Today, Dame Angela Lansbury turns 91. Always a remarkable talent, she's still going strong making appearances and performing live theater. (She plans to make her return to Broadway in 2017.) In celebration of her life and work, I want talk about her performance as Miss Marple in the under-appreciated The Mirror Crack'd (1980).
Lansbury is best known to mystery fans as Jessica Fletcher, but her work as Marple predates Murder She Wrote by four years. A sly and humorous adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel, The Mirror Crack'd brims with humor and campy performances by legends Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Kim Novak, and Elizabeth Taylor. While the characters around her dial up the melodrama--as they must given the out-sized Hollywood types they are playing--Angela Lansbury's grounding as the sensible Miss Marple provides a comforting balance for the picture.
Lansbury's portrayal has its eccentricities (she smokes!), but this often forgotten interpretation of the character is one of the strongest in the cannon. Lansbury's Jane Marple has a steely pragmatism that can give way to warm politeness. She's neither the exasperated, bumbling character as seen in the Margaret Rutherford films (though I adore that portrayal for its own charms) nor the quiet, reserved lady Julie McKenzie most recently played in the ITV series. Lansbury's Marple has a sturdiness that makes her a capable rival to the mystery at hand. Her strength sets this Marple apart from the others.
I would argue that it is this same strength she would later bring to her work in Murder She Wrote. For fans of mysteries, I highly recommend The Mirror Crack'd. It has a great script, one of Christie's best plot twists, wonderful performances, and--best of all--the stellar work of Angela Lansbury.
Happy birthday, Ms. Lansbury! Thank you for all of your wonderful film, television, and stage performances.