Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Movie Review: And Then There Were None (2015)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful story, lavish production, fine acting
Cons: Atmosphere and suspicion shots just do not work
The Bottom Line:
Strangers stalked again
Atmosphere slows down