Murder! Greenshaw’s Folly

Spoiler Warning: I discuss details of Agatha Christie’s Marple: S06E02, Greenshaw’s Folly which is a pastiche mystery based off two short stories, Greenshaw’s Folly in the short story collection The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding and The Thumb Mark of St. Peter from the anthology The Thirteen Problems.

When watching Greenshaw’s Folly, episode two of season six of Agatha Christie’s Marple, I started thinking that we’re creeping up on the brutality of the 70s and 80s slasher era, but then I discovered this was a recent rewrite of two of Agatha Christie’s short stories. Still, the Christie tropes are there and well hit, though other critics have complained that there was a tad too much melodrama. I didn’t think so.

Once again, Miss Marple (Julia McKenzie) is pulled into circumstance before the murders start happening. In the original Folly writer and Marple-nephew Raymond West discovers evil afoot and calls in his nosy, inquisitive aunt to take a look. Coincidental encounters of detectives and mysteries are rare in real life, and when too frequent can lead to unfortunate implications (as is the case with Jessica Fletcher). This may be a warning sign that Miss Marple (or her chronicler) is an unreliable narrator.

Christieologists (Agathologists? Enthusiasts of Agatha Christie mysteries) note that Dame Agatha Christie was not above hat tricks and deus ex machina (sixty-six novels and fourteen anthologies. How could she avoid them?) And the short stories Greenshaw’s Folly and The Thumb Mark of St. Peter both are regarded in hat-trick territory. (Still recommended in the old country as train-commute reading). Director Sarah Harding and screenwriter Tim Whitnall have combined them to make a fun story.

The late Old Man Decimus Greenshaw was well traveled and loved architecture, but didn’t have much of a sense of style, hence the eccentric manner-house that gives the estate Greenshaw’s Folly it’s name. It’s a classic Gothic setting, complete with labyrinthine hallways, stories of a haunting, a garden of dangerous plants and even a forbidden laboratory locked away. To drive the point home young Archie Oxley (Bobby Smalldridge) is caught up in the ghost story, and then witnesses the ghost himself.

Cluedo’s Reverend Green is found in Father Brophy (Robert Glenister) who runs St. Faith’s Orphanage… and succumbs a bit too much to drinking and gambling (the former usually ruining any skill in the latter). He also can’t keep secrets very well, though that serves us, the audience, as an exposition leak. Parker Brothers felt that Americans wouldn’t stand for persons of the cloth being murder suspects. Our priest will commit at least one crime before the day is done.

Also of note is Miss White, the maid. Whodunit aficionados often surmise that the help have too easy access and are a mystery writer’s cheat, but Dame Christie will often give the help more than a name and a duty so they can be accomplices, suspects or even victims. Mrs. Cresswell (Julia Sawalha) is the tea-and-cocoa-slinging companion to Elizabeth Greenshaw. Walter Cracken the butler (Vic Reeves) proves to be above reproach when he becomes the first victim. Black-gloved hands tip over his ladder. Master Oxley witnesses a cloaked specter scurrying away. Once the late Walter’s duties fall to Mrs. Cresswell, she is overwhelmed with the extra work.

Notable bits:

~ Damsel in distress Louisa Oxley (Kimberley Nixon) escapes a violent husband by dead of night with son Archie. Miss Marple arranges for their safe seclusion at Greenshaw’s Folly.

~ Miss Marple’s knitting circle at St. Faith’s.

~ The old Greenshaw laboratory is locked and forbidden. Everyone wants the key.

~ Walter is alcoholic. Allegedly sober for years, but he looked pretty potted last night when he took his spill. The inspectors aren’t going to sign off on a postmortem for a clumsy lush. Long after the inspectors are involved, Father Brophy reveals why Cracken gave up the bottle for good about ten years ago.

~ Two ghost sightings (not including expositional haunts seen by the staff). Poor Master Oxley.

~ Rising actor Nat Fletcher (Sam Reid) sounds at first like Robert Webb, but he’s not Robert Webb. And he’s a bit of a jerk to groundskeeper Alfred Pollack (Martin Compston). Both have eyes for Mrs. Oxley.

~ A pretty effing terrible Greenshaw family scandal. I mean, really terrible.

~ A garden house full of medicinal — and toxic — plants. Skilled botanist Katherine Greenshaw (Fiona Shaw) brews some fresh atropine sulfate eye-drops out of Deadly Nightshade. Young Archie — and Chekhov — watch in fascination.

~ Alfred the groundskeeper is an ex-convict with an interest in archery.

~ Horace Lethbridge (Rufus Jones) is who is not who he says he is, and then he disappears in the middle of the night.

~ Missing records at the orphanage.

~ The Great Race about which Wikipedia’s disambiguation page is no help.

~ A misunderstood phone call.

~ Why is Nat pretending to be a police guy?

~ Arrow to the jugular.

~ Someone’s trying to kidnap little Archie!

~ We have an officer stationed outside.Isn’t there supposed to be a policeman here?

~ Bodies found out of order.

~ A pile of fish! Of course!

Three dead in a confusing, swirling blend of poison, falling and arrows. Theft. Kidnapping. Crimes against humanity.

No rotating bookcase, dangit.

Image is of the Knebworth House, used for exteriors for the Greenshaw’s Folly manner.

Edits And I would have gotten away with it to if it weren’t for meddling grammar!

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