mon 18/11/2019

And Then There Were None, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

And Then There Were None, BBC One

And Then There Were None, BBC One

Elegantly cast, well-filmed adaptation of Agatha Christie's most devilish thriller

Six out of 10 disembark for the house party from hell

None, or two? Only the tiniest whiff of spoiler is involved in pointing out that while the stage version, or at least the one I saw with an actor friend playing an early victim, settled for a semi-happy ending, this magnificently brooding adaptation in three parts – just the right length, surely – dooms us to ultimate discomfort, as an especially merciless Agatha Christie intended. The bare essentials of what may well be her masterpiece, with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Endless Night close contenders, were all professionally bolted in place, and the embroideries in a faithful 1939 setting nearly all seemed appropriate.

Not least is the sticky problem of the original title and the way it refers to objects pictured within – here, in Sarah Phelps's clever screenplay ten jade soldiers, linked briefly to a deeper interwar theme, which Miranda Richardson’s nasty-prim Emily Brent (pictured below) refers to as "rather primitive" (for which read “phallic”– though elsewhere naughty unChristiean expletives and unseemly habits like coke-sniffing aren’t avoided). It’s hard to believe that the Fontana paperback copy I bought in the 1970s with my pocket money and frightened myself to death still had the offensive title, and an especially bizarre cover to match. I suppose it was at least grammatical while racist, which "were" as applied to "none" of the present labelling strictly isn't.

Miranda Richardson in And Then There Were NoneThe location, apart from the obvious Cornish mainland and beach scenes? Christie supposedly modelled the setting of her isolated house party from hell on Burgh Island Hotel off the south Devon coast, recently restored to its full expensive glory, but as it’s reachable from the mainland at low tide, that wouldn’t do. Director Craig Viveiros’s choice? They’re not saying, but it looks like magical Lundy Island, topped by what has to be a CGI country house (the close-up exteriors and interiors are of Harefield House, Hillingdon, duly deco-ised). In an early scene Anna Maxwell Martin as a tormented servant hovers, if I’m not mistaken, over the geological feature known as the Devil's Cauldron on the west of Lundy. The lights on the island are among the glories captured by the atmospheric, flawless filming.

The cast was about as good as it gets. Star names are not always a guarantee of long-term survival, rather the essential mix is one of superb old hands and attractive youth. Quality was guaranteed by Richardson, Sam Neill’s army man, Charles Dance’s cool, collected judge and Toby Stephens as an hysterical surgeon (canny placing for an occasionally hysterical actor). Burn Gorman lent a Dickensian twist as a superficially comical weak arm of the law.

Scene from And Then There Were NoneOn the glamorous side were Maeve Dermody's anxious, not-quite-ingenue and two splendid specimens of male eye candy, the pretty (Douglas Booth) and the rugged (Aidan Turner, eyes magnificently smouldering from the off). In fact it’s now easier to imagine the crinkly-haired Ross Poldark of recent BBC fantasy as a potential James Bond thanks to the DJ and the smart haircut – bringing him closer, looks-wise, to a short-term Bond, Timothy Dalton – and stripping to the waist was bound to be obligatory. Of course the scene featuring the fine torso of this version's Philip Lombard (pictured above, Turner with Dermody) was absolutely indispensible, wasn’t it?

Well, almost. Undress goes hand-in-towel with the cunning, steady deconstruction of period-drama gloss. Things and people fall apart as sleep, trust and propriety go out of the window. Sex rearing its head certainly isn't too improbable, just a subtexting of what's already latent in the book. The serialisation also has extra layers of flashbacks and ghosts of the soon-to-be victims' unsavoury pasts (cue an extra turn of the bloody screw). And the end, while faithful to the original's chill conclusion, is even more cruel.

A well-behaved review simply can’t give away any of the twists, only admire how immaculately plotted both the original and the adaptation both are. There’s no reassuring detective to right all wrongs like Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, only a fiendish stage-manager a good deal more convincing, because until the end unknown, than Vincent Price in Theatre of Blood. If, like me and millions of others, you already know whodunnit from having read the book, even if you can't remember the whys and wherefores of the murders, it's still bound to make your flesh creep and your stomach knot.

Comments

Never have so many talented actors and actresses laboured so well to produce so little. It was probably Agatha Christie's most improbable plot and in this production totally unnecessary four letter words and 2015 slang are mixed with confusing flashbacks to end in farce with the longest-ever hanging scene. It proved once again that remakes are always a failure. The BBC should have saved licence-payers' money by re-running one of the previous four film versions of the story. Trevose

I was looking forward to this dramatisation as the big treat of the Christmas hols and I have to say, sadly, it left me deeply disappointed. It was overdone in ALL departments. Too quirky, too dirty, too freaky and badly over-directed. The mechanics of production detracted from the story which is what matters most. None of the characters were believable except maybe Lombard. The creepiness was overdone from the beginning instead of being allowed to grow gradually - easily managed surely when the story is stretched to 3 episodes. I hated the flashbacks, the too close closeups, bad costuming with no period accuracy and above all the attempted creep factor of the music - Double Bassists on overdrive ? Bring back Marple and Poirot

Am I the only one to have noticed that Charles Dance put the last bullet into a supposedly empty gun, except all the chambers were full?? Puzzled continuity!

Top hole, that man. In the second we saw it, something felt wrong. I should have gone back and freeze-framed to check.

A revolver, unlike an automatic pistol, doesn't eject spent shells as it fires. If you look closely the ends of the used cartridges clearly show the percussion mark from the hammer whereas the new bullet was intact.

Merci, M. Poirot.

Get over yourself and enjoy the program.

Thank you for your analysis ! I couldn't sleep anymore by thinking of the nonsense !

It is not a grammatical mistake for "none" to take the plural form of a verb.

Thoroughly enjoyed it, great cast, wonderful moody atmosphere.Sometimes one can over analyse, just sit back and be entertained. More please BBC.

I loved this remake and Aidan Turner's characterization was spot on. For those questioning the towel scene, read Agatha's book. The gentlemen took it all off when being checked.

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