There are a lot of things in Amazon Prime Video’s The Pale Horse that differ from the Agatha Christie book it’s ostensibly based on. The television show, for one (see /Film’s non-spoiler review of the series here), takes a much darker, psychological noir approach that focuses more on the moral rectitude of the characters than the whodunit of the mystery.
The series’ shift in focus comes with multiple changes to the plot and the makeup of the original story’s key characters. The alternations are numerous, so many that outlining them all would result in an almost-book-length article on its own. Some of the major changes are worth noting though—case studies, if you will, of how the tone and intent of the two creative works take separate creative paths. Read on to learn about some of the key differences between the Amazon show and Agatha Christie’s book.
And warning: major spoilers abound below for both.
Big Difference #1: The Character and Actions of Mark Easterbrook
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two works is the depiction of the main character, Mark Easterbrook (played on the show by Rufus Sewell). In the book, he’s an avuncular sort of fellow, flummoxed to find that a few people he knows are on the mysterious murder list. Speaking of the list, his name is most notably not on the list in the book, though a few of his acquaintances are. And speaking of acquaintances, he’s not currently married in the book or sleeping with the young Thomasina, one of the first people to die.
He also—and again, major spoiler warning here!—isn’t currently married and hasn’t murdered his first wife. Christie’s Easterbrook is an amateur sleuth at best, sometimes wooed in by the three witches’ theatrical hocus pocus, and at a bit of a loss without the help of Inspector Lejeune and Ginger—a new friend of his who joins him in trying to solve the case.
Big Difference #2: The Show Doesn’t Have Ginger, the Young Woman Who’s Actually Competent at Figuring Things Out
Let’s talk more about Ginger. She doesn’t show up at all in the Amazon show. In the book, however, she’s a major character–a redhead Easterbrook meets in Much Deeping when he first visits there. After visiting the witches Easterbrook thinks are responsible for the murders, she soon becomes just as committed to solving the case as Easterbrook is. Unlike Easterbrook, however, Ginger actually has the wherewithal and, frankly, the guts to get to the bottom of what’s happening. She even offers herself up as bait, pretending to be Easterbrook’s estranged ex-wife while Easterbrook tries to infiltrate the mysterious concern behind the murders ring by pretending he wants her murdered. She almost dies as bait, but Easterbrook luckily figures out what is poisoning her in time. At the end of Christie’s tale, it’s also implied that the two get together and live happily ever after.
Big Difference #3: The Ending
The show’s ending is anything but happy—to start, there’s no Ginger for Easterbrook to happily end up with. In fact, the audience hates Easterbrook by the end, when it’s revealed that he killed his first wife, was cheating on his second, and pretty much only cares about himself when those around him are dying. And while the person behind the murders is basically the same—the over-eager Osborne is the head of the operation in both works—the final few minutes of the show are anything but satisfying or happy.
On the show, Easterbrook ends up killing Osborne and burning his place down (he’s merely arrested by Lejeune in the book). Easterbrook then stumbles back to his apartment in a crazed daze, and picks up a newspaper emblazoned with the headline that’s he’s died a horrible death. And then he sees his dead first wife standing in front of him and moans the words, “Please, not again,” before the credits come up. What does that mean exactly? Has he officially gone mad? Are ghosts actually real? And what in the world is that final word, “again,” all about—him tired of having the same dream of her death over and over? Did he die in that fire and this is now his personal hell? Whatever the answer, one thing is certain: the ending for Easterbrook is definitely not happy.
Big Difference #4: There’s No Agatha Christie-like Character on the Show
One of the most delightful characters in the book is Mrs. Oliver, a well-known mystery writer who hates making public appearance and is struggling to resolve her current mystery masterpiece. Mrs. Oliver is, of course, a thinly veiled stand-in for Agatha Christie, and her quips and constant berating of Easterbrook brings levity to an already fairly lighthearted murder mystery. Given the serious tone of the mini-series, it’s understandable why the character of Mrs. Oliver was left on the cutting room floor. For Agatha Christie fans, however, she is a character to be missed, that little bit of flair that makes for a signature Agatha Christie book.
Big Difference #5: In the Book, Venables Plays a Larger Role
Venables barely shows up in the Amazon series show, and when he does he’s merely the guy who drove Easterbrook’s first wife to the train station the day she was killed. (AKA the day Easterbrook murdered her because he thought she was cheating with Venables, a thought inspired by the fact he left his number on the train schedule in case she needed help.)
In the book, however, Venables is the McGuffin, the guy you think is behind the big murder ring with ties to Much Deeping. Venables turns out to be innocent of the murders, in no small part vindicated because he is confined to a wheelchair. We do find out, however, that he was likely behind a series of bank robberies that took place several years ago, which explains his mysterious fortune.
In the show, there’s not a clear-cut McGuffin, unless you count the three witches actually being able to kill people magically to be one. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—the show has different aims, focusing more on the mental downfall of Easterbrook (aided in part by creepy straw dolls and dead rabbits, neither of which show up in the book) and the gradual reveal of his deplorable actions. But while the plot and characters are quite different, they are both full of mystery (albeit different kinds of mystery), that will give the reader or viewer something to grasp on to.
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