Truly Miss Marple: Rutherford Murders?

DATELINE:  Murder Most Foul!

Dames Margaret & Agatha

Dames Margaret Rutherford & Agatha Christie!

A little British documentary about character actress Margaret Rutherford is shocking, surprising, and ultimately saddening. If you have forgotten her dotty old ladies, she was the first movie Miss Marple.

The film has the overwhelming title: Truly Miss Marple: the Curious Case of Margaret Rutherford. The actress died in 1972 after a rapid decline in health at the height of her popularity

Agatha Christie was appalled at the folly of turning her aged detective into an eccentric comic actress, but they later enjoyed each other—to the degree that Christie dedicated The Mirror Crack’d to Rutherford.

Her acting career did not fully reach success until after age 40: she was always the costar, whether it was for John Gielgud or Edith Evans. When success came, she played old ladies who were NOT battle-axes. It was an unkind comment by interviewers. Dame Margaret was always a gentle figure of fun.

Her biggest break came with Noel Coward in Blithe Spirit, a role she almost refused because she thought it might demean spiritualists (as she was a believer).

Her indomitable English grand dames gave way in old age to the Christie character, though Margaret hated the word “Murder” in the titles of the four grand Miss Marple movies. There was a reason for her sensitivity: her father murdered her grandfather, and later, likely as a result, her mother committed suicide.

Yet, Rutherford herself was the ultimate woman of kind hearts and coronets. If there was a downside, it was her growing periods of depression. It was a losing battle, especially when dementia added to her woes.

She briefly went to Hollywood with Burton and Taylor in The VIPs and won an Oscar as a supporting actress. The Oscar disappeared after her death, stolen and on the black market, sold by a conniving housekeeper.

Miss Marple’s little murder mystery movies remain delightful, owing to Rutherford’s charismatic personality.