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Miss Marple : Playing Philip Durrant

Richard Armitage as Phillip Durrant in Miss Marple: Ordeal by InnocenceRichard Armitage played Philip Durrant in an adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel, "Ordeal by Innocence".

The novel was been altered in the adaptation, not least because it was not a Miss Marple novel. The character of Philip Durrant in particular was considerably changed, and is a rather less sympathetic person than the original.

Durrant is the husband of Mary Argyle, one of the adopted children of the murder victim, Rachel Argyle. He was an officer in the Royal Air Force who fought in the Second World War (the story is set a few years later in the 1950s).

Richard Armitage constructed a 'backstory' for the character. "[He] was bit of a bounty hunter," he said. "I have worked out that he has been very badly wronged by his own family, so he is left penniless. He finds out Mary is from a very wealthy family and so he pretends he has loads of money and they get married. This all happens before the story starts, so when the story begins you find him married into this family because he knows his wife will inherit “old money”. I think his intention was to get into the family, get the money and get out." But at some point after the murder of Rachel Argyle he contracted polio, and is now confined to a wheelchair. "He has become dependent on Mary and her family, which has really embittered him." [1]

Lisa Stansfield, who played his wife Mary, said, "Philip doesn’t really like her - he married her for her mother’s money. She’s a little bit hard done by because she married him for love and then found out it wasn’t reciprocated." [1] The relationship between them is tense, with Mary trying to care for him and Philip resenting his dependence on her. This is typified in this excerpt from the drama.

For Richard Armitage as an actor, the part had its attractions. Philip is not, on the face of it, a very attractive person. "I’m trying to give him a thread of reason and humanity," he said. "And there is a glimmer with another character, who he genuinely has affection for. It was a challenge because he has an interesting journey. Being restrained by paralysis - I thought that would be interesting to play." [1]

Of the drama, he said, "It’s like a big game of Cluedo, this episode. It’s all set in one house – it’s quite contained and suffocating. There are so many characters, all of whom are loose cannons. It’s quite fun to play it with a certain amount of ambiguity because you know people are going to be looking at everybody - you can lace everything with a bit of suspicion which ups the game for everyone." [1] In fact, almost all the characters in the drama come under suspicion of having murdered Rachel Argyle at some point.

He has a slight link with Agatha Christie herself. "My mum used to play in Agatha Christie’s garden – she used to live in Wallingford as a child and that’s where Christie had a house," he said. "My mum told me that she used to climb over the garden wall and play in her garden. I’ve always got this image of my mum creeping up to the house and pressing her nose against the window and watching Agatha Christie at her typewriter. Complete fabrication in my head probably!" [1]

Of Christie, he said, "I think she is quintessentially English, although it is an England that has probably disappeared. It’s not about a council estate - it’s about the moneyed Home Counties with posh people with posh houses. It’s nostalgia, but it's good nostalgia." [1]

For many, Joan Hickson was the definitive Miss Marple, but Richard Armitage praised Geraldine McEwan's portrayal of the elderly but sharp detective. "Geraldine is probably part of that generation of nostalgics. To me, in the best sense, she seems to have a true English eccentricity about her. There’s something a bit other-worldly that she brings to Miss Marple - she has such a beautiful, crisp, soft speaking voice. She doesn’t shout or talk too loudly, which is the antithesis of what we seem to see nowadays on television – shouting, screaming, crying, abusive relationships. This is very much the opposite, which is the appeal.” [1]

He enjoyed the filming of the drama. "It’s particularly nice having Lisa Stansfield push me around in a wheelchair! I kept turning round to her and saying “go on, sing All Around The World”! It is quite surreal seeing all these people like Juliet Stevenson and Jane Seymour and Alison Steadman. Everyone had so much fun. It felt like we were on a three-week murder mystery weekend! I think what attracts everyone to it is that they will be part of an ensemble, and a really starry ensemble." [1]


[1] Chorion/ITV press pack for Miss Marple, series 3

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