“And Then There Were None” (2015)
Written by: Sarah Phelps
Directed by: Craig Viveiros
Featuring: Douglas Booth, Charles Dance, Maeve Dermody, Burn Gorman, Anna Maxwell Martin, Sam Neill, Miranda Richardson, Toby Stephens, Noah Taylor, Aidan Turner
“Ten little Indian boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Indian boys sat up very late; One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Indian boys travelling in Devon; One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks; One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
Six little Indian boys playing with a hive; A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Five little Indian boys going in for law; One got in Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Indian boys going out to sea; A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Indian boys walking in the Zoo; A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two little Indian boys sitting in the sun; One got frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Indian boy left all alone; He went and hanged himself and then there were none.”
― Agatha Christie, “And Then There Were None”
The last few years has seen a resurgence in the adaptations of Agatha Christie novels into television shows/movies as well as cinematic movies, this could be the spin-off of so many mystery shows being developed internationally that there really is no story like an old story. In fact, what is unique is that many of these adaptations are not being updated but produced in the time period in which they were written, or at least very close to them. To fully encapsulate some of the minutiae of Christies stories it falls to the format of a miniseries to explore these properly so in 2015 the BBC produced one of the better as well as more faithful versions of what has to be the greatest Christie story of all, ‘And Then There Were None, first published in 1939. Over the years since its first publication there have been a myriad of adaptations for almost every media, not only that the general plot has been used time and again in other genres as it easily fits almost any other genre, providing a framework for others to fill in with their own characters, situations and geographic areas.
Agatha Christie, as well as her work, remain to this very day, a strong part of popular culture, in fact it has been for almost a hundred years. In a writing career lasting more than 55 years, she wrote 72 novels and 15 short story collections, to be sure a massive accomplishment, which will no doubt stand the test of time. What made her stories stand out were, of course, the characters. She created memorable and dignified characters which any class of readers could relate to. Her most memorable and popular characters, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, are great examples of her skill to develop “high society” characters with mainstream appeal.
Agatha regularly looked for “creative inspiration” by studying the people around her; however, her chosen genre, the murder mystery, stunted her writing process because it was difficult at times to put reality into fictional environments; for example, she sometimes had trouble using attributes of acquaintances to do things she couldn’t imagine them doing, like murder, and this often caused writer’s block. To overcome this obstacle, she would develop many characters from scratch. She would note physical appearances of strangers whom she saw and met in public and then would use their likeness and subtle mannerisms to develop relatable characters for her mysteries.
This new adaptation has been directed by Craig Viveiro, written by Sarah Phelps who are both very experienced in the medium of television, in particular for the UK audience that this has primarily been made for. The challenge that faces both of them are numerous, this is the latest in a long line of adaptations that people know very well, the location is essentially the same for the run of the story, there needs to be tension as well as heightened emotions as this is a ‘who done it’, there is a large cast so characters need to be fleshed out as well as given their own space to shine and this needs to be visually as well as narratively original so as to engage audiences and keep them for the entire series. The good news is that they have executed in almost every way so that this seems like a fresh story as well as something that must be seen, in fact this had some extremely strong viewing numbers when it aired in the UK which is not surprising as it is as fresh as any Christie adaptions that has ever been including some of the classic versions from previous years.
The story takes place in late August 1939, eight people, all strangers to each other, are invited to a small, isolated island off the coast of Devon, England, by a “Mr and Mrs Owen”. The guests settle in at a mansion tended by two newly hired servants, Thomas and Ethel Rogers, but their hosts are absent. When the guests sit down to dinner, they notice the centerpiece, ten figurines of soldiers arranged in a circle. Afterward, Thomas Rogers puts on a gramophone record, from which a voice accuses everyone present of murder. Shortly after this, one of the party dies from poisoning, and then more and more people are murdered, all in methods synonymous with a nursery rhyme the island is named after, and the murderer removes a figurine from the dining table each time someone is killed. The remaining people decide to work together. They must discover who the murderer is before they run out of time and nobody remains.
