Monday, 8 April 2013

Agatha Christie's Marple:The Pale Horse - review

Agatha Christie's Marple - why do they call it that? It's not as if there's any need to avoid confusion,because Dorothy L. Sayers or someone else also wrote about a character with that name. What's more, I had one or two reservations about the casting of Julia Mackenzie as the great spinster sleuth, and I decided not to watch the adaptation of The Pale Horse, when it was first shown two years ago, because it introduced Jane Marple into a very good story in which she never appeared. It all seemed like a recipe for disaster.

But one or two Christie fans told me that this was one of the best adaptations of her work in recent years, so I decided to give in, and have a look at it. And to be honest, I'm glad I did, because on the whole, it was a pretty good piece of entertainment, despite the radical changes made to the original. The screenplay was written by Russell Lewis, a very experienced writer. I've never met him, but long ago he was mooted as someone to adapt the Harry Devlin books for TV. Sadly, that never happened.

The opening of the story is very different from that of the book. A vicar - played by Nicholas Parsons - is beaten to death after visiting a dying woman. But he is an old pal of Miss Marple, and has already sent her a mysterious letter containing a list of names and a reference to the Book of Revelation. Her enquiries quickly lead her to a spooky hotel deep in rural England called The Pale Horse.

The cast was excellent, including such stars as Neil Pearson, Pauline Collins and Nigel Planer. With a couple of exceptions, over-acting (which really kills the televised Christies) was avoided, thank goodness, and I thought Julia Mackenzie did well enough in the part to overcome my doubts. All in all, very watchable, if very different from the original, which was definitely one of the best Christies written after the 1950s, and a book that's certainly worth reading if you are unfamiliar with it.


6 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - I have to admit to being somewhat of a purist when it comes to television/film adaptations. So I wasn't sure whether I'd like this given I'd been told it was quite different to the book. But I am glad you enjoyed it and it sounds as though the story itself is well told. I may look it up as I am such a fan of Christie's work.

The Puzzle Doctor said...

I'm rather partial to Julia McKenzie's Miss Marple. There are occasions where the writers make her too intrusive - the adaptation of Why Didn't They Ask Evans springs to mind - but I much prefer her to Geraldine McEwan. Obviously she's no Joan Hickson...

As for levering her into stories in which Miss Marple didn't appear, I've rather enjoyed some of these as I've not read all of these - and even so, the endings are often changed so I can go and read them afterwards anyway.

Richmonde said...

The Pale Horse is one of Christie's best. The BBC radio dramatisation is pretty good, or the audiobook read by (it must be) Hugh Fraser. It is very precisely located in a period most of us have forgotten - the early 60s, when girls wore Sloppy Joe jumpers and their hair in the "Italian cut". The settings range from a boarding house (what happened to them?) to cafes of varying seediness to chintzy sitting rooms in the home counties where three little old ladies... but I won't spoil it for you. She gets the vicarage spot on, too, with the Victorian radiators, draughts, sagging armchairs and plastic buckets full of autumn leaves.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Margot, yes,it was definitely better than expected, and I agree with Puzzle Doctor that JM is a better Marple than GMcE, good actor though the latter is.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks,Richmonde, I haven't heard the audio version. Yes, it's a good and genuinely unusual story.

Jeff Flugel said...

I couldn't get into this one at all I'm afraid, Martin...chiefly because of the radical changes from the original novel, and also because I find McKenzie a very dull Miss Marple (it's impossible to top the late great Joan Hickson, of course). The original BBC adaptation, starring Colin Buchanon (of DALZIEL & PACSOE) from the 90s is more my speed. The newest incarnation of AGATHA CHRISTIE'S MARPLE (a ridiculous title, I agree) have done altogether too much hacking about with Christie's original plots (quite fine as they are, thank you very much) and also shoehorning Marple in books where she doesn't belong).