10 strangers on a remote island get murdered one by one, in a variety of horrible ways. Merry Christmas!
It’s true that a BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie’s best-selling thriller might not be particularly festive, but And Then There Were None was still far and away the best thing on TV this Christmas. And not only because of Aidan Turner’s towel. Although that was a big part of it.
Considering And Then There Were None is not only Agatha Christie’s most popular book but the best-selling mystery novel in the world ever, I’m a bit surprised I’ve never read it. But I did see a stage version earlier this year, and figured I’d got all the tension out of my system during those two nail-biting hours. So when I heard it was going to be on TV this Christmas, I assumed that without the stress of worrying about what was going to happen next, I’d be able to sit back, relax and look for clues, safe and smug in the knowledge of whodunnit.
Unfortunately, there’s literally nothing relaxing about this chilling murder mystery. Even the opening credits are dark and super creepy. And once you get a look at that island, in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a forbidding, lonely mansion on it, there’s no going back. Bad things are going to happen, and just because you know they’re coming, it doesn’t make them any easier to watch – particularly because they’re all accompanied by scary music and lingering silences, during which the characters all eye each other suspiciously in the semi-darkness (because of course there’s a three-day thunderstorm and everything has to be done by candlelight). Oh, and did I mention the poem, which predicts – sometimes rather cryptically – the method of each murder, and the ten figurines that disappear one by one as the characters meet their end? Nothing freaky about that…
As in the stage version, all the actual murdering has to take place off camera, so we don’t learn the identity of the culprit before the final big reveal. But that doesn’t make it any less tense – sure, it’s not ‘is the killer about to jump out of that wardrobe’ scary, but somehow ‘when will we trip over the next dead body, and who will it be’ is just as bad. And while some of the characters manage only a handful of lines before being bumped off, it’s hard not to get a bit attached to some of the others, even while knowing that the whole reason they’re on the island is because they’re bad people – and if they do survive, chances are it’s because they dunnit. (Not to mention the fact that the longer they last, the more unhinged they all become.)
While Poldark star Aidan Turner may be getting most of the attention in the press, because of that totally unnecessary but nonetheless very enjoyable scene, he’s just one member of a truly stellar cast that includes Charles Dance (a legend long before he was Tywin Lannister), Miranda Richardson, Sam Neill, Anna Maxwell Martin and Toby Stephens. And it’s not just about the big names; relative unknown Maeve Dermody was cast just two days before the first read through of the script, but you’d never know it from her haunting performance as Vera Claythorne. The adaptation is very much an ensemble effort, with each of the actors getting their turn in the spotlight as, one by one, the characters’ secrets are revealed through dialogue and flashbacks.
Each episode carries a warning of upsetting scenes, which is a message I’ve learnt to take very seriously since that infamous episode of Downton Abbey left us all scarred for life. And although there’s not a lot of gore in And Then There Were None, there is plenty to disturb and mess with your head. It’s a classic murder mystery of the best kind, which keeps you guessing throughout with its twists and turns and surprises.
Also, Aidan Turner in a towel. Thank you, BBC.
And Then There Were None is available on BBC iPlayer if you missed it. But I don’t recommend watching it late at night. Particularly if you’re home alone during a thunderstorm, and the power’s gone out. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.