What do you do when your beloved wife commits suicide?
The year is 1960 in the village of Much Deeping, Surrey. Mark Easterbrook’s wife, Delphine (Georgina Campbell), sees a fortune-telling modern witch threesome, asking “Am I going to make Mark happy?” She, a light-skinned black woman dies, electrocuted in a bathtub. Her husband Mark Easterbrook (Rufus Sewell) is distraught. Yet a year later, Easterbrook has taken up with a luscious redhead, Thomasina Tuckerton (Poppy Gilbert). After spending the night in her flat, he’s repelled by the rat in her sink. Turning to this woman, he realizes she is pale and dead.
Somehow, Tuckerton’s death is connected to the death of an older woman, Jesse Davis (Madeleine Bowyer). Her body is identified by the meek pharmacist Zachary Osbourne (Bertie Carvel). Before she died, Jesse woke up sick and inexplicably losing hair. Writing down a list of names, she dies on her way somewhere.
Easterbrook has already remarried. His young new wife, Hermia (Kaya Scodelario) believes there is respect and love in his marriage, but as she meets his friends, they seem utterly repellant. Easterbrook and one of his friends, Ardingly (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) are on the list. Easterbrook doesn’t reveal this to Hermia and neither does Ardingly to his girlfriend, Poppy (Ellen Robertson).
Hermia suspects her husband is telling lies when he throws away a suit he wore, the one he wore that night at Tuckerton’s apartment. He’s told her there was blood from a cat he ran over. She goes down to the dumpster and digs it out. There’s no blood.
Easterbrook also finds other things, handmade straw talismans on his car. He’s not the only one. The list, we learn, is of people who recently died. Eventually, we learn all the paths lead to The Pale Horse, a tavern in Much Deeping, Surrey and the three modern witches.
This production pushes Agatha Christie’s classic novel into the realm of supernatural horror. Our POV character is odious and Sewell plays him as a brooding with a barely concealed anger. Initially, we sympathize with him because he might have rebounded into an inadvisable marriage. An old friend tells Hermia, his previous marriage was also unfortunate. Yet who wants to be the victim of some horrific curses that kills?
The Pale Horse references Revelation 6:8 (KJV):
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
Christie fans will know that the solution is not in the supernatural, but writer Sarah Phelps’ (“Dublin Murders” and “The ABC Murders”) gives us a bit of doubt and a twist that gives the wrongdoers their karmic justice. Leonora Lonsdale (“Ziona”) direction provides an atmospheric glow to the past that borders on nightmarish glamour veneer over a brutish civilization.
“The Pale Horse” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.