Tuesday 26 January 2016

And Then There Were None

There have been many screen adaptations of Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel And Then There Were None, originally published in the UK under a different and now rather politically incorrect title. It is Christie’s best-selling novel with over 100 million copies sold – also making it the best-selling mystery novel of all time, as well as one of the best-selling books in literary history. It is widely considered a masterpiece. But when it was initially adapted for the stage, the novel’s powerfully bleak ending was changed to a more upbeat one – an ending that carried over into the majority of the screen productions, too.

However, BBC’s And Then There Were None, out now on DVD, proved to be the first English-language adaptation to use the novel’s original ending. Now despite the book being released 76 years ago, I will not reveal any spoilers in this article just in case you haven’t read or seen the story before. But I will say that And Then There Were None is one of the darkest productions on British television in years. And it’s bloody brilliant.

You may be familiar with the premise, as it’s something that many contemporary thrillers have taken inspiration from – and if you haven’t seen any of those, you may’ve seen it spoofed in Family Guy and the iconic 80s comedy Clue. When a group of people are lured to an isolated island under different pretexts – offers of employment, holiday, to meet with friends, etc. – they think nothing of it. But as shortly after arriving, they are all played a gramophone recording charging them with ‘crimes’ they’ve committed in the past…and they realise they’ve been brought to the island to pay for their actions. They soon discover they’re the only people on the island and cannot escape due to being totally cut-off from the world, and as they’re murdered one-by-one they begin to realise they can’t trust each other, for the killer may be among them. Sound familiar? There are elements of this iconic story in many films and TV shows – hell, you could even argue Saw is inspired by it. But even if you know the story back-to-front and are aware who the killer is from reading the book or seeing another adaptation in the past, there’s still a lot to like here.

First, the cast is truly stellar across the board. While the characters themselves a rather cliché now – an old general (Sam Neill), a retired judge (Charles Dance), a detective (Burn Gorman), a creepy butler (Noah Taylor) and a dashing young gent (Aidan Turner) to name but a few – the talent bring immense depth and believability to these characters that make you constantly question the identity of the killer – even if like me, you know who ‘dun it’ from a previous knowledge of the work. This is truly a testament to the incredible performances with particular praise for Dance, and Toby Stephens as Doctor Armstrong. And you have to remember that although certain elements of it are predictable now – smart viewers who are new to the tale might see the twists coming – you have to remember that this was written 76 years ago, when such twists were far less common and far more shocking.

The greatest performance here is that of the location. While I’m sure And Then There Were None works stunningly well on stage, as most of Christie’s works do, there’s something about seeing the island and the surrounding endless ocean that creates a greater sense of isolation and dread than any theatre ever could. While the moody establishing shots of the island accompanied by loud, creepy music did become tiring, they still packed a punch. Powerfully dark cinematography throughout only heightened the sense of confusion, culminating in an incredible ‘party’ sequence that perfectly represented the psyches of the remaining guests, swallowed up by paranoia and fear. And the small cast of characters and majority of time being spent in the various rooms of the creepy mansion made for a rather theatrical feel anyway, especially as the narrative is so dialogue driven. But as the original novel is less than 300 pages long, dragging it out to 3 hour-long parts did allow room for a little bit of filler here and there – particularly in the slow first episode. This is the show’s only issue.

The production itself is stunning. Sets and costume are incredibly era-authentic, while the foreboding opening credits and dread-filled score created an extremely uncomfortable feeling throughout. While all the hallmarks of your generic big old house murder mysteries are there, they are of such a high quality that it feels fresh – like something you’ve never seen before. Occasionally the delivery of the narrative veered slightly into pretension due to this immense quality, but this doesn’t remain a problem once you let yourself become absorbed by the tale. And Then There Were None is one of the strongest BBC productions in years, as well as the best adaptation of Christie’s iconic masterpiece.

A flawless set of performances and excellent locations make this a hauntingly beautiful piece of work. And Then There Were None earn a damn fine 4/5.


Sam Love

And Then There Were None at CeX

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