We are often assured that justice is blind and that bad karma will eventually come around to punish all wrongs. Justice and karma have rarely stalked the guilty with the brutality that awaits a group of unsuspecting sinners in Agatha Christie’s classic thriller And Then There Were None. First published as a novel in 1939 And Then There Were None remains the world’s bestselling play, which has been adapted several times for both the stage and screen. This week’s review will feature the latest version of the classic thriller released by the BBC in 2015. Just one viewing of this three episode series will be sure to do for seaside vacations what Psycho did for showers and Jaws did for the beach.
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The story begins in 1938 with a group of strangers arriving at the ominously remote Soldier Island off the Cornish coast at the behest of Ulrich and Nancy Owen. The guests are surprised to learn that their hosts have yet to arrive, and unnerved when it becomes apparent that none of them have actually met the mysterious Mr. and Mrs. Owens. Matters quickly take a turn for the sinister when a record plays accusing each guest of a different murder. When the guests begin dying in increasingly violent ways it becomes undeniable that there is at least one killer on the island who may be hiding in the guests’ very midst.
While numerous adaptations have preceded it, the BBC miniseries is particularly notable for its successful merging of period detail and modern grit. The costumes, makeup, and sets immediately draw viewers into an era gone by as viewers settle into lush period detail. Similarly, the expert writing and acting bring viewers into the tormented psyches of both the ill-fated guests and Britain on the verge of the Second World War in a way that makes a stay at Soldier Island equally terrifying for both characters and viewers. Within the series’ first frames the atmosphere evolves from ominous to suspenseful as the guests realize that there is something sinister behind their supposed holiday, and viewers are lured into Christie’s web of murder and intrigue. The script, which refuses to shy away from the violence and vice that permeates the drama, provides the story with a modern edge that keeps viewers engaged in the action and ensures that the classic tale remains both frighteningly fresh and largely faithful to its source material. For a who-done-it that will keep you guessing until its final reveal, there’s none quite like And Then There Were None.
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Agatha Christie’s shadowy world comes to vibrant life thanks to the uniformly excellent work of the cast who aptly portray the dual nature of characters who are not all that they seem. Douglas Booth personifies boyish charm in his role as reckless playboy Anthony Marsden. Miranda Richardson perfectly captures the haughty hypocrisy of morality crusader Emily Brent. Sam Neil aptly portrays both the outward bravado and inner torment of General MacArthur. Toby Stephens captures the toll that fear and guilt have taken upon Doctor Armstrong. Anna Maxwell Martin earns viewers’ sympathy in her role as conflicted maid Mrs. Rogers. Noah Taylor aptly portrays both butler Mr. Rogers’ professional servility and domestic tyranny. Burn Gorman is endlessly engaging as undercover investigator Detective Blore. Charles Dance conveys the world-weariness of Judge Wargrave, who has seen humanity at its worst after decades on the bench. Aiden Turner captures mercenary Philip Lombard’s roguish charm and unrepentant callousness with equal skill. Maeve Dermody portrays secretary Vera Claythorne with an intelligence and depth that leaves viewers unable to look away from her performance.
Part murder mystery and part exploration of human nature at its darkest, And Then There Were None remains one of the greatest thrillers of the stage and screen. Through it’s by turns lavish and ominous visuals the BBC series brings viewers into a society staring into the abyss. The superb writing and acting bring depth to what easily could have been a by-the-numbers mystery, and ensure that even the most modern of viewers will find plenty of thrills. For a mystery that you’ll be dying to unravel look no further than And Then There Were None.
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