Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 57 minutes
Starring: Douglas Booth, Charles Dance, Maeve Dermody, Burn Gorman, Anna Maxwell Martin, Sam Neill, Miranda Richardson, Toby Stephens, Noah Taylor & Aidan Turner
Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE might sound familiar because: (a.) it’s required reading in some schools and (b.) it’s commonly cited as one of the greatest mysteries of all-time. With a fantastic reputation and worldwide acclaim, one would think that Christie’s novel would have been properly adapted to the screen already. You’d be sadly mistaken though, because most screen adaptations of the text rely on a silly clichéd ending (used in the stage play) and go for light-hearted chills instead of a dread-soaked atmosphere. BBC’s miniseries of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE may have added changes to the source material (after all, it needed to fill three hours), but remains a highly suspenseful, dark, and faithful execution (pardon the pun) of Christie’s most famous work.
Ten strangers have been invited to Soldier Island, off the coast of England, by an unseen host. It appears that each guest was summoned under different pretenses, but they all share one thing in common. They are all, in some way, connected to the death of an innocent person. After eating a delicious dinner and still not having met their host, a strange record plays and reveals that all ten guests stand accused of murder. Nine of them shrug it off, while one fully admits to it. Soon, a death results from a glass of poisoned wine. It appears that someone on the island has the intention of murdering all ten guests (in ways related to a grim children’s rhyme) and bodies begin to pile up…
I’ve purposely kept the plot synopsis vague, in case you’re not familiar with Agatha Christie’s novel. There are many twists and turns strewn throughout this complex mystery and I wouldn’t dare spoil any of them. Seeing that a few of these characters are killed throughout the three-hour running time, I will not single out a specific performance that might potentially reveal key details. Instead, I’ll briefly run through these performances one-by-one. Douglas Booth is perfectly smarmy as a reckless rich kid/motorist. Charles Dance brings his usual sophisticated manner to the table as a government official. Maeve Dermody is sympathetic as a teacher with some serious baggage.
Burn Gorman is delightfully scummy as a questionable police officer. Anna Maxwell Martin and Noah Taylor play a foreboding servant couple. Sam Neill is tragic as the PTSD-suffering general, while Toby Stephens is equally distraught as a doctor with a drinking problem. Miranda Richardson is perfectly despicable as a holier-than-though upper-class zealot. Finally, Aidan Turner is great as a man who says what’s on his mind. All of these characters are potential suspects and each has a part to play in the proceedings, even if that just means being gruesomely murdered.
A deliberate change that was not in Christie’s original novel are added flashbacks that flesh out these characters/suspects. Besides including some fantastically disturbing imagery in these moments, the miniseries masterfully dishes out nuggets of background information that grow as the number of living guests steadily decreases. I thought I had one character completely figured out (I’ve read the book) and flashbacks revealed something I didn’t see coming. These flashbacks are creative deviations from the original text, but actually feed off of the source material to make the already suspenseful story even more compelling.
I appreciated that AND THEN THERE WERE NONE had a thick, gloomy atmosphere that rang absolutely true to Christie’s darker than dark mystery. There’s a sense of hopelessness and impending dread that’s aided by the stormy isolated setting. Slight tweaks are made to the book’s original conclusion that help it play out cinematically (and arguably in a far more brutal manner), but this is the most faithful on-screen conclusion to Christie’s twisted book. When I originally read the novel, my jaw was on the floor during the final chapter. The same thing happened here during the final ten minutes. I absolutely adore this miniseries’ final scenes and its unflinching eye for a chilling note to the send the viewer out on.
The only subplot that I didn’t care for was a love-interest angle between two of the characters. This forced romance seems to come out of nowhere, with little rhyme or reason. People are dying, only a handful of survivors are left, there’s a killer in your midst, and you think it’s a good idea to start flirting with a stranger? It was too far-fetched for me to buy, though it does benefit a later scene. The deaths themselves are kept mostly off-screen, but we do see the graphic aftermath of each kill (packing graphic gore into a couple of moments).
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is easily the best adaptation I’ve seen of Agatha Christie’s novel. It captures the sense of impending dread and gut-punches the viewer multiple times with clever twists, turns, and guilty revelations. Though it tweaks a few of the book’s details along the way, only one of these changes was to the miniseries’ detriment. The rest adds to the already stellar and suspenseful viewing experience. AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is a must-see for fans of dark mysteries, intense thrillers, and (yes, I’m saying this) slasher flicks!