nursery rhyme that inspired Dame Agatha Christie’s greatest bestseller has gone
through several politically correct facelifts. Currently, it is ten little soldiers
who expire one by one. For years, those soldiers were Indians and we never
speak of what they were before that. The story also evolved when Dame Agatha
wrote a more upbeat ending for her equally successful theatrical adaptation.
Most film versions have followed the stage play, but screenwriter Sarah Phelps went
back to the original novel for a new television miniseries commissioned to
commemorate the 125th anniversary of Christie’s birth. In any event,
ten stranded house guests will be bumped off in an orderly fashion unless they
can figure out who among them is the killer in And Then There Were None (promo here), which premieres
this Sunday on Lifetime.
lot of you already know who the killer is, yet you will watch anyway. Even
knowing the big twists, And Then There
Were None (a.k.a. Ten Little Indians)
continues to fascinate us. It has often been dramatized in film and on-stage
and it has been ripped off even more regularly. It is back again and just as
welcome, thanks to an ensemble of first-class character actors.
premise remains unchanged. Ten strangers are lured to “Soldier Island,” an
isolated isle with spotty ferry service, under a variety of false pretenses. It
turns out their mystery host, “U.N. Owen” (as in unknown) has concluded they
have all unjustly escaped punishment for their own capital crimes, so he
intends to execute them one by one. His judgment also applies to the servants, who
had unknowingly play his prerecorded accusations and thereby launch the murders
that will roughly correspond to the nursey rhyme.
governess Vera Claythorne still does not seem to belong in the company of
killers, such as the unrepentant mercenary, Philip Lombard. At least he readily
cops to the crimes attributed to him. Everyone else maintains their innocence,
at least until panic and cabin fever start to jog loose the truth.
all still works. In fact, the Lifetime/BBC version might just surprise a few
viewers who only know the Hollywood ending. To be completely honest, the two-part,
three-hour running time feels a tad bit padded (the great 1945 and 1965 movies
were both just a smidge over ninety minutes). Most of the flashbacks to the ten
houseguests’ crimes are wholly unnecessary, but they do build dramatic tension rather
effectively in the case of Claythorne.
any case, the cast pulls viewers through those slow patches and really digs
into the meat of Christie’s iconic thriller. Toby Stephens falls to pieces
pretty spectacularly as the unnerved Dr. Edward Armstrong. Noah Taylor and Anna
Maxwell Martin are suitably twitchy as the butler and cook. Aidan Turner broods
and glowers like a champ as Lombard, while Charles Dance portrays Justice
Lawrence Wargrave with elegant gravitas and a withering stare. Sam Neill certainly
looks the part of Gen. John McArthur, but he gets somewhat shortchanged on
screen-time. Maeve Dermody (from Serangoon Road) is relatively okay as Claythorne, but there are times she seems to
problematically fade into the background.
There is a reason Christie’s story has been so enduringly
popular. In some ways, it taps into some of our unspoken frustrations (especially
this one). After The Most Dangerous Game,
it established the other great template of the presumably psychotic madman scrupulously
following his own set of rules. Well worth seeing, especially for (more or less)
incorporating the novel’s arguably superior climax, And Then There Were None begins this Sunday (3/13) and concludes
the following Monday (3/14) on Lifetime.
Labels: Agatha Christie, Anna Maxwell Martin, Charles Dance, Lifetime, Sam Neill