REVIEW: The Pale Horse (S1 E2/2)

“That’s the point isn’t it? Making people believe…”

Let’s state this right off the bat, shall we? Episode two of Sarah Phelps’ adaptation of The Pale Horse was just about perfect; one of the best hours of crime drama you’ll ever see.

It had everything: some sumptuous production design, fine acting, some edgy, creepy moments, shades of Highsmith and Hitchcock, some really imaginative, bravura direction by Leonora Lonsdale and a classic Christie reveal at the end.

But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.

We left the philandering Mark Easterbrook at the end of episode one edging into the mysterious world of Much Deeping – the bucolic, picture-postcard English village that housed three soothsayers who may or may not have had anything to do with the death of his first wife Delphine, and a list of seemingly random people who were showing up dead with increasing rapidity.

Mark Easterbrook’s name was also on that list, lest we forget. He certainly couldn’t.

What could have easily gone down the route of a folk horror – a la The Wicker Man – quickly spiralled into a vortex of Hitchcockian noir and paranoia, as Easterbrook decided the only way he was going to save himself was to investigate this curious case himself and free himself from this ever-escalating situation.

Control, control, control. That was what he liked, craved.

Except he wasn’t in control at all. He was desperate to find a rational explanation for this all, but everyone around him was telling him differently – it was magic, witchcraft and everything to do with hexes.

Even he was starting to believe it.

This internal conflict brought with it fear and loathing, desperation and paranoia. It wasn’t long before he was having dreams; lurid, hyperreal nighttime visions of totems in his hallway bearing down on him as he lay sprawled, screaming in his pyjamas on the floor. Rufus Sewell’s Mark Easterbrook was now resembling James Stewart’s Scottie in Vertigo, or Gregory Peck’s John Ballantyne in Spellbound (albeit version without any redeeming characteristics).

He was a man at the end of his tether, living wide-eyed in between two worlds, that of of the conscious and the unconscious; shuffling, terrified, through a fever dream.

After he extracted a confession from Ardingly that he had his mother killed and had put a hex on her via the women at The Pale Horse he decided enough was enough. Who could hate him enough to put a hex on him? He deduced that it must have been Hermia who had visited the ‘witches’ and put a curse on him, so he, in turn, went to The Pale Horse himself to confront the three women himself.

With repeated pressure from an increasingly panicked Zachariah Osborne and an increasingly dogged Lejuene, he was desperate. So he asked the three women to put a curse on his wife, and to put a curse on Lejuene. They were both ‘obstacles’ he said – Hermia because she was high maintenance and, in his eyes, some sort of pathetic plaything, Lejeune because he was getting too close.

But to what?

There was always the question of what really happened to his first wife Delphine, who died in the bathtub, hanging over this story. We were about to find out.

We flashbacked to that fateful evening, and saw Mark fly off the handle when he discovered the Much Deeping paraphernalia in her handbag, and the name and number of Oscar written on it. He flew into a jealous rage and swiped at the electric radio perching at the end of the bath.

Poor Delphine was frazzled.

Easterbrook had been carrying around this gargantuan secret – and the guilt from the secret – ever since.  And it looked as though he was going to get away with it. Away with it all.

Hermia, who had been the victim of some terrible psychological abuse from her ‘perfect’ husband, was found in a near-comatose state when Easterbrook returned from his visit to the three women in Much Deeping. And then, while he was taking her into the hospital, Lejuene was wheeled in, blood appearing to leak from every orifice.

His plan – and the Pale Horse women’s curse – was working.

Except it wasn’t. Easterbrook, despite feeling free of his shackles and partying as if his very life depended upon it, kept seeing the ghost of Delphine. Something twigged, and he decided to pay a visit to Osbourne in his workshop.

And then it really all happened. Easterbrook found rat poison, lists and dossiers of people – on people – who had died in his workshop. He found detailed plans of their houses. Entrance points. Schematics.

