After the death of his first wife, Delphine – the old story of accidental electrocution in the bath by a radio – Mark Easterbrook quickly remarried but is not a happy man, already indulging in an affair with one Thomasina Tuckerton. But his life starts to fall apart – not that it’s that good anyway – when he wakes up to find Thomasina dead in his bed, with her hair falling out.
Meanwhile, Jesse Davis, a shopkeeper, is found dead in the street with a list of names on it. Inspector Lejeune soon realises that the names on the list link to people who have recently died, with one primary exception. And why is Mark Easterbrook’s name on the list? All roads lead to the Pale Horse, an old pub home to three witches…
Well, that sounds a bit like the book, doesn’t it? Yes, Easterbrook is more directly involved in the set-up than in the original, which makes sense dramatically, giving him more of a personal stake in matter, and he seems to have acquired two extra wives. One other primary difference is the use of what Christie used as a clue, as, instead, an indication that someone’s life is in danger – to be honest, I thought this worked pretty well, given that the number of people who will recognise the murder method from this.
Other differences include a different reason to include Osborne, the chemist – he’s on the list of names as well as Easterbrook – but the first episode ticks along nicely enough. Cast-wise, Rufus Sewell does a reasonable job as Easterbrook, making the most of a small number of facial expressions – as I said, it’s a reasonable job, but he’s done much better work, in my opinion. Bertie Carvell makes the most of Osborne, and Sean Pertwee is good as Lejeune, the police officer, but Hermia is left as something of a cipher and the rest of the cast don’t really get much chance to shine, even the three witches. So by the end of the episode, there have been a few deviations from the book, but they make sense…
… and then along came episode two. In which we discover that Easterbrook is a much different character than we thought he was. A character that we are supposed to be identifying with suddenly, when he meets the witches, is revealed to be someone that we have no sympathy with whatever. Things pick up as the confrontation with the murderer – unchanged from the book – is very effective, mostly due to the performance from the actor in question, but then… excuse the profanity, but what the fudge? I’ll be honest, I was expecting a whiff of a certain John Dickson Carr book, but the ending here made no sense and was dramatically incoherent in my book – and that undermined the whole thing. Oh, and not including the only other suspect in the second episode did undermine the mystery. There’s an attempt to make a character who Christie basically ignored into a suspect, but it becomes clear she isn’t involved far too early – in fact her arc is rather odd, looking like it’s going somewhere, with implications of mental health issues, and then it just gets derailed.
Overall, it started promisingly, with understandable deviations, but by halfway through episode two, it had just fallen apart. Although, to be fair, there isn’t two hours of plot in the book, which is somewhat padded in the first place, but once again from these BBC adaptations, the alterations do nothing to add to the original story and end up taking a lot away from it. A missed opportunity.
Just read the book instead – it’s not perfect, but it’s far better than this.