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on March 26, 2005
At what point does a screenplay's "artistic license" exceed limits where such can be attributed to an author like Agatha Christie? This 1996 TV movie (screenplay by Alma Cullen) is titled "Agatha Christie's The Pale Horse" and subtitled "Supernatural British Mystery Classic." Contrast these two opening scenes:

FROM CHRISTIE'S 1961 NOVEL: Mark Easterbrook witnesses a hair-pulling cat-fight between one Thomasina Tuckerton and another woman. A week later he comes across a newspaper notice that Tuckerton died of natural causes. Meanwhile Father Gorman visits another dying woman losing her hair. Walking home, he stops at a local café to jot down a list of names before he forgets them. His cassock having pocket holes, he slips the list into his shoe, leaves, and is promptly murdered on the way home. Coroner Jim Corrigan and Detective Inspector Lejeune hypothesize he was killed in attempts to find that overlooked list and/or eliminate confessional and incriminating evidence of some kind. Later Mark encounters old friend Jim Corrigan. Discussing the case and the list, they note the presence of Tuckerton's name. Thus begins Mark's self-involvement and collaboration with Corrigan and other friends in this increasingly baffling series of possibly interconnected deaths.

FROM THIS 1996 TV MOVIE: Mark and girlfriend are attending a showing of Macbeth. Mark leaves early and witnesses someone brutally attacking a priest with his "borrowed" bicycle wrench. He rushes to assist the priest who hands him a bloodied list and dies. Police arrive, later find Mark's bloodied tool nearby, and see Mark holding the list with blood on his hands. A smug, scowling, abrasive Chief Inspector Lejune, with an previously unknown (to Mark) assistant named Corrigan, promptly accuses Mark of the murder, swearing he will convict Mark and plotting his conviction throughout the film. Mark, released on bail, must proceed on an investigative effort to clear himself.

Christie's original novel is tightly-constructed, well-written, fast-paced and interesting, perfect material for a first-class film. What a pity it is still unfilmed! What was done here was to borrow a couple of ideas from one of her novels, change them as desired, change the environment and characters surrounding the ideas (keeping a few names for appearances), changed crime(s) and murderer(s), then marketed the result under Christie's name. Some would call this "bait and switch."

It is certainly the right of TV or movie producers to fabricate material whole-cloth for television productions. The results may even be entertaining and worthwhile. But impostures under the guise of a major author's work should be exposed for what they are. If these producers had wanted to be truthful, they should have given this not altogether bad film another name, say "The 3-Witch Mystery" subtitled "based on an idea from an Agatha Christie novel" and had a 2, maybe 2½-star film.

DVD picture quality and sound are fine.
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on January 11, 2007
One of the rare Christie stories that does not contain any of her 3 famous protagonists (Marple, Poirot, Tommy & Tuppence). However it is one of her most interesting tales. Well acted, it keeps you guessing all the way. An excellent translation of the original. A must for Christie fans.
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on February 16, 2007
If we can rise above the transatlantic sniping, dispense with ad hominem finger-wagging over whose sense of syntax is lacking (on this site I've read as many contortions of the Queen's English from overseas as I have from the heartland), and put aside whether or not this version of 'The Pale Horse' ought to be called a movie, a television mystery-drama or Prince Albert in a can, I believe a crosscultural consensus can be reached.

Anyone who has read the book will agree that this interpretation takes license with the story. Its producers, while keeping the basic mystery intact, have chosen to alter some plot elements and retain others and, presumably as a way of tying in the setting with the period during which Christie's novel was published, tap the 1960s as a campy backdrop, all in an effort to make the whole affair hipper and more fun. The result is not in the same league with the BBC's top stock (the Roy Marsden P.D. James series, for instance, Alec Guinness's Smiley, or the playful adaptations of Christie's 'Seven Dials' or 'Evans'), but it is, if ultimately forgettable, eminently watchable. Some (myself included, granting it only a 2 1/2-star rating) may find TPH dull going-- the action is stilted, the dialog at times dim and the acting uneven-- but that's nothing to get up in arms about. After all, despite its flaws, it still prevails in quality, as do four out of five British productions, over the average American made-for-TV fare, not to mention the garbage coming out of Hollywood today.

Life is short. We're patriots and allies. Let's have a little more respect for each others' opinions, well-articulated or not.
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on December 18, 2003
It is very unfortunate that fully 70% of the reviews for 'The Pale Horse' are negative as it is an excellent few hours of viewing. It is also a perfect example of why some Americans should not review British productions. Some just don't see the subtle nature of the British approach to television production or mystery-suspense writing. Put bluntly, some just don't get it. We Americans share a basic language with them, but unfortunately, not much else. Americans tend to be Brits on steroids and expect their TV and movies to be the same way. No surprise many simply don't like or appreciate programs like 'The Pale Horse'. It isn't what they want from their viewing experiences.