It was Osbourne. There was a rational reason for all of this. Appearing from a doorway, dressed in his pyjamas, Osbourne explained that he had gone through newspapers to prey on the rich and vulnerable, used the three women at The Pale Horse as cover, and only knew about Easterbook after he had seen him leave the home of his mistress – who Osbourne had poisoned. He decided to torment Easterbrook, because why not? He knew he was harbouring secrets and wouldn’t go to the police.

Two killers faced off against each other. Who would flinch first? It was riveting.

(A note about Bertie Carvel, who played Zachariah Osborne. In Baghdad Central he’s been surely channelling Leonard Rossiter in his portrayal of the duplicitous Temple, and here, as Osbourne, there was something of the Peter Sellers about him, certainly from the Ealing Comedies era. He was greasy, awkward, nervous and stammering. Osbourne somehow reminded me of an evil version of Fred Kite from I’m Alright Jack. High praise indeed, I know, but this was a diamond little role for Carvel, who’s really been stretching his wings recently.)

In the end, Easterbrook did away with Osbourne and burned down his workshop with him in it.

He was finally free. Free of everything.

But there was one fantastic twist to come. Entering his home with a spring in his step, he looked down at his newspaper only to see a disturbing headline: Mark Easterbrook had been killed mysteriously.

It’s one of the classic noir storylines – the man who wasn’t there. Or, the man who had been investigating a case only to find that he had done it all along. Here, Easterbrook saw the ghost of Delphine at the end of the hallway. He was now trapped in some sort of purgatorial state, reliving her death over and over again.

How? Why? Hermia had woken up from her coma, to be greeted by the three Pale Horse women at the side of her bed. Even though their so-called powers had been disproved and discredited, it seemed Hermia had asked the three women to put one final curse on her nefarious husband, to make sure he finally paid for all his misdemeanours and the abuse she had endured.

It was quite the ending.

All of this amounted to a stunning hour of television – hyperreal, stylish, riveting – but let’s face it, Christie diehards will have hated it. Phelps took the kernel of the original story and changed characters, outcomes, you name it. There was no happy ending here, unlike the book. Instead, Phelps cleverly wove tales of psychological terror, flashes of melodrama and all manner of references from the period into something new, exciting and surprising.

If this is Phelps’ last Christie adaptation, she has given us the perfect end to a quintet that has traversed the early part of the 20th century, almost decade by decade, and rooted Christie’s fabled whodunits with so much more cultural and historical depth and context. And she’ll be remembered for bravely and creatively breathing new life into characters and stories that, whatever you think, really needed it.

Paul Hirons



REVIEW: Endeavour (S7 E2/3)

Now that we’re approaching the era of the first Inspector Morse dramas, there are a lot of loose ends to be tied up – not the least of which is why Morse never spoke about Fred Thursday. A huge falling out is clearly on the cards – will this involve Endeavour’s doomed love affair with the lovely Violetta, and the possible involvement of her sinister husband Ludo in the towpath murders last week?

In Raga (a term in Indian music), all that is put aside as racial tensions rear their head when campaigning for the 1970 general election gets underway in Oxford. In a clash between two gangs, a Pakistani youth is knifed by a supporter of the ‘British Movement’.

Morse and Thursday question racist politician Martin Gorman (Jason Merrells) – they might as well have called him Adolf Hilter – and search for his follower Gary Rogers (William Allam, son of Roger Allam); Morse finds a casino chip at the scene of the crime.

Meanwhile, Strange is struggling with his home cooking, and investigates an Indian restaurant where a delivery man, Aziz, has disappeared. At the last stop on his delivery round, Tiffin Court (of course a term for ‘afternoon tea’ from the British Raj), Morse finds the man dead in the flat of TV chef Oberon Prince (Neil Roberts), who has gone missing after arguing with wresting promoter Nayle (Ted Robbins) at the restaurant. Thursday likens the ‘faces and heels’ of wrestling to the heroes and villains of opera.

