to be part of a lavish weekend party at the family’s country pile, Chimneys. The house was once known for its society gatherings until a rare diamond was stolen at a party in 1932, a theft that led to the end of Virginia’s diplomat father’s (Edward Fox) career.

The action starts 23 years on, when the world has changed and Chimneys is now too expensive for the family to maintain, but the ambitious and very dull politician George Lomax (Adam Godley) has offered to save it if Virginia, by some years his junior, accepts his proposal of marriage. Trouble is, she has just met and fallen in love with the dashing young Anthony Cade (Jonas Armstrong).

This being Agatha Christie (or at least a very loose adaptation, as she never appeared in the original story), those aren’t enough strands for us to unravel when someone is found deaded, in this case a mysterious Austrian Count (Anthony Higgins) who has specifically asked for a major international trade deal brokered by Lomax to be signed at Chimneys. There’s the chippy Miss Blenkinsopp (Ruth Jones), for one, from the newly created National Heritage who is very keen to get her hands on the property and is found snooping in the library; civil servant Bill Eversleigh (Mathew Horne), another would-be lover of Virginia; Virginia’s unmarried older sister, Bundle (Dervla Kirwan); and the family servant, Tredwell (Michelle Collins), who, Miss Marple soon realises, Has A Secret.

Chief Inspector Battle (Stephen Dillane) arrives from Scotland Yard to investigate and enlists Miss Marple’s help, but then two more deaths occur and lots of red herrings are released into this particular pond. The complicated plot includes a cache of love letters, coded messages, the cover-up of a death long ago and not one but two people with gambling debts.

As we eventually find the dastardly murderer, it all adds up to some nice light entertainment, of course, but by golly I wish everyone involved in The Secret of Chimneys could have given it even the faintest whiff of urgency. The feature-length episode was wonderful to look at, but I’m afraid both Poirot and Marple mysteries on ITV now appear to have taken over from The Bill as the common entry on all British actors' CVs; nice little earners where they galumph about pretty locations and spout trite dialogue as they wait either to be bumped orf or reveal the reason they committed the murder.

Few actors in The Secret of Chimneys appeared to have invested even a minimal effort in their characterisations. Edward Fox, we all know, has been playing variations on his most famous role, the Duke of Windsor, for some time now (the BBC missed a trick in not asking him to appear in the updated Upstairs Downstairs, set in the mid 1930s), Charlotte Salt’s accent was nowhere near posh enough (in contrast to Dervla Kirwan’s spot-on "frightfully"), Michelle Collins was miscast and, fine actress though she is, I think Julia McKenzie is too young and sprightly for Miss Marple.

Perhaps I spent too much of my youth reading Agatha Christie, but I remember her books being page turners; here the story dragged and by the end I didn’t care who had bumped off the Count. Full marks to the location, wardrobe and make-up people, however, as not a cuff or coiffure was out of place.


where was this filmed the house is so lovely

I would like to know where it was filmed please.

Can you let me know where The Secret Chimneys was located?

Hatfield House in Hertfordshire

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters