TV Review: “And Then There Were None”

I’ve been posting nothing but photos everyday for the last three months, it felt like I needed to get back to some posts with more than three words. And the perfect way to do that is to post a review of a TV mini series that hit Lifetime about a month ago.

And Then There Were None is the most recent adaptation of the Agatha Christie book of the same name. (Historical note: actually, before it was called “And Then There Were None”, it went by the more disparaging title of “Ten Little Indians”, which in turn was not the original title. The original title substituted the N-word for “Indians”.) It was commissioned for the 125th birthday of the First Lady of Crime.

If you’re not familiar with the story, if you come to it with no advanced knowledge of the story, then it ends up being an edge of your seat thrill ride. It’s slow moving to be sure, but at no time does the pacing impact the enjoyment of viewing. Rather, it is a slow burn where each scene ratchets up the tension from the scene that came before. The visuals are lush and dark and moody, as if Guillermo del Toro decided to direct a locked room mystery. Despite it being grounded in reality, there are ghosts and phantoms and haunting memories that plague the characters almost as much as the killer does. These manifest as visuals within the series, some of which are truly frightening.

And there is a killer. If you have read the book or seen the stage version, you already know how it ends, though the endings of the book and the stage version differ significantly. I had seen the stage play many years ago when a high school put it on for a summer theater program. It had been so long, I thought I misremembered the ending, but then the killer is revealed, and my memory was vindicated. And yet, even if you know the ending, that knowledge is irrelevant in this version. This version hues closer in tone to the book, and that, plus moody direction and a wonderful cast, are what make this rendition so special. When your cast includes Sam Neill, Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, Toby Stephens, to name a few, you know you’re in for a treat.

That is because the story is all about character. Each one has been lured to an island retreat, only to find they are being hunted for their supposed crimes. Each one must face who they really are and acknowledge their failures before facing down an unknown Grim Reaper. Some of these characters admit their transgressions openly, while others hold on to their secrets to the bitter end. The characters are wonderfully drawn and portrayed by the cast, with most having multiple layers motivating them. There are subtle points to the characters past, hints of homosexual desires for example, and there are not so subtle motives as well. Greed for fame or fortune or fidelity are all on full display. One of the magical things about this version is how it keeps you guessing about the characters, and their pasts, right up to the last moments.

But the true fun comes when the final credits roll, and you back it up to the beginning and start all over again, this time noting all the interactions, hints, and little gestures that betray the characters. I’ve watched it twice already. I’m contemplating a third.

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