Morse finds another casino chip at the flat of Oberon Prince, and Prince’s ex-wife turns up – there’s a reference to ‘Johnny and Fanny’ (Craddock, TV chefs) – and she claims he might have gone off to Greece. Has she done away with him, or is there something dodgy going on at the Indian restaurant he visited?

Dorothea Frazil, who we recall last week was talking about cat murders, turns up full of news about a string of apparently accidental deaths on farms – what is this all leading up to?

Fred has not let go of his suspicion of barmaid Molly’s boyfriend Carl for her towpath murder last week, and Morse insists that Professor Blish, who has been charged, can’t be guilty – and who murdered flasher Tony Jacobsen?

Ludo turns up at Morse’s house, full of gossip about Steve McQueen filming (would this have been 1973’s Papillon, the story of a safecracker’s escape from an island prison?). He invites Morse to dinner, awkward when Violetta turns up unexpectedly, and they shoot clay pigeons – Morse turns out to be a good shot. Ludo, it turns out, knows Oberon Prince, who he says is ‘no Robert Danvers’ (a promiscuous TV chef played by Peter Sellers in There’s a Girl In My Soup, 1970).

Morse initially spurns Violetta’s overtures, and Ludo, we note, says that she hates opera – very suspicious. But she inveigles Morse into an assignation, and he turns her down again. Fred, by a massive and implausible coincidence, witnesses their parting.

Fred’s canaries are bringing him no comfort, but when restaurateur Sudal goes missing, Fred finds him confusedly wandering on the canal towpath. Could this have anything to do with the towpath murders? Sudal’s doctor son is having relations with Auberon Prince’s neighbour Miss Trent – was he there when Aziz was murdered? Is her father, scumbag politician Gorman, somehow involved through his gambling nights?

Morse and Thursday finally catch Gary Rogers, a suspect in the knifing of the Pakistani youth, but can’t break him, and Auberon Prince’s body is found on a dump, stuffed into one of his own suitcases. Morse jumps to the conclusion that the two murders were planned and executed by one person.

Then there’s a third death when the stabbed Pakistani youth dies, and a fourth when suspect Gary is himself stabbed in revenge.

There’s a break in the Oberon Prince case when fingerprint evidence leads to one of the wrestlers from the restaurant, who followed Prince home for an assignation, only to find the dead Aziz and the suspicious sound of sawing. He leads to the murder weapon, and telephone records show that takeaway orders were placed at the restaurant from the phone box over the road – an employee luring Aziz to his death? Turns out it’s the chef, who had been stealing from the restaurant to pay his gambling debts to Prince.

With the Prince and Aziz murders wrapped up, Fred promises Morse that he will give over his fixation with Carl Sturgis for the towpath murder – but then another girl is attacked by the whistling stranger on the towpath.

Inevitably, Violetta turns up at Morse’s wearing something flimsy, and he gives in to her advances.

As a standalone episode, this one has enough red herrings to keep the attention amidst the rather blatant political messaging. But it also moves along the Morse/Violetta/Ludo triangle, as well as the towpath murders, which may or may not be connected.

After the flash-forward in last week’s episode showing Morse loading a gun and covered in blood, and the premonitory scenes at the opera (which featured characters looking suspiciously like Morse, Violetta and Thursday), we can only assume that next week we’re in for a bloody denouement.

There’s been some speculation that Ludo turns out to be Morse’s nemesis Hugo de Vries. Implausible, we think.

What really worries us at this stage is when Morse is going to invest in some curtains – he’s been in that house for months and still has the windows covered in newspapers.

Chris Jenkins


Series two of Blood to debut on Virgin Media One

Sophie Petzal’s Blood is set to return for its second series this spring.

