Agatha Christie: Marple Series 5 (The Pale Horse)
Recurring character(s): Miss Jane Marple (Julia McKenzie)
Director: Andy Hay
Original air date(s): 07/10/2011
DVD Date: 06/21/2011
Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 101 minutes
Note(s): The screenplay for this adaptation was based on a novel of the same title by Agatha Christie.
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Review: Originally shown in the UK in August 2010 as the first episode of the second series starring Julie McKenzie as Miss Marple (and the fifth series overall), The Pale Horse was not included (for reasons unknown to me) on PBS's Masterpiece Mystery!'s 2010 schedule. Instead, it aired as a stand-alone episode this summer and has now been released on its own DVD. The storyline is adapted from an Agatha Christie crime novel of the same title, but the book was not written as a Miss Marple mystery. Though a number of character changes have been made to the original source — the most obvious being the inclusion of Miss Marple — the overall plot is relatively unchanged.
Father Gorman is called to hear the confession of a dying woman, Mrs. Davis, but not understanding what she is saying, he makes notes of names and dates spoken by her and mails it to his good friend Jane Marple. But minutes after dropping the letter in the post, he is killed. The police think it is a robbery gone wrong, but Miss Marple, who receives the letter the next day, is unconvinced. She traces the names to an inn called The Pale Horse in Hampshire, to which she travels and books a room. The inn is operated by a self-proclaimed witch, who believes she can summon the spirits to do her bidding over great distances. With the assistance of a young man, a writer and historian, who was a fellow lodger of Mrs. Davis, she begins to piece together a puzzle of evil deeds.
I wasn't all that thrilled with Julie McKenzie's often "one note" portrayal of Miss Marple in the other episodes of Series Five, which were released on DVD last year. But here she expresses a wide range of emotions, and is every bit the brilliantly deductive amateur sleuth that we have all come to appreciate. The storyline has several intersecting subplots that have the potential for misdirection, and it's never quite clear to the viewer which path is the correct one until the suspects are gathered in the drawing room for the denouement. (As an aside, the wagering on the outcomes of any sequence of events is certainly more British than American, and its inclusion in the story comes across as more confusing than enlightening ... at least to me. What little explanation that was provided did nothing to help clear up the role it plays in helping Miss Marple solve the murders.)
As a bonus, the studio has included a second DVD with ITV's 1996 made-for-television movie adaptation of the book that stars Colin Buchanan as the narrator of the story, Mark Easterbrook, a character who also appears in a key role in the episode reviewed here. As the first ITV version does not include Miss Marple, it's fun to compare and contrast how the screenwriters adapted the same material into two very different movies.
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