Friday, February 7, 2014

By the Pricking of My Thumbs: The Trouble with Tommy

Anthony Andrews and Greta Scacchi as Tommy and Tuppence in By the Pricking of My Thumbs (2006)

Go to the Anthony Andrews Blog Count or the Delights of Anthony Andrews . . . or a Valentine's Month Blog Hop! pages for links to the other blog hop participant articles!

I vaguely remember reading this Agatha Christie novel once, quite a few years back, and being surprised that she'd written something without either Poirot or Miss Marple. It didn't snag my interest for very long, possibly because I didn't have a visual to go with the story. Now I do, and I wish to high heaven that some genius had leapt to his/her feet and declared the necessity of a Tommy and Tuppence miniseries! Just a single season, possibly only 4 episodes, but each one casting this brilliant duo of Anthony Andrews and Greta Scacchi.

Now that you've had my prologue (although I confess that Anthony doesn't have nearly enough scenes for a die-hard fangirl like me!), we can move on to the meat of Tommy and Tuppence's relationship.

Most people marry relatively young, as did Tommy and Tuppence. You have adventures together, spend gads of time in each other's company, bear children together, and somehow settle into that daily grind of life where nothing new ever happens. Tommy isn't necessarily a bad husband. He has a job with the British government (my fangirling heart burst knowing that he works at MI6!) and he's away from home most of the time. In fact, it sounds like he's gone for months at a time every now and again, off on some diplomatic errand or other. He leaves Tuppence at home.

Now, that was all right, while they had children to occupy her, but their children are grown and gone now, leading lives of their own. The days stretch longer for Tuppence without her husband, and she starts remembering the times when she and Tommy spent time together, when they actually did a little detective work together in their younger days, when he considered her an equal partner in their marriage. Which, it appears, he doesn't anymore.

Tommy finding out that the old biddy, Miss Marple, has one of the keenest minds in England!
Tommy does everything in their marriage. If something needs fixing, he fixes it. If a problem needs solving, he solves it, and always without her help. If she tries to interfere or assist him, he becomes snappish and irritated. That reaction could be for one of two different reasons. One: he truly does think his wife isn't as smart as he is, therefore, he resents her interfering. Or two: he's trying to protect her because he knows she struggles with a drinking habit and is now prone to more nerves than in the early years of their marriage, i.e. he doesn't want her to worry about stressful decisions. I'm inclined towards the latter decision, but because of Tommy's government job, I think sometimes he forgets that not everyone will say "How high?" when he demands that they jump. His wife isn't his subordinate, and he needs to remember that. On a side note, though, the power he wields in this episode is extremely attractive!

Like many husbands, Tommy is actually clueless about his wife's misery. When he's away, he sends her the same postcards that he sends to his aging Aunt Ada. In her mind, that translates to her being of the exact same importance to him as a relation he only sees once every few years. Which is why Tuppence drinks too much, and why she puts herself in harm's way during this case with Miss Marple. She believes that Tommy doesn't care, and she's bored from doing nothing with her life. She's one of those wives who still loves their husbands, but is absolutely certain that his affection for her has faded as she's aged.

Tommy raising his eyebrows as Miss Marple states that a local couple has a passionless marriage.

No, Tommy hasn't stopped loving his wife, but he doesn't know how to handle her bouts of alcoholism or her insecurity. He doesn't realize that his words of reproach cause deep, harmful wounds in Tuppence's psyche. He's trying, in his own bumbling way, to help her, but it isn't working. Which is why it takes Tuppence being two seconds away from death to snap him out of his confusion and reawaken the reality that he loves her, deeply, and the last thing he ever wants is to lose her.

Tommy needs to remember that his wife isn't a helpless child. She's the exact same woman she was when he married her, only a little more wrinkly around the eyes and a little less confident than she used to be, a fault we can actually lay right at his doorstep. Remember, though, that Tommy isn't perfect. He isn't a horrific, abusive husband. He's a husband who, in his attempt to shelter Tuppence from troubles, is accidentally stifling her. I think that, possibly, the near-death experience of his wife has actually awakened him to her needs.

Le sigh. As Tommy and Tuppence realize how much they love and need each other.

All Tuppence needed was reassurance of her husband's love for her, and a little self-confidence. I'm not such an idealist that I believe this will entirely solve her drinking problem. No, Tuppence is an alcoholic who drinks to drown her sorrows. She will probably drink less, but until Tommy retires from MI6, or unless she finds a productive way to occupy her time, she will still have drinking binges. But at least she is now assured in Tommy's love for her.

I adore happy endings. And this is one of the happiest, when Tommy acknowledges his fear of how he almost lost Tuppence, and she confesses how she thought she'd lost him long ago. It seems that they were both wrong. Tommy just needs to step back and let her help, and also, let her drive her car, which she will now do, which causes another set of delightfully arched eyebrows! No one arches their eyebrows like Anthony Andrews!

Their relationship is a fantastic example of how a marriage can grow stale. I'm not married, would like to be someday, and if the Lord ever brings the right fella along, I'm going to make sure we watch By the Pricking of Our Thumbs at least once a year, as a reminder of how marriages can fall apart, and there, but for the grace of God, go we.

Look who still kisses like a pro!

If you get a chance, check out this magnificent Miss Marple episode. It's well worth the effort to track it down. In fact, I'm 98% sure that your local library probably has a copy. Enjoy!

Next up is an Ivanhoe post scheduled for release on 2/10, Monday morning.


