No one here is promising you a new story. Agatha Christie’s most popular novel And Then There Were None (1939), originally published with a racist title, has inspired countless adaptations for the stage, screen and radio. The book has been brought to life in different parts of the world, including Russia, America, and India, resulting in some hits and many misses.
BBC One’s production finally does justice to the dark, beguiling narrative of guilt and remorse. This grim and gorgeously made psychological drama might well be the definitive version the book deserves and has been waiting for – only bloodier and a lot sexier than the original text.
The three-part series was first aired in the United Kingdom in December 2015 and earlier this month in the United States of America. Here’s hoping the gruesome meditation on guilt and merciless murders makes its way to Indian television soon.
It features a rainy remote island, a group of shifty strangers, back stories, tuxedos, confessions, crimes, anger, tears, fear and also the very viral-able torso of Aidan Turner (the Hobbit series, Poldark). Eight strangers are summoned on different pretexts to Soldier Island by a certain Mr Owen, the owner of the estate. They don’t know each other, yet.
The party includes Justice Lawrence Wargrave, a celebrated ex-judge, Detective Sergeant William Blore, a nervous and suspicious cop, Philip Lombard, a smooth and good-looking mercenary, Vera Claythorne, a governess turned secretary, Tony Marston, a young careless connoisseur of fast cars, Dr Edward Armstrong, an easily angered surgeon, Emily Brent, a loathsome super-religious and daunting woman, and General John MacArthur, an army veteran.
There are also the house butler and cook, the only other two people on the island who help orchestrate the party laid out for this wide-ranging and curious assembly.
Just as the lot reaches the island and sits down to dinner, they come face to face with their biggest fear – their deep-seated guilt. Soon enough, they start getting killed. One by one, ten little statues that stand on a table start to disappear, in line with a morbid and ominous nursery rhyme that is framed and placed in every room of the estate.
As their deaths become imminent and they face the possibility of one of them being a murderer, tensions rise, making way for suspicion. But one thing they also do is accept and face the guilt for the crimes of their past – but not surprisingly, to varying degrees.
Lombard is a gun for sale. He killed an African tribe of 21 people to steal their supplies. Tony, who ran over two kids with his speeding car, is not guilty at all. Emily doesn’t believe that driving a person to suicide can be called murder, while Vera is terrified by her heinous charges and refuses them blatantly.
But no matter what they believe, a systematic plan is at hand. Like a machine that runs continuously, unconcerned by the wishes of the bolts and nuts that create it, the fates of these 10 ruthless murderers are sealed the moment they step on this eerie island off the Devon coast.
The BBC production is the first time that the book has been reconstructed with the original sinister ending that Christie wrote in 1939. The feeling of dread and isolation that sweeps across the island is elevated by the top-notch production values, and the cinematography sends down an appropriate supply of chills down the spine. That the cast is as stellar helps too. Wargrave is portrayed by Charles Dance (The Jewel in the Crown, Game of Thrones), Sam Neill plays MacArthur, while Lombard is convincingly and delightfully played by Aidan Turner.
The atmosphere of the book sets it apart from other works by Christie, by virtue of clearly promising no redemption. There is no Poirot or Miss Marple lurking around to save these people. The hopelessness is stark and the dread is real – and this sense of foreboding has been translated all too well by Craig Viveiros’s keen direction, John Pardue’s breathtaking cinematography, and the Sarah Phelps’s pitiless script.