BBC Mini-Series: And Then There Were None

The British love their mini-series, don’t they? And they really love Agatha Christie, so this was kind of inevitable. Before I start, I just want to establish a few things:

  • There will be spoilers.
  • The acronym I will be using for the ‘And Then There Were None’ will be ATTWN.
  • My angle will be to review ATTWN in comparison to the book, not as a stand-alone mini-series.
  • I found this very difficult to write. I had a thousand things I wanted to discuss but for some reason they weren’t flowing onto the page.

Clear then? Let’s get started!

And_then_there_where_none_BBC_still_02

To summarise, this mini-series was perfect in every way possible. BBC may not have been completely loyal to Christie’s masterpiece but they captured the essence of the story. And what this story essentially is, is not a murder mystery, but rather a psychological drama showing how people cope when confronted with crimes they thought would never come back to haunt them. They showed what people are truly like under the fear of death and what they come to regret.

There were some immaterial changes for example,

  • They fiddled around with some of the motives behind the murders committed by the victims,
  • There was a confrontation between the last victim and the serial killer, and
  • A romance was created between Vera Claythorne and Philip Lombard.

But in terms of their contribution to the story, the impact just meant that BBC made its mark on the story, rather than a straight adaptation.

And as for the cast…

  • Charles Dance (as Justice Wargrave) was amazing, given the little time on screen that he had, but then again, Dance rarely fails.
  • I thought Maeve Dermody (the woman who played Vera Claythorne) could be better. I mean she was good, but not great. Vera is a natural liar and sociopath, there should be no feelings of pity at her death in the end, only satisfaction that someone like Vera is killed. However, Dance’s performance as Wargrave was so overwhelming, you would still be left reeling at the revelation.
  • But the standout was really Aidan Turner (who played Philip Lombard). I can see why everyone’s clamouring to make him the next James Bond, he’s certainly James Bond material. There’s something very primal in his swagger which probably drives half his sex appeal. Luckily BBC changed his crime from the racist act of ‘letting Africans die instead of White Men because Africans are apparently used to that sort of thing’ to the greedy act of ‘killing twenty-one people for diamonds’. I assume the change was so certain parts of the demographic wouldn’t feel morally conflicted when the continued to lust after Turner and his portrayal of Lombard.

There were some areas that I thought the mini-series did better than the book:

  • The analysis of social, racial and gender discrimination. This story forces ten different kinds of people, from all different walks of life, to congregate on an island. Under normal circumstances, none of these people would have met and watching them being forced to interact was an enlightening commentary on the British social structure in the 1930s.
  • They’ve expanded the roles of some of the inhabitants, especially Lombard. In ATTWN, the people take a more active role in trying to work out who the killer is, instead of just flailing about in the novel.
  • I especially enjoyed the visual portrayals of each of the ten people’s crimes. The producers used flashback and hallucinations to really drive the point home.

But there was one sticky point I thought the mini-series didn’t capture so well; the mini-series doesn’t explain how Justice Wargrave came to find the other nine victims.

In the novel, Wargrave writes a long letter that is basically the denouement, explaining why and how he’s done it; BBC condensed that into a ten minute confrontation between him and Vera and made it seem as if he found them using the power of deus ex machina. Which is disappointing because it doesn’t show the intense planning he put in his murders and this is a particularly important characteristic that makes it believable that Wargrave is the killer.

Furthermore, showing that he had connections to the victims makes how he tracked down Vera even more symbolic; it was only through chance that he learnt about Vera Claythorne’s crime, which is a fitting end, as it was only through chance that Vera got away with her murder. It would have made their final confrontation more momentous.

Nor does he explain the rationale behind the order of his victims, for example, Mrs Rogers was killed early as she was merely complicit in her husband’s crime and therefore didn’t deserve the pain of a long-drawn out psychological torture. It’s a pity because Wargrave puts in so much planning in his crime and the audience never really gets to appreciate it.

I will be recommending this series to everyone. This series isn’t just for long-time Agatha Christie fans but for anyone who wants to understand the enduring appeal of Christie and her ability to understand what makes people tick.

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