Miss Marple is back, and what an invigorating, happy experience this quartet of British television productions is for both mystery fans and casual viewers. The luminous Geraldine McEwan ( Vanity Fair ), following in the footsteps of Helen Hayes, Angela Lansbury, Margaret Rutherford, and others, essays Agatha Christie's aging, amateur sleuth as a discreet observer, knowing friend, and judicious dispenser of wisdom during murder investigations. But what really makes these crisp adaptations a delight is the endless parade of familiar actors playing those numerous suspects, baffled police, and innocent observers who routinely populate Christie's glossy, whodunit landscapes. It's hard not to be dazzled by supporting casts that include Tara Fitzgerald, Robert Powell, Simon Callow, Joanna Lumley, Ian Richardson, Jane Asher, Miriam Margolyes, Tim McInnerny, Herbert Lom, and Jenny Agutter, all nestled into gorgeous, post-World War II backdrops, usually in the English countryside. This boxed set includes "The Murder at the Vicarage," based on Christie's 1930 book about the killing of one hugely unlikable Colonel Protheroe (Derek Jacobi) in Jane Marple's pretty home village of St. Mary Mead. Typically, there is no end of likely suspects, but what makes the investigation unusual is a pair of competing confessions from two illicit lovers (Jason Flemyng, Janet McTeer). Stephen Tompkinson ( Ballykissangel ) is very good as a police inspector who slowly develops admiration for Miss Marple's keen mind. "The Body in the Library" finds Marple aiding the brassy Dolly Bantry (Lumley) after the latter finds the body of an unknown woman in her library. Callow is wonderful as another cop who initially underestimates the heroine's gifts. "A Murder Is Announced," in which a killing is advertised before it happens, and "4:50 from Paddington," about a murder without a body, round out the set with imaginative plots and memorable performances. Don't miss the special featurette in which McEwan and others talk about the endless appeal of Miss Marple. --Tom Keogh
She's back! Proper, demure, and sharp as a tack, Agatha Christie's beloved Miss Marple returns to the limelight in sparkling new adaptations of four classic Christie novels. Geraldine McEwan (The Magdalene Sisters, Mapp & Lucia) is the ladylike sleuth, a wispy senior citizen who blows the police professionals out of the water with her keen insight and shrewdly analytical nature. Fearless and uncommonly wise to the worst in human nature, Marple has lived a long time-and she's paid attention. As seen on the PBS Mystery! series, these lavish 21st-century productions are rich in post-WWII period atmosphere and delicious Christie wit, with star-studded casts that include Joanna Lumley, Derek Jacobi, Tara Fitzgerald, Ian Richardson, Janet McTeer, Zok Wanamaker, Simon Callow, James Fox, John Hannah, and Celia Imrie. The Mysteries: Murder at the Vicarage The Body in the Library A Murder Is Announced 4:50 From Paddington DVD special features include an hour-long behind-the-scenes featurette with cast and crew interviews, a history of Miss Marple adaptations, a photo gallery and more.