  1. That is a weird episode of Miss Marple. I remember it! As usually happens with Anthony Andrews, I didn't expect him to be in it -- and then he turned up!

    Unfortunately, most of their marital problems can be summed up in three words: lack of communication. He shouldn't assume if she says nothing, everything is fine, and she shouldn't assume that if she says nothing, he'll figure out what's wrong. Marriage has to be about up front sincerity about problems in a marriage, not passive-aggressive tendencies.

    1. Well, it shouldn't have been turned into a Marple episode, that's for certain. Oh, the brilliance of a Tommy and Tuppence series is now lost and gone forever. They had their chance and totally muffed it.

      You know, I was halfway afraid that it would end without their relationship issues reaching a small resolution. She was feeling so unloved and he was feeling so irritated, and you're right, it all boils down to a lack of communication that built up, it seems, over a period of time. I think he forgot that she was his partner and started seeing her as someone that needed sheltering. Not that good for a relationship. But I think they'll make it work in the end, which is why I loved the episode so much. Except that he's not in it enough by half! Sheesh, and he's got first billing of the guest stars. *eye roll*

    2. The episode is about a creepy house in the woods, right? Or am I remembering another episode from that set? I don't know that I ever read the books, so I don't know how it differs, but I assume Tommy was in it a lot more!

      They could still do a Tommy and Tuppence series, but I imagine they would recast both parts, so that doesn't do us any good! =P

      I haven't seen it in a long time -- didn't Tommy mostly over-protect her due to her drinking, while her drinking was a byproduct of being over-protected? Vicious cycle! But they'll be fine -- once they start talking to one another!

      That is interesting that he got top billing over his costar, particularly when she got the lion's share of the screen time. But then, he was Percy and Sebastian. ;)

    3. Yep, there is a creepy house in the woods and a witch. And yes, I'm pretty sure he must be in the book more than he is in this episode. I have it checked out on my Kindle and it's already quite different. Tommy and Tuppence seem much more in-tune to one another. Of course, I'm only about 6 pages in.

      That vicious cycle you mentioned is precisely what happens. Tommy is quite stifling because of her drinking, and she drinks because she feels stifled. It's crazy, but I can see how it would happen.

      I will never forgive the writers, though, for not adding more Tommy screen-time. I was so delighted at the beginning and then frustrated for the next 50 minutes, waiting for him to show up again!

      Still, it was fun, and I loved every moment with him, particularly the final scene. I can't help it, I love watching him kiss. *winks*

    4. You may not want to dive into Christie after seeing the new adaptations -- they have changed so much, even entire characters' relationships (as you are finding out). You can see why her devoted fans are upset with them.

      Shall we bang their heads together and get them counseling?

      You love watching him kiss, huh? How inappropriate of you! ;)

      *whispers* I. Do. Too.

    5. But now I have a visual for the characters! I could picture Anthony in those few pages that I read, and I had no image of anyone when I attempted the book all those years ago.

      And yes, they need counseling. I'll pay for it!

      No one kisses like our AA. *winks*

  2. I actually really liked this ep, but it's been a while since I've watched it. I thought it worked better than some of the other stories into which the Marple character has found herself shoe-horned in recent years. :) And Andrews is marvelous!

    1. Shoe-horned is a great way of putting it. I'm not even sure if Tommy is supposed to be a member of MI6 in the book! But it truly is delightful. It's amusing to me how Anthony is still charming and handsome in his later years as he was in his youth. The wrinkles add a certain elegance, I think. I may end up buying this set just to own this episode! *eye roll*

  3. I'm with Ruth. From my recollection, I really liked this episode - it was comical to watch Tuppence attempt solving the murder and of course, like you, I loved the happy ending. :)

    1. It was a terrific ending! It's funny, I'm reading the book right now, and they really did a number on Tommy and Tuppence in the episode. It's amusing me how different their personalities are from the episode and the book, but I still love the episode. I just wish that Tommy had been in more of the episode!

  4. Arggg. I must say that if I hadn't already utterly despised the new "Marple" series, this episode would have done it for me. It *ruined* Tommy and Tuppence. They were charming, delightful, a wonderful couple in their middle age as well as in their youth. They worked well together, both solving mysteries and not overlooking each other's talents. But in this cynical age where we don't believe people can actually have a good marriage for twenty or thirty years, the lovely story Agatha Christie wrote had to be turned on its head and inside out, and the delightful characters had to be turned into two completely different characters who have nothing to do with the original story, and their story had to be stolen from them and given to poor Miss Marple, who had no business being in it. Perhaps it turned out to be a good plot, but it wasn't Agatha Christie's plot, nor her characters, and I was too upset with the destruction of my beloved Tommy and Tuppence to enjoy it.

    1. Well, I saw the episode first and then read the book so I didn't hate it quite to the same degree that you did. But that's okay. The novel is far superior and I really loved it. Now I'm starting at the beginning and seeing a young AA in the role of our beloved Tommy! :)

  5. As an AA fan I *loved* this episode. As a Tommy and Tuppence fan (they're my fave Christie detective) I was so upset by the way they changed them! However, I agree...totally picture AA at various ages as Tommy now. :)

    1. I am stunned at how many people have hopped onto this post! I guess Tommy and Tuppence are more popular than I ever imagined! And yes, I know what you mean. I read the book after watching the episode and the book is so superior. Stupid screenwriters! But the actors were spot on, totally, 100%! I'm reading the first novel with them now and I so totally see a young AA!


Thank you for your kind comments, which I adore!