Having directed the Alastair Sim An Inspector Calls and Goldfinger earlier in his career, Guy Hamilton became the Bond director of choice in the early 1970s, before moving on to make two Agatha Christie adaptations – following the misfiring but under-rated 1978 sequel to The Guns of Navarone – early in the 1980s.
The first of these was The Mirror Crack’d, in which Hamilton used his well-earned reputation to assemble an all-star cast as the film company who have descended upon the small village of St. Mary Mead in order to mount a production of the story of Elizabeth I. The mystery begins when local volunteer Heather Babcock (Maureen Bennett) dies after drinking a poisoned cocktail apparently intended for Marina Rudd, the star of the film. Thereafter – in the original at least, albeit a little less so here – layer after layer of suspicious behaviour is thrown into relief, before Miss Marple finally unveils the perpetrator by clarifying their motivation in committing the crime.
There are a few changes to the Christie book (named for a line in Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott), notably the period in which the film is set. Rather than the year of its publication, Hamilton takes the plot back almost a decade to 1953, presumably to exacerbate the contrast between the innocence of the English villagers and the crudeness of the American visitors. The Mirror Crack’d thus focuses much of its sometimes quite sophisticated – and occasionally rather too knowing – humour at satirising the mores of the then film industry, although this emphasis is perhaps at the expense of a truly satisfying narrative. Familiarity with the material and its heroine, a familiarity that was probably much less intense nearly forty years ago, makes it rather easier to second-guess the plot complications and their resolution than it really ought to be.
And while The Mirror Crack’d was instrumental in creating Angela Lansbury’s reputation as a sleuth, especially in America, she’s a rather sturdier Marple than possibly we might expect, towering over several of her co-stars, and making the accident which side-lines her for much of the running time feel a touch contrived.
The acting, however, is as you would expect nothing short of splendid. Right from the pre-titles’ film-within-a-film sequence, there’s a deliciously self-aware ambience about the film and its performances that only serves to highlight those moments – most notably from Elizabeth Taylor (as Rudd) and Rock Hudson (as her philandering husband) – where the pathos kicks in.
For the more hard-line Christie aficionados, Hamilton’s film is likely to be just a little too casual in its adaptation. For the less discriminating, it’s a blast. Not a classic by anyone’s estimation, but a polished, slick and compelling entertainment, and never looking better than in this gorgeous restoration.
Special Featues: new interviews with Dame Angela Lansbury, writer Barry Sandler and producer Richard Goodwin / stills / storyboard galleries
THE MIRROR CRACK’D (1980) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: GUY HAMILTON / SCREENPLAY: JONATHAN HALES, BARRY SANDLER / STARRING: ANGELA LANSBURY, ROCK HUDSON, ELIZABETH TAYLOR, TONY CURTIS, KIM NOVAK, GERALDINE CHAPLIN, EDWARD FOX / RELEASE DATE: 23RD OCTOBER