Inevitably, dozens of BuzzFeed articles appear daily in my Facebook newsfeed, and just as inevitably I’ll click on a link and wish I hadn’t. On August 6th I clicked on only one, so it was 50/50. Would I be let down? Would it be a hidden gem?
Mercifully, my time and data were not wasted. Now, we know how much I love the miniseries format, and thanks to “19 TV Miniseries That Everyone Needs To Watch“, I discovered And Then There Were None, a 3-part BBC miniseries from 2015 based on Agatha Christie’s immortal classic of the same name. Stylish, intense, and horrifying, it holds your attention and stays with you long after the final scene.
When ten outwardly respectable people are lured under various pretences to a luxurious mansion on a lonely island off the British coast, they are shocked when their darkest, criminal secrets are aired for all to hear. Before long they begin to be brutally picked off one by one in styles prescribed by a children’s nursery rhyme, and it is up to the ever dwindling party to discover the identity of the murderer and save their own lives.
The thing always most striking about Agatha Christie’s stories (and of course this will vary between adaptations but is apparent here) is her critique of British cultural identity, especially the assumed moral superiority of the British Way. Her characters are generally British class archetypes or stereotypes – in this case, lowly servants and a secretary, a rugged Irishman, a Cockney copper, a pious Anglican, and a few members of the gentry or learned professions. And yet, despite their class divisions, they’re all equally compromised by their guilt. This is spelt out by the policeman himself after the first murder: “It’s a police matter now. Same set of rules if you’re posh or not.” Bringing sordid unpleasantness into the corridors of the upper classes is Christie’s way of reminding the owners of those corridors to stay grounded.
Continuing the proud tradition of all-star casting for which Christie adaptations are famous (including one I reviewed previously), but restrained by a TV budget, And Then There Were None brings many supporting cast staples together. So tragically underused in the industry until a late career resurgence thanks to Game of Thrones, Charles Dance receives top billing playing a retired and elderly judge. He is followed by Sam Neill’s retired war hero, and Toby Stephens (Die Another Day) as a Harley Street doctor. Miranda Richardson is the puritan prude, and Teenage David Helfgott (Noah Taylor) from Shine plays the butler. The cast is rounded out by other British up-and-comers who all have a lot of potential if this is anything to go by.
Despite the lavish Art Deco interiors and 1939 setting, this is a strikingly modern production. Gloomy but crisp, the most obvious point of comparison is Broadchurch. Dim lighting, a green colour palette, and unconventional shot construction aid in creating a most unsettling atmosphere. Sweeping and unstructured music adds to the horror. Much has been made of the fact that this is more or less the first adaptation to convey the unforgivingly bleak outlook of Christie’s original novel, and it’s this which makes the production as psychologically unsettling as it is enjoyably mysterious.
This is not a camp classic like so many Christie adaptations. Bleak and unrepentantly awful, And Then There Were None is a brilliantly gripping piece of television. Watch it all in one go during a storm for the perfect atmosphere.
For more stuff I’ve written about TV, click here.