Name: Agatha Christie’s Marple The Pale Horse
Release date: 2010
Genre: Murder mystery
Starring: Julia McKenzie, Nicholas Parsons, Lynda Baron
Director: Andy Hay
Screenplay: Russell Lewis
Agatha Christies doesn’t often stray into the supernatural during her murder mysteries, preferring instead an entirely human environment for the action.
However, The Pale Horse with Miss Marple is a rare exception.
Please note that in this review I am discussing the TV version and not the book, which doesn't feature Miss Marple. I describe The Pale Horse as a Marple story within this review in the context of the TV show only. The book is is many ways very different to this TV adaptation, but this review discusses only the TV version.
Miss Marple is shocked to discover that her old friend Father Gorman, with whom she served in a hospital during World War One, has been brutally murdered.
The priest was returning home from giving the last rites to a dying parishioner in London when he was savagely beaten over the head.
Miss Marple is even more surprised to receive a letter from her old friend soon after on headed notepaper from an old inn called The Pale Horse. The letter is ostensibly a list of surnames.
She travels to London to share what she knows with Scotland Yard, and as usual is gently told to leave it to the police. As loyal fans of Miss Marple already know, that isn’t going to happen.
A quick trip to the dead parishioner’s lodgings yields a second list, with dates on them, also on headed notepaper from The Pale Horse. Miss Marple also discovers that the dead woman until recently worked in consumer research, a relatively modern concept at that time.
Most of the surnames are commonplace, but one stands out and Miss Marple telephones the house only to discover that this woman died six months ago. She then goes to stay at The Pale Horse in Much Deeping in an effort to find out more.
The atmosphere of witchcraft is set from the first scenes, with Miss Marple listening to a radio adaptation of Shakespeare’s MacBeth. She arrives at The Pale Horse on the night of The Burning, a local re-enactment of the burning of a local witch centuries ago.
The behaviour of the three women running the inn is also highly suggestive of witchcraft, although Miss Marple is far from daunted. She matches the names on her list and the dates beside them to the guest book in the inn’s foyer.
Other guests are investigating similar deaths to the one that Miss Marple discovered when she telephoned Lady Hesketh-Dubois’ home, so our sleuth soon has plenty of company. This includes a young man from the dead parishioner’s lodgings who is only too keen to help.
Mysteries with a supernatural element using divide into those which turn out to have an entirely human explanation and those where the supernatural does indeed play a genuine role in what happens. The latter is far less common. I wasn’t too surprised that Agatha Christie stuck to a purely rational, human-based explanation to the events of The Pale Horse.
This production, which starred Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple, was hugely atmospheric. This was in no small part due to the choice of filming location for The Pale Horse: Dorney Court in Buckinghamshire.
Dorney Court is a Tudor mansion that would have been present in the village when the original witch was hanged. The episode was filmed during the autumn, providing a further gentle link to Halloween.
Susan Lynch and Pauline Collins both did a fantastic, and deliciously ironic, job of portraying two of the modern-day witches who run The Pale Horse.
There were some unusual casting choices in The Pale Horse, which greatly increased my enjoyment of one of my favourite Miss Marple stories.
Nicholas Parsons played Father Gorman. Nigel Planer, from The Young Ones, played the miserly old curmudgeon who ends up helping Miss Marple solve the mystery. Lynda Baron played the landlady of the lodgings where Father Gorman’s parishioner died.
We are used to seeing ensemble casts in Miss Marple adaptations for TV, but I loved the fresh choices of acting talent in The Pale Horse.
Thank you for reading my review of The Pale Horse TV adaptation. I'll be back on Tuesday. Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my review of Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie.
Or you might like to take a look at my review of The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of The Last Kashmiri Rose by Barbara Cleverly.