Rare is the reference to Margaret Rutherford that doesn’t characterize her as either jut-chinned, eccentric, or both. The combination of those most mundane of attributes has led some to suggest that she was made for the role of Agatha Christie’s indomitable sleuth, Jane Marple, whom Rutherford portrayed in four films between 1961 and 1964 plus in an uncredited film cameo in The Alphabet Murders (1965). Rutherford began her acting career first as a student at London’s Old Vic, debuting on stage in 1925. In 1933, she first appeared in the West End at the not-so-tender age of 41. She had her screen debut in 1936 portraying Miss Butterby in the Twickenham-Wardour production of Hideout in the Alps (1936).
In summer 1941, Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit opened on the London stage, with Coward himself directing. Appearing as Madame Arcati, the genuine psychic, was Rutherford, in a role in which Coward had earlier envisaged her and which he then especially shaped for her. She would carry her portrayal of Madame Arcati to the screen adaptation, David Lean’s Blithe Spirit (1945). Not only would this become one of Rutherford’s most memorable screen performances – with her bicycling about the Kentish countryside, cape fluttering behind her – but it would establish the model for portraying that pseudo-soothsayer forever thereafter. Despite Rutherford’s appearances in more than 40 films, it is as Madame Arcati and Miss Jane Marple that she will best be remembered.
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