BBC’s three-episode miniseries, And Then There Were None, is the latest attempt to bring the late British author Agatha Christie’s much celebrated mystery novel by the same name onto the screen. At the outset, the most remarkable thing about the miniseries is its glorious cast with names like Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister of Game of Thrones), Sam Neill (Alan Grant of the original Jurassic Park), Aidan Turner (Kili of The Hobbit trilogy), Toby Stephens (Bond villain in Die Another Day and Captain Flint in Black Sails TV series). I may probably think up something better when the craze wears thin, but right now I don’t think the cast could have been any more perfect.
And Then There Were None is a story of eight assorted people who are invited for an unknown assignment to an island called Soldier Island, owned by a couple called the Owens. A servant couple, already present on the mansion, make up the rest of the main cast, and their hosts, who become more mysterious every hour, are nowhere to be seen. The guests are then subjected to a pre-recorded gramophone monologue that accuses all of them of murder with impunity. They are horrified, the reason for which is not as much as the peculiar proclamation as is their seeming culpability.
Mayhem ensues. Cut off from the mainland by bad weather and no means of transport, the guests begins to get killed one by one by an unknown person. Interestingly, the style of murder is in accordance to an old nursery rhyme called “Ten Little Soldier Boys”.” Ten guests for 10 Soldier Boys. The first two couplets go…
Ten little Soldier Boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Soldier Boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.
And ends with:
One little Soldier Boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.
Thus, the first one to die chokes on drink, the second one dies whilst sleeping, and the last one hangs himself. The Little Soldier Boys’ figures placed on the dining table begin to disappear as the corresponding guest dies. Throughout the story, the guests try to unravel whether the killer is between them or is an intruder. Perhaps one of their hosts is hiding somewhere? Or maybe the Owens were just a facade of the killer who’s among them?
True to what is expected from its splendid cast, the performances in And Then There Were None are of surpassing excellence. Charles Dance has been a phenomenon for a few decades now, and he is no different here as Justice Wargrave. While not nearly as sinister as Tywin Lannister, his stare still hides more than it reveals. Sam Neill, though, as an affable retired army general John MacArthur, just wants everybody to be friends and listen to his war stories. Newcomer Maeve Dermody’s work as Vera Claythorne is impressive too.
But undoubtedly the real star of the miniseries is Aiden Turner as Philip Lombard – a mercenary accused of murdering 21 men by voice in the monologue. It is a little jarring to observe Turner in the shoes of a ruthless mercenary considering his earlier roles, and if I hadn’t seen him here I would have thought he was not suited for it. But he has really done a tremendous job as a veritable mass-murderer. His charm, smugness, mannerisms and dialogue delivery make him strangely likable for an unrepentant murderer.
The direction by Craig Viveiros is brilliant. As the dead pile up, the remaining guests being to go crazy, unable to comprehend what’s happening. There’s a sense of foreboding throughout the miniseries and ominous recurring motifs help build the tension. A pull cord hanging from the window blind resembles a noose, shots of meat being cleaved by the servants, flashes of dead people, and so on. The miniseries gradually gets even darker, as the veneer of civilisation begins to slip off, and the happy-go-lucky gathering degenerates into utter chaos. The accompanying background score is superbly haunting and adds to the perpetual enigma.
The mounting dread is also heightened by the story having no protagonist in usual sense, no detective to decipher – nobody to anchor yourself upon. It is hard to sympathise with any character in And Then There Were None, and in any case they don’t last long, and when they die, there’s a jolt which wakes you out of your complacency. Add to that the taut screenplay by Sarah Phelps and there’s absolutely no reprieve for viewers. It is simply unlike any mystery you have seen.
A dark take on already the darkest Agatha Christie novel, And Then There Were None is a compulsively watchable. As suitable as a murder mystery as it is as a psychological thriller, it is delicious and gory at the same time, moves with relentless pace, and has solid characters, performances, music and direction. A near-perfect, unmissable piece of television.