The Storyteller: Season 1, Episode 1

The Soldier and Death (28 Apr. 1989)

TV Episode  -   -  Fantasy
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An honest soldier receives a ruby whistle, a comparable dance, an unbeatable deck of cards and a magic sack for being kind to three beggars. He defeats a bunch of devils by playing cards ... See full summary »



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Title: The Soldier and Death (28 Apr 1989)

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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Stuart Richman ...
Fiddling Beggar
Walter Sparrow ...
Card Trick Beggar
John Franklyn-Robbins ...
Ishia Bennison ...
Tzar's Wife
Jan Chappell ...
Soldier's Wife
Gavin Knights ...
Soldier's Son
David Fleeshman ...
Alistair Fullarton ...
David Alan Barclay ...
Devil (as David Alan-Barclay)
Michael Bayliss ...
Richard Coombs ...
Devil (as Richard Coombes)


An honest soldier receives a ruby whistle, a comparable dance, an unbeatable deck of cards and a magic sack for being kind to three beggars. He defeats a bunch of devils by playing cards and catches them in his sack when they refuse to pay up. Years later, the last devil pays his debt by showing the Soldier a way to tell if sick people have a chance of recovering or not. After a successful career as a miracle doctor, the soldier manages to trick Death itself and trap it in his sack. From then on nobody died. But people were not meant to live forever and soon tired old men and women beg the soldier to set Death free and put things right. However, Death refused to take the soldier, dooming him to roam the Earth forever. Written by The TV Archaeologist

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

soldier | death | sack | devil | miracle | See All (31) »







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Release Date:

28 April 1989 (USA)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Aired in the USA on 28 April 1989 as part of the The Jim Henson Hour (1989). See more »


Innkeeper: These are devlish devils, and gamblers too.
Soldier: I think I'll take a closer look.
Innkeeper: But that's folly!
The Storyteller: [narrating] Folly or not, the soldier goes, sack on his shoulder, whistle on his lips, into the palace.
The Storyteller: [the Soldier enters the empty palace, whistling] And inside it's very quiet. As if the walls were holding their breath... and waiting.
See more »


Featured in The Jim Henson Hour: Monster Telethon (1989) See more »

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User Reviews

Precious as a ruby whistle.
23 March 2009 | by (Rijswijk, ZH, Netherlands) – See all my reviews

Each of the nine tales told by The Storyteller is a gem and the same thing goes for the four Greek Myths that followed it, but if one would have to choose a favourite, The Soldier and Death stands above all. After all, Jim Henson only directed two episodes of The Storyteller, and claimed this one was his favourite, too. Broadcast as the first in the series in the UK but fourth in most of mainland Europe, this old Russian folk tale features the some unforgettable lines, the funniest (but never silly) devils, the most noble of soldiers, unexpected twists and turns and a haunting musical score, all tied together by the gravely voice of John Hurt. Every episode features magical words written by Anthony Minghella, but here he manages to take subjects like Death, disease and devils and make them temporary foils to our hero the soldier without diminishing their power. The underrated Bob Peck gives a wonderful performance as the soldier at three different stages in his life and disappears into the characters so well that some people have thought they were watching three different actors tackling the same role.

Perhaps the thing that defines this series most for me is that fact that each episode is under 25 minutes in length, yet still manages to present a multi-layered and complete story that feels neither too long nor too short. While most television shows tell less of a story in more than twice the amount of time and Minghella himself started to stretch out his scripts to bum-yawning lengths on most of his directorial efforts, The Storyteller never needed more than the alloted 22 minutes to tell a complete and satisfying tale. When watching an episode for the first time, one can only watch breathless in anticipation of what happens next. During The Soldier and Death in particular there are so many unexpected twists and turns that by the time you have reached the end, the beginning seems like a lifetime ago, just as it was for our protagonist the soldier. Minghella's poetic words are full of wit and exaggeration and performed with joy by the entire English cast. Of course John Hurt gets the most of them and he is visibly performing them with relish, managing to add just the right pitch and tone to make some very long sentences easy to understand to his listeners. Also of note is the pitch-perfect musical score by Rachel Portman, who was still quite unknown at the time of production but delivered some of her finest work for this series as well as the Greek Myths. It's a crying shame there has never been an official release of the soundtrack for never before or since has a flute conveyed so much sadness and joy with just a couple of Portman's notes.

Of course in the end, Death really did have the last laugh. We have had to say goodbye to Jim Henson in 1990, Bob Peck in 1999 and Anthony Minghella in 2008. Still, their work captured on film will stand the test of time and be preserved as long as this tale's soldier roams this Earth. John Hurt is thankfully still around, and although he didn't have very much to say or do in 2008's much maligned fourth installment of the Indiana Jones saga, near the end he started speaking in Minghella like prose again and for a fleeting moment all the years melted away like teardrops in the rain and it was as if the Storyteller had never really gone away.

10 out of 10

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