Most reviewers called this a "movie". It really isn't. It's a made for British television mystery-drama.

Brit TV is not blessed with the huge, unlimited production budgets of American studios. The fact that their production values are often superior to American TV is remarkable when viewed in that light. They use what they have. Actors often wear their own clothes in current day programs. They don't build many costly sets. Most drama is actual location work. Their idea of 'action' is not computer generated special effects, endless physical and verbal aggression, pointless violence, or a blur of mind numbing, rapid fire scene changes. If that is what your looking for, look elsewhere.

British mystery-suspense TV like that featured in 'The Pale Horse' is quiet, subtle and mentally challenging. Its charming, slow and mellow. They don't hit you over the head so often that it no longer hurts. Things that go 'bang' on American programs, go 'bump' on British ones. They love character development, something we have no use for since our characters are often weakly written on purpose to be the butt of someone elses sharp tongue or are killed off by a violent car crash, a series of impossible explosions, a rash of random gunfire, or some other such 'fast action' violence before the opening credits are over and you've finished the second slice of pizza.

In short, either you love British TV or you don't. If you do, this is an excellent piece of British mystery-drama.
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on May 16, 2008
I am perplexed by the poor reviews some of the other viewers have given this movie. I thought it was great fun. There was not too much blood or gore. It can be viewed by the whole family. Also, there were no indecent scenes. It was just a fun mystery that is so typical of Christie. I can honestly say it is a film I will enjoy over and over.
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on February 25, 2005
I AM American and a regular viewer of Mystery! and other such programs. Whether I'm a "wanna-be," as the reviewer from Sunnyvale implies or just an intelligent individual who likes subtleness in my programing, I enjoyed this DVD immensely. Colin Buchanan is attractive and sympathetic, and many minor roles are superbly cast. The director evokes a suitably "dark" atmosphere, playing up the occult plot. Yes, the motivation of the murderer is somewhat incredible, but that's the way Christie wrote it.

As a long-time fan of Agatha Christie, I enjoyed this opportunity to see some of her later work, without the "little Belgian" or Miss Marple. The film includes an amusingly "60's" cameo by Andy Serkis of Lord of the Rings fame (loved the Elvis Costello look).
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on November 5, 2004
The show is very well done and I enjoyed it immensely, which is why I purchased it on DVD after having seen it on television. First, I generally enjoy anything by Agatha Christie, even if it has been remade to the point of scarcely resembling her writing. Second, I'm unabashedly nostalgic for the sixties; despite their folly and excess they were a more innocent and celebratory time, overall. This is a period piece and very convincing as such, what with the wardrobes, soundtrack, sets, language, and attitudes which convincingly reproduce that era. Third, the actors are wonderful and memorable; every role, however minor, is superbly cast. Fourth, there are enough disparate elements involved in the story to hold one's attention through the rather long and at times slow development of the story, including an evenhanded and judicious use of the occult...always tricky. One seldom gets bored or loses interest, and it is a show that repays repeated viewing because there are many layers of meaning and nuance, which is why it's a nice thing to own. It's really a fine entertainment.

Now it seems to me, that the above is what matters, and is what is worth posting in a review. However, as others have chosen to highlight cultural differences between the U.S. and what remains of Britain, I must include this addendum. Snotty condescension from Brits is easily understood. After all, their society has collapsed decisively over the past 40 years or so, and just about all that remains of their once-proud heritage is their insufferable arrogance, along with excellent TV production values. As for their TV content, they do much better with material from the past, like this, and of course their wonderful nature shows which have no peer. Personally, I don't care for their hystrionic Holmes (Jeremy Brett), but others disagree and it's a worthwhile discussion. But their blighted cynicism can no longer yield anything new of merit or substance, and nearly all of their crime dramas are simply wretched reflections of the demolished world they've made for themselves. Inspector Morse was really the Brits' last hurrah; Cracker, Prime Suspect, Touching Evil, and all the later lot are terribly well *made* of course, but deliver no message other than mindless despair cloaked as sophistication.

It is unclear whether the supercilious posts from New Hampshire and Washington were placed by actual Brits, or mere Brit wannabes, emulating what is worst in the culture they presume to champion. In either case, they are merely sad, and I hope they will not be off-putting to fans of fine entertainment, or admirers of what Britain had to show the world in its better days.
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