Sarah Phelps told RadioTimes.com in February 2019 that she was planning to tackle The Pale Horse as her next Agatha Christie – and in June, the BBC officially announced that it had commissioned the drama as a two-parter. Filming soon began in Bristol and the Cotswolds, wrapping in September 2019.
What is The Pale Horse about?
Based on Agatha Christie’s 1961 novel The Pale Horse, Sarah Phelps’ adaptation centres around the character of Mark Easterbrook, a man whose name appears on a mysterious list found inside the shoe of a dead woman.
Easterbrook begins an investigation into how and why his name came to appear on the list, and is drawn to The Pale Horse, the home of three rumoured witches in a tiny village called Much Deeping.
People say the witches can get rid of wealthy relatives using dark arts, but as the body count rises, Easterbrook becomes more and more determined to find a logical explanation – and figure out who could possibly want him dead.
James Prichard, Executive Producer and CEO of Agatha Christie Limited, says: “The Pale Horse was one of the later novels penned by my great grandmother, written as it was in the 1960s. This new drama allows writer Sarah Phelps to continue her exploration of the 20th century through Christie’s stories, with the book’s fantastic, foreboding atmosphere completely suited to Sarah’s unique style of adaptation.”
The Pale Horse has been adapted for TV twice before, with ITV dramatising versions of the story in 1996 and 2010. Amazon Prime Video is on board as a co-producer and will show the drama in the US.
“The cast is extraordinary,” Sarah Phelps told RadioTimes.com. “Rufus Sewell, Kaya Scodelario, Rita Tushingham – the great Rita Tushingham. And Kathy Kiera Clarke, Sheila Atim, Bertie Carvel – I mean holy God we’re lucky. And Rufus Sewell looking incredible in a suit in a beautiful vintage car is always a good thing, isn’t it? Let’s be honest.”
Bertie Carvel (Doctor Foster) will play Zachariah Osborne; Sean Pertwee (Gotham, Elementary) Detective Inspector Lejeune; Henry Lloyd-Hughes (Killing Eve, Indian Summers) David Ardingly; Poppy Gilbert (Call The Midwife) Thomasina Tuckerton; Madeleine Bowyer (Black Mirror, Britannia) Jessie Davis; and Ellen Robertson (Snowflake, Britney Soho) Poppy.
Further additions to the cast include Sarah Woodward (Queens of Mystery), Georgina Campbell (His Dark Materials) and Claire Skinner (Outnumbered).
The “trio of witches” are played by Rita Tushingham (Vera, A Taste of Honey), Sheila Atim (Girl From The North Country, Bloodmoon) and Kathy Kiera Clarke (Derry Girls, Tartuffe).
Will Sarah Phelps carry on adapting Agatha Christie?
This will be Sarah Phelps’ fifth Agatha Christie adaptation for the BBC. But it may also be her last – at least for now, as the screenwriter has revealed she always intended to bring five of the novels to the small screen as a “quintet”.
Ahead of The Pale Horse, Phelps told RadioTimes.com, “When I was working on And Then There Were None [in 2015], there was a little voice in my head saying that I could write a quintet and cover 50 years of the tumultuous blood-soaked 20th century within the genre of the murder mystery.”
She added: “Having now done the 1920s, the beginning and end of the ’30s, as well as the 1950s, the next one is going to be set in the 1960s.”
But asked in September 2019 whether she could be tempted back to do any more, she said: “I don’t know, it’ll depend. It would depend.”