‘The Pale Horse’ reviews round-up: ‘Spellbinding’ and ‘enthralling’ Christie adaptation

The BBC’s latest Agatha Christie adaptation began in the UK last night.

Based on 1961’s The Pale Horse, the new two-part period drama comes from award-winning screenwriter Sarah Phelps (The ABC Murders, Ordeal By Innocence).

The official synopsis reads: “When a murder investigation is launched into the death of a young woman, a mysterious list of names is discovered in her shoe – prompting an inquiry not only to find the killer, but also to understand the list of names. Who wrote the list, and who do these names refer to?”


Rufus Sewell (VictoriaThe Marvellous Mrs. Maisel) leads the cast as Mark Easterbrook, alongside Kaya Scodelario (Skins), Bertie Carvel (Doctor Foster), Sean Pertwee (Elementary), Henry Lloyd-Hughes (Indian Summers), Poppy Gilbert (Call the Midwife) and Claire Skinner (Vanity Fair).

The Pale Horse concludes next Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.

We’ve rounded up a selection of reviews for the first episode to help you decide if you’d like to watch it:


“A twisted, thoroughly enthralling take on a classic Agatha Christie mystery.” ★★★★★ – Empire


“…this was a welcome return to the heights of Phelps’ first Christie adaptations, And Then There Were None and The Witness for the Prosecution … It helps that for her latest leading man Phelps has Rufus Sewell … The matinee idol good looks, lounge-lizard drawl and ability to convey an iron-clad sense of upper-class entitlement were as skilfully deployed as ever. He also brings a compelling intensity and gravitas to the role.” ★★★★ – iNews


“Known for taking bold liberties with the source material to keep the stories relevant (after all, what’s a whodunit if everybody already knows who dun the it?) and for teasing out Christie’s most sordid, dramatic threads, Phelps’ period mystery thrillers are glamorous, twisted delights peopled by glamorous, twisted characters … It’s a larger-than-life drama this one, weird but good-weird with a taste for the lurid and unsettling.” – Den of Geek


“…Phelps has dismembered, augmented and reassembled the plot in her usual manner, which will upset Christie purists in their usual manner. But fans of either or both writers should understand that change is not the same as abandonment; staying true to the spirit is what matters and Phelps, for my money at least, always cleaves tightly to it.” ★★★★ – The Guardian


The Pale Horse is a clever choice for TV, because the story will be a genuine mystery to most viewers … Sewell’s difficulty is to make his character likable, when clearly a bounder. He manages it by being Rufus Sewell: saturnine, strong of jaw and piercing of eye.” ★★★★★ – The Daily Mail


“Blimey, no one could accuse Sarah Phelps of sluggish storytelling. Within the first ten minutes of The Pale Horse we had not one, not two, but three dead women.” ★★★★ – The Times


“This is the fifth of Phelps’s Christie adaptations, and she has said it could be the last. It might be time. A Pale Horse is as polished as the other pieces, showing a folksy horror beneath elegant surfaces, but the energy no longer feels fresh. Her quintet has covered half a century of murderous British history, and it has mainly been bloody good fun.” ★★★ – The Independent


“An off-kilter new Christie with a dark and stylish hero.” ★★★★ – The Telegraph


“This new two-parter though is not as bleak as, say, The ABC Murders, with Wicker Man-esque scenes of pagan rituals and (alleged) witchcraft lending an enjoyable dash of camp to proceedings … Mostly, though, this whodunnit with trappings of British folk horror is spellbinding – no pun intended. If The Pale Horse is to be Phelps’s last foray into the worlds of Christie – and I sincerely hope it isn’t – then it’s a suitably impressive note on which to go out.” ★★★★ – Radio Times


The Pale Horse will be available to watch in the US later this year on Amazon Prime.

Poirot: The Complete Cases Collection DVD box set is available on Amazon.