We're always having discussions about who is the best actor to portray a certain character on screen. Who's the best Bond? (I go with Daniel Craig). The best Philip Marlowe? (For my money, Robert Mitchum - though only in Farewell, My Lovely). The best Kurt Wallander? (I think Kenneth Branagh does a solid job, but the Swedish actor, Krister Henriksson, in the Swedish made Wallander series, is the character). We could go on and on with this, obviously. And the same goes for villains. How many actors over the years, indeed, the decades, have played Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu, Norbert Jacques' Dr. Mabuse, or, in various incarnations, period-set and contemporary, Professor Moriarty? Who do you think, of the various actors who took these roles, played them best? Do you perhaps prefer Boris Karloff or Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu? Perhaps neither, since there is a dated element to seeing an Anglo actor (however great) play this evil Asian mastermind who comes from pulp fiction of an earlier era. I think Eric Porter is superb as Moriarity on the PBS made period-set Sherlock Holmes adaptations, but damn is Andrew Scott great as Jim Moriarity in the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock series.
Having said all that, how many women characters from crime fiction, on TV or in the movies, have gone through several incarnations with different actors playing them? Among supporting characters, there are many, like the different actresses over the years, going back to the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies, who have played Mrs. Hudson. But in terms of leads, the central detective character or an arch villain, I can only think of one character who has been played over and over, for different generations, by different people. That's Agatha Christie's Jane Marple. She was played in the 1960's by Margaret Rutherford, later by Angela Lansbury (a dry run for Murder She Wrote?), and Helen Hayes. On Mystery!, Joan Hickson, Geraldine McEwan, and Julia McKenzie have played her. Of all these, Joan Hickson, is the best one. Still, are there any other women detectives who have gotten the same treatment, with different actresses getting a chance to interpret them? Nancy Drew (in a 1930's film series and a 2007 film), but really, does anyone remember any of these movies? And you did have the Swedish and American versions of the Stieg Larrson books, with Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara each playing Lisbeth Salander in different versions. Beyond that, it's slim pickings, at least of the films and television shows that I can think of. But if you can name any more examples of different women playing the same character from crime fiction, please let me know. It seems to be a short list.