Geraldine McEwan obituary

We all knew Geraldine McEwan as the gloriously great Miss Marple. A character made famous by her shrewd intelligence and nosy nature, It was the role that catapulted Geraldine McEwan, who died aged 82 last weekend, to such familiarity. She played the Agatha Christie sleuth in 12 episodes of the BBC’s highly acclaimed Marple series from 2004 until 2007. McEwan had spoken to The New York Times of her love for playing “very original and slightly eccentric characters,” an art she had perfected like very few could. Geraldine McEwan was a proper lady and a true professional, who will be best remembered for her tremendous portrayal of Miss Marple no doubt, a role inhabitation she described as a “marvellous experience” back in 2008. However, as the tributes pour in thick and fast, many remember her for her extraordinarily broad range of roles and for tons of saddened fans, she will be best remembered for other striking performances she gave down through the decades.

Miss Marple

McEwan’s role as Miss Marple, a seemingly normal spinster leading a conventional country life in a tiny village, who just so happens to humorously invest her time in solving a range of violent crimes, came in the later years of an abundant and twinkling career. Becoming the face of such an iconic and well-loved character served as an accompaniment to a life-time portfolio of wonderful, much-admired roles.  

One of the actress’s most notable roles, independent of Miss Marple, perhaps, was her 1985 portrayal of Lucia in EF’s Benson’s terse comedy of social one-upmanship, Mapp and Lucia. The comic saga of two polite enemies (Prunella Scales and Geraldine McEwan) was produced by channel 4 and has been hailed by many as a total masterpiece.  In a display of hilarity and brilliance where false smiles and snide remarks played commonplace havoc, McEwan’s charm and wit as an actress made her indescribably perfect for the role. The series saw the tremendously varied actress’s snobbish character wind up in a collection of amusing incidents; regular occurrences in her upper-middle class, quintessentially British life, as the two elegant enemies continually vied for social prestige and superior status in a terse atmosphere of cultural snobbery in a picturesque Sussex town. McEwan’s presentation of the self-absorbed, melodramatic Lucia was infectious, beautiful and brilliant at all times.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Another very notable accomplishment of this incredibly versatile and immensely talented actress was the tantalizing performance she delivered in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, a BBC adaption of Jeanette Winterson’s poignant semi-autobiographical 1985 novel of the same name. The BBC adaption went on to win the Prix Italia in 1991, a year after it aired. McEwan earned a BAFTA for her role as best actress in the controversial drama, which dealt with the key themes of same-sex relationships, complex family relationships and religion.  We mustn’t forget about McEwan’s status as a truly prolific stage actress. She made her theatre debut quite remarkably at the age of just 14 at the Royal Theatre in Windsor in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as an attendant of Hippolyta. By the age of 18, she was dazzling on London’s West End. McEwan’s portrayal of Olivia in Twelfth Night performance split contemporary critical opinion, with her new, bright, sparkly and witty take on the normally more subdued character being deemed by many as revolutionary. McEwan made her Broadway debut in early 1963, aged 30, in The School for Scandal which was praised effusively and widely admired.  McEwan then made the move to the National Theatre, a shift which is widely believed to have extended her range as an actress from primarily a gifted comedienne to a actress of competent flexibility.  A particularly praised performance of this period was in Strindberg’s Dance of Death, in which she starred alongside Laurence Oliver, another memorable role. She was even a talented director, making her debut with the Renaissance Theatre Company’s “As you like it” in 1988. 

Just ten years ago, in 2005, McEwan voiced Miss Thripp in Wallace and Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit and the short film A Matter Of Loaf and Death. Other film appearances were notched up by the multi-talented veteran actress in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Henry V, and The Magdalene Sisters