Thursday, June 9, 2011

Crime Queen: Dame Ngaio Marsh

Sunday night 12 June 2011, at 10.20 pm on TV ONE 

Director, Aileen O’Sullivan’s documentary Crime Queen: Dame Ngaio Marsh is a fascinating entrée into the world of one New Zealand’s most internationally successful authors. It takes us behind the scenes and behind the public persona of this most private woman. We meet the people who were intimate and important in her life. There are her acting protégés from her days directing student theatre at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. It is like a cast party after one of her Shakespearian productions: Elric Hooper, Jonathan Elsom, David Hindon, Gerald Lascelles, Brian Bell and Annette Facer are all interviewed. These, were her student ‘players’ whom she referred to as ‘sons and daughters of the house’, because they were not just actors, they were her family. They share both their reverent and irreverent memories of Ngaio – and in so doing bring her alive for a new audience. Their stories are compelling reminders that there is a fascinating history here at risk of being lost.

The documentary takes us to the places Ngaio loved in Christchurch. One of the special highlights is her home, Marton Cottage, on the Cashmere hills where a dinner party is set for Roderick Alleyn (played by Peter Eliot), a select cast of ‘players’, plus her biographer Joanne Drayton and Bruce Harding, curator of Marton Cottage. More of the private Ngaio is revealed in animated discussion over, a, lavishly set silver, crystal and candle lit dinner table. In her day Ngaio hosted many such events wining and dining some of the world’s greats of Arts and Letters. The elegant upper-class dinner table also features in many of her 32 crime novels written over a career spanning nearly 50 years. On this occasion Roderick Alleyn comes in his official capacity as detective interrogating guests with searching questions about his Crime Queen creator. It is a decidedly existential experience.
Ngaio’s UK haunts and the people she knew are evocatively remembered. She described her special sense of liberation as ‘that London feeling’. With Roderick Alleyn and biographer Joanne Drayton, we walk the streets of Knightsbridge where she stayed with actor Jonathan Elsom and the Rhodes family that she adored, and we see the flat where she wrote her first crime detective novel A Man Lay Dead (1934). 

Alleyn visits Ngaio’s London publisher HarperCollins in Hammersmith, talks to book editor David Brawn, and is at the launch of the UK edition of Drayton’s Marsh biography. Ngaio’s London life is explored in the context of fascinating interviews with crime writer Harry Keating; writers Kate Mosse, John Curan and Margaret Lewis; actors George Baker, Belinda Lang and Jimmy Laurenson; her cousin and heir John Dacres-Manning; and Bloomsbury life-long fan, great niece of Virginia Woolf, Henrietta Garnett. The layers of Ngaio’s life are peeled back and much that makes up this complex, mysterious woman is revealed.

Don't miss this special documentary on Sunday night - TV One at 10.20pm.

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