Before ‘Murder, She Wrote,’ Angela Lansbury Took on Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple in ‘The Mirror Crack’d’

The Mirror Crack’d_Novel Suspects

Four years before she began playing mystery novelist Jessica Fletcher on Murder, She Wrote, Angela Lansbury took on the role of another famous amateur detective solving crimes in a small town: Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. The Mirror Crack’d, the 1980 film based on Christie’s 1962 novel The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, was initially planned as the first of three films to star Lansbury as Miss Marple, and while that franchise never came together, the movie offers an early glimpse into how Lansbury would later formulate her performance as Jessica Fletcher.

It’s also an entertaining Miss Marple story on its own, although she gets partially sidelined by an ankle injury early in the movie, delegating much of the legwork in the central investigation to her nephew, Scotland Yard Inspector Dermot Craddock (Edward Fox). He’s a slightly altered version of a character who appeared in multiple Miss Marple novels as an ally and associate (but not a direct relative), and Fox gives him a mix of no-nonsense professionalism and a bit of Miss Marple’s playfulness.

Lansbury picks up on that playful quality as well, and director Guy Hamilton highlights it in his campy depiction of the catty relationship between American movie stars Marina Gregg (Elizabeth Taylor) and Lola Brewster (Kim Novak), who trade delightfully snide barbs. They’ve both come to Miss Marple’s small-town English home of St. Mary Mead to film a new movie directed by Marina’s husband Jason Rudd (Rock Hudson).

The presence of Taylor, Novak and Hudson gives the movie a sense of vintage Hollywood glamour, enhanced by the time period of the story shifting to 1953, at the height of Hollywood’s golden age. Inspector Craddock turns out to be quite the cinephile, dropping both real and fictional references related to the characters’ big-screen careers.

Marina and Jason have taken up residence at a local estate, and they throw a party for town residents as a gesture of goodwill. That goodwill turns sour when local busybody Heather Babcock (Maureen Bennett) is found dead at the party, apparently killed by poison placed in her drink. Evidence soon points to Marina as the killer’s real target, and that disrupts her already fragile mental state as she attempts to make a screen comeback. Taylor herself was making a comeback of sorts in The Mirror Crack’d, her first film role in three years, and the various real-world parallels give the movie added resonance.

Hamilton is best known as the director of four James Bond movies, but he also took on Christie a second time in 1982’s Evil Under the Sun, starring Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot. He plays up the showbiz-insider angle, opening with a pitch-perfect parody of a vintage Christie drawing-room mystery, shot in black and white and featuring a pontificating detective about to reveal the identity of a murderer. When the projector breaks before the solution can be disclosed, Miss Marple confidently tells her fellow audience members exactly who did it and why.

That kind of blithe self-assurance carried over into Lansbury’s portrayal of Jessica Fletcher, and it’s easy to see Hamilton’s version of St. Mary Mead as a precursor to Jessica’s home of Cabot Cove. There are some grim details behind the murder, but Hamilton keeps the tone light, and Miss Marple solves most of the case while at home on her couch. When she finally puts the pieces together, she sits bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night, ready to impart her wisdom no matter what the hour.

Lansbury’s Miss Marple is so likable in her pushy self-confidence that it’s somewhat disappointing she never got to play the character again. Still, that spirit carried over into Murder, She Wrote, and The Mirror Crack’d lays important groundwork for a mystery classic. “Gossip? I prefer to call it a healthy interest in human nature,” Miss Marple says when accused of meddling in other people’s business. That’s a perspective Jessica Fletcher took to heart.

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He’s the former film editor of Las Vegas Weekly and the former TV comedies guide for He has written about movies, TV, and pop culture for Vulture, Polygon, CBR, Inverse, Crooked Marquee, and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.