The series, which was shown on Channel 5 last year, told the story of Cat Hogan (Carolina Main), who returned to West Meath in Ireland after her mother’s sudden death – she had an accident at home and died (or was it an accident?). Blood was about old secrets, older betrayals, mind games and the lies families tell each other.

The fact that it also starred Line Of Duty’s Adrian Dunbar made it a point of interest for many people, and it was critically acclaimed.

Now Petzal herself has confirmed that series two will be coming back… and will debut, this time, on Virgin Media One.

The show, which is produced by US-based streaming service, Acorn TV, will hit screens on Monday 24th February on the cable TV exclusive channel.

It will follow on Channel 5 later in the year.


The 10 Best Crime Dramas This Week (Monday 17th – Sunday 23td February)

This week we say goodbye to the criminally underwatched and superb The Deuce and Sunday-night favourite, Endeavour. In preparation for series two, we also get a repeat showing of Save Me on Sky Atlantic. Over on S4C, series two of Bang begins. Enjoy!

S3 E8/
Vincent looks for a move to make peace with Abby. Meanwhile, Candy makes a decision about her relationship with Hank.
Thursday 20th February, 10.20pm, Sky Atlantic

S1 E3/6
Khafaji goes to Zubeida’s house demanding answers, but is surprised by the arrival of Frank Temple. Khafaji offers his services to Parodi as an investigator, and discovers that there is a connection between his daughter and one of the murdered men. He breaks into a trailer and comes across a cache of hidden dollars.
Monday 17th February, 10pm, Channel 4


S7 E3/3
When the detective is called to investigate what appears to be a freak accident at Lady Matilda’s College, he uncovers a potential link between a series of peculiar incidents across Oxford. Despite Thursday’s scepticism, he becomes convinced the accidents are the result of foul play. Lady Matilda’s meanwhile, is in the midst of a referendum campaign which will decide whether or not the college should become co-educational. When a woman is attacked while walking alone on a towpath, Endeavour and Thursday try to find the assailant before they strike again. 
Sunday 23rd February, 8pm, ITV


S2 E2/6
Connor confides in Mia about Geraint Ellis, and she convinces him that the old man deserved what happened to him. He still feels isolated after his fight with Lee, until he is reluctantly persuaded to go to a rave at the quarry.
Saturday 22nd February, 9pm, BBC Four


5 Save Me *REPEAT*
S1 E1/6
Nelly Rowe’s life is turned upside down when he is targeted as the chief suspect in his estranged daughter Jody’s disappearance. Claire – Nelly’s former partner and Jody’s mother – confronts Nelly, who assures her that he had nothing to do with her disappearance.
Tuesday 18th February, 9pm, Sky Atlantic

S1 E7/10
Ralph and Holly question what they believe to be real.
Monday 17th February, 9pm, Sky Atlantic


S2 E1/6
A murder investigation is launched when a body is discovered hanging upside down in an abandoned horse box on Aberavon beach. Detective Sergeant Gina Jenkins sets out to find the killer, but the case coincides with her brother’s long anticipated release from prison.
Sunday 23rd February, 9pm, S4C

S1 E3/6
Eva now finds herself able to identify several individuals in the photo. Gregory Marsan, a gangster acquaintance, is worried about her safety and asks one of his henchmen to keep an eye on her as she continues her search for Bastien, who is in the power of violent criminal Eric Toussaint. It is becoming clear that Bastien is not the only target as the family home has been bugged and Eva grows increasingly anxious over how to protect her children and who she can trust.
Friday 21st February, 10.10pm, More4


9 Murdoch Mysteries *NEW UK PREMIERE EPISODE*
S13 E6/18
he case of a murdered man with a collection of unusual stamps gets complicated for Murdoch when another detective is implicated in the crime.
Monday 17th February, 9pm, Alibi

S7 E8/10
Burgess receives a shocking diagnosis, and things take a dark turn when a homicide case becomes a missing persons investigation.
Friday 21st February, 10pm, Sky Witness