In the late 1920s, Agatha Christie introduced one of the most stellar older women we've ever seen -- Miss Marple. The iconic writer fashioned Marple, in part, on her own grandmother, crafting an old spinster sleuth living in St. Mary Mead. Jane Marple is an amateur gumshoe who always happened to come across some mysterious murder, and though her tweed-clad body and softened countenance might make her seem old and dotty, Jane has a killer logic and understanding of the human condition, mixed with an unshakable resolve, that helps her figure out even the toughest of mysteries.
Over the years, many women have brought Christie's heroine to life, starting with the indelible impact of Margaret Rutherford, removing the prim and proper nature of the character to create a bold old spinster. Angela Lansbury took a more proper stab with it in the '80s, and since then, Gracie Fields, Helen Hayes and Joan Hickson.
And now ... Jennifer fricking Garner?
If you caught the early edition, you learned that Disney has scored the movie rights to 'Miss Marple,' and that Jennifer Garner will both star and produce a big-screen adaptation. Since Garner is not yet 40, this feature will bring Marple's age down and make it "contemporary." The story will be written by Mark Frost, the man once responsible for 'Twin Peaks,' whose biggest gig since are the 'Fantastic Four' films.
Taking on a grandmotherly tone: Shame on Disney. And shame on Jennifer Garner.
For over half a century, Marple has been one of the leading female detectives, her specialness coming from her smarts and courage, rather than sexiness and romance. She became a feminist figure as the movement was still being defined. She is fun, formidable and gives older women something to do beyond the tea and knitting (which Marple also happens to enjoy).
And now, as tea has become a particular gourmet industry of fresh leaves and fancy paraphernalia, as knitting has become a trendy past-time, as older actresses finally find more fervent and varied life on the big screen, Disney and Garner are ripping away the very aspects of Marple that make her special to be, as they call it, "contemporary."
It's a decision that not only misses the entire point of the character, but disregards the modernity of Marple in this current time. Just last year we were graced with Helen Mirren blowing people away in 'Red,' and now she's a key figure in 'Arthur.' We've seen Sigourney Weaver travel through space and have love affairs. Meryl Streep has been taking her formidable talents and given life to mainstream fare like 'The Devil Wears Prada' and 'Julie and Julia.' Both Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts have reinvigorated their careers as they head towards 50, and let's not forget great women like Emma Thompson.
And this news hits just as a UK Film Council survey finds that 50-75-year-old women find themselves under-represented and de-sexualized in film. Marple, the spinster, can't really help with the latter, but is sex even a concern when Hollywood is eager to strip away the exact things that make an iconic character unique to cash in on her fame?
There are always changes to be made. Christie was none to happy with the quirk Margaret Rutherford brought to the role, but that was just a slight personality change that worked for the story, and ultimately Christie came to respect the work, the dedication in Marple's 'The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side' reading: "To Margaret Rutherford, in admiration."
It would be a safe bet to say, were she alive today, Christie wouldn't have such kind words for Disney or Garner.
Let's just hope this dies in development hell, or the powers that be come to their senses. And in the interim, if you want a taste of Marple, grab this bit of chemistry-playing, sword-wielding, investigative awesome: