What is better: to pretend to feel guilt for something you did as a way of coming to terms with what you did or to cheerfully admit that you are a murderer and feel no guilt at all? This was what the BBC’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then there Were None eventually boiled down to. Over three nights, as people were being murdered it became less of a whodunit and more of an examination of guilt and the various ways people handle their guilt.
There are some traditions that I love and an excellent drama (usually made by the BBC) broadcast over the Christmas period is one of them. This year the honour fell to And Then There Were None, adapted from Agatha Christie’s novel of the same name by Sarah Phelps. Sarah Phelps took the most popular mystery novel int he world and created an adaptation which was sharp, tense, smart, and thoroughly addictive.
Ten people have been invited to Soldier Island and on their first evening there a recording announces that all of them are guilty of murder and lists exactly who they have murdered. The ten of them react in different ways to the news: there is denial from most of them (Maeve Dermody’s governess Vera insists that she tried to save her charge and almost drowned in the process), assertions of innocence (Charles Dance’s Justice Wargrave insists that the man he is charged with wrongfully sentencing to hang was guilty), completely no idea what is going on (Douglas Booth’s Anthony Marston initially has no memory of running over any children), and even complete acceptance of the situation (Aidan Turner’s Philip Lombard is the only of the characters to admit his guilt).
It is what happens after the announcement which had me hooked to the telly for all three episodes. One by one the gusts start to die and their deaths follow the narrative of a poem on all the walls of the house. Those that survive the first night, then the second, then the third day become increasingly paranoid, suspicious, and tense. They can’t trust anyone but who exactly is killing them all? Could it be one of the remaining survivors or is there another person on the island someone who, as Philip Lombard asserts, is hunting them all?
Every single episode was so taut due to the pacing, the music underpinning the action, and the slow, lingering shots. Sister who didn’t watch it all asked the Mothership and me why we were spending our time watching something so creepy. And that is the perfect way to describe this production – creepy. Creepy as fuck and all the better for it.
When there were only three people left on the Island my nerves were stretched. Then three became two and the tension in my house could be cut with a knife. Was the killer either of them or was there someone else? Then two became one and the question suddenly changed: would anyone make it off this island alive?
Over nights two and three I had a theory and I discussed it with the Mothership. By the time the endgame arrived I was sure my theory was wrong. But my theory fit and made sense – it seemed only logical. Would Christie’s brilliantly plotted novel pull the rug out from under my feet? Nope, it didn’t. I was right but seeing it happen on the screen was a completely different experience to having worked it out in my head. I won’t be spoiling the ending for anyone but I will say that once explained it was so, so obvious: it couldn’t be anyone else because it made perfect sense.
I didn’t know this until after the broadcast but initially Sarah Phelps came under criticism because she was ‘sexing up’ Agatha Christie. Frankly I think some of Agatha Christie’s novels could do with some sex, drugs, swearing, and rock ‘n’ roll. I haven’t read And Then There Were None but I don’t think the drugs, the swearing, the drink, the nudity, or the sex (a few very brief sex scenes) took anything away from the plot or what the characters were going through. In fact, I think it added to the whole show, especially the swearing which is what would happen if you were trapped on an island with a murderer. The cast were truly epic – my eyes were never off Maeve Dermody when she was on screen, even when Aidan Turner decided not to wear his shirt.
I absolutely loved this adaptation and it was definitely one of the best things I saw over the Christmas break. If you can, then watch it. It’s very, very good and had me thinking what I would prefer: to lie to myself and the world about the ‘guilt’ I felt because it is the right thing to do or to admit I was a murderer and feel no guilt at all.
As a side note, I think the TV tie-in book cover is stunning – definitely one of the best tie-in covers I have ever seen.
Image credit: Agatha Chritie’s Twitter page: @AgathaChristie