F-ing branding. Jennifer Garner has been tapped to play a young Miss Marple in the Disney reboot of the classic Agatha Christie character. The character is famous for being an old woman who’s an amateur sleuth. A spinster, if you will. As reported by Deadline Hollywood, currently the project has no writer or director, but Garner and her producing partner Juliana Janes are looking to shape the material into a star vehicle for the actress.
Perhaps Garner is building off the heat of her turn in the upcoming Arthur remake, as she’s never been that successful a big screen leading lady (see: Catch and Release, 13 Going on 30, Elektra), but on a conceptual level the very idea causes a dissonance. Marple is a character that is defined by being an old woman, much as Little Orphan Annie is defined as being a young girl with red hair. Theoretically there’s no problem with these characters being played younger or older.
But the question is still there: “why?” Why must a mystery being solved by a woman in her thirties be branded a Miss Marple mystery? Why can’t it just be a mystery film on its own? Or if it is re-purposed Christie material, why can’t the material exist as is? Why not get Ellen Burstyn or someone older to play the character?
The problem (and answer) is that what makes artistic sense doesn’t always make commercial sense. Name brand recognition can get you through the door and get you made. But when you sacrifice so much of what makes the original the original, you’re alienating those who like that material in the first place, so it seems like a bad trade.
But with the web controversy around the jokey pitch of Donald Glover playing Spider-Man, there are questions to be asked about what characters traits define famous icons, and which do not. We have an American playing Sherlock Holmes and Brits paying Superman and Spider-Man, and that doesn’t seem to raise much ire, but none of those actors are using their real accents.
How far do you think a character can be changed and still be the character?