As with many of Christie’s greatest stories that have been transferred to other mediums there are always great actors that see the timeless quality of her writing as well as challenge that is present when one her novels is adapted. The other element that seems to be more and more prevalent are the extremely large casts that are assembled to bring these adaptations to life, here “And Then There Were None” is no different. In terms of great casts this one is right up there featuring not only some excellent actors but actors that are relevant appearing in some of the biggest hits and best received films and television shows of the past decade. Some of the highlights for me in this series are some talented character actors in Burn Gorman, Noah Taylor and Toby Stephens who have proven themselves time and again with their interpretations of some very original and interesting characters that prove why they are in demand as well as why they are so memorable in almost everything they appear in. What is refreshing was that some of the best parts are portrayed by veterans including the great Charles Dance, Sam Neill, Miranda Richardson as well as the incredibly talented Aidan Turner who seems to be on a high career wise in terms of television roles. All of these actors are excellent in their own ways, which speaks to the great casting and is one of the reasons why this miniseries is so compelling.
What is interesting with Agatha Christie adaptions are the changes that are made and while this is a mostly faithful adaption there are some changes and in my mind the most important ones are as follows:
- Edward Seton, the man Justice Wargrave is accused of having hanged for crimes he did not commit (but was in fact guilty), was, in the original novel, executed for the murder of his landlady to get her money. Here, he is said by Wargrave to have killed multiple people, believing he was doing the world a favour by getting rid of them.
- In the book, Detective Sergeant William Blore is accused of having committed perjury, with the result that an innocent man was wrongly sent to jail for life, where he died. In this series, Blore is accused of beating a homosexual man to death. In the book, he is killed by a clock in the shape of a bear being dropped on his head, whereas in this production he is killed by being stabbed and draped with a bear rug.
- In the book, Philip Lombard is a soldier of fortune responsible for the deaths of 21 men in East Africa by abandoning them in the desert and taking the food and supplies with him, which he does not deny. In this series, he kills the men to get diamonds.
- In the book, there is no explicit romance between Vera and Lombard and they never become physically intimate with one another.
- In the book, Vera hangs herself in a post-hypnotic trance after shooting Lombard dead, and never discovers the true identity of “U.N. Owen”, and the reader only finds out in the postscript that Owen was Wargrave. In this production, Wargrave walks into the room while Vera is about to hang herself, explains his actions and motivations, and informs her that he intends to shoot himself and create an unsolvable mystery. She tries to bargain with him but he suddenly yanks the chair from under her feet, causing her seemingly self-inflicted death.
- Wargrave’s death is very different from the novel. In the book, he sets up his death in his bedroom to reflect how he was last found, by shooting himself in the forehead, with a cord tied to the revolver and door knob, allowing the gun to be pulled away after firing. Here, after killing Vera, he goes to the dining room, where he sets up two place settings, presumably for himself and “U.N. Owen”. He fires the bullet just under his chin, and the revolver’s recoil propels the gun away, landing at the empty place setting.
- In the novel, after the deaths and the arrival of help from the mainland, two policemen sit to discuss the case and ultimately are unable to solve the mystery. Later, a note from the murderer in a bottle is caught in a fishing trawler’s net and the mystery is solved. Neither occurs in this version.
Back in 2015 when this miniseries was first broadcast it heralded the arrival of new productions of Christies work, in fact since this was produced there have been multiple adaption’s produced of her work including “Chorabali” (2016), “Locked Doors”(2016), “The Witness for the Prosecution” (2016), “Crooked House” and “The Murder of the Orient Express” (2017) which have all been met with various amounts of success. This has not stopped and over the next few years we will see the following being produced and being brought to the large and small screen, “Ordeal by Innocence” (2018), “The ABC Murders” (2018), “Death on the Nile” (2019) and “Death Comes as the End”(2019), so we can see that the Estate for Agatha Christie is still making money as well as being verty successful.
What I love about this adaptation and the many others is that is an invitation into not only Christie’s world but her mind as well as the period in which she lived. It is also the feminine as aspect that I enjoy as it is certainly wanting in many oher parts of our lives, Christie was yearning to break free of her time period and in a way she has done just that being as relevant now as she was in her lifetime now over a hundred years ago, here is to more of her work being produced as my feeling is it will never get old.
“And Then There Were None” is available now on DVD.