This Christmas, before we celebrate her 125th anniversary, the BBC has taken on ‘The Queen of Crime’ Dame Agatha Christie’s well-loved ultimate ‘locked room’ murder mystery, And Then There Were None – and has come out right on top!
Initially, the plot seems simple enough, but it is impossible to unravel. Ten strangers are invited to the secluded Soldier Island off the coast of Devon by the mysterious Mr and Mrs U. N. Owen, where they are completely cut off from the rest of the world. With their hosts apparently absent, a hidden record player suddenly makes an announcement: accusing each of the guests in turn of murder. And then the ‘murderers’ themselves begin to be killed off, one by one. Counting down… until there are none.
It’s dark and it’s bloody. It’s intense and it’s intriguing. With a creepy children’s rhyme that dictates exactly how people will die, and corresponding ‘soldier boy’ statues that go missing as the island’s visitors are picked off one at a time. It is a brilliant representation of how people react under threat of their lives, each character turning on each other and accusing everyone else, as both the suspect and victim pools are increasingly narrowed.
The tense music, raging storm outside, flickering lights and bloody murders may seem cliché on paper (not Agatha Christie’s paper; the book is amazing), but each are put to fantastic use in this adaptation, creating genuine suspense for both the characters and audience. In particular, the weather produces an appropriately foreboding atmosphere, being central to many shots and scenes, but also serves a purpose, trapping the people on the island and preventing them from creating a signal fire or otherwise escaping.
Aidan Turner (as Philip Lombard) and Maeve Dermody (as Vera Claythorne) are the real stars of the piece, though all ten main characters are remarkable, with convincing performances as they show impressive psychological depth. Several close-up camera shots showcase the abilities of these actors, displaying the mental battle and hunger to survive of those left, and giving the audience an intimacy with the panic experienced by the characters. However, these glimpses also provide viewers with an insight into the mind of a set of killers – and the terrifying prospect that genuinely anyone could be a murderer.
This adaptation is a strong and faithful representation of the book, with high tension, excellent portrayal of the protagonists, and precise storytelling, using clever flashbacks to carefully reveal the characters’ past, showing what each person has done to get them a place on the island. It was aired as three parts on consecutive days, and while fascinating enough to pull this off, it is also very tempting to binge on them quickly in one go.
Fans of Christie are well aware of her incredible ability to always make the killer the last person you’d expect (even when you do suspect the last person you would imagine to have done it). And Then There Were None is the perfect example of this – it keeps you guessing right until the end.
For fans of crime and thrillers, it’s brilliant. For fans of Agatha Christie, it’s perfect.
Images from BBC’s ‘And Then There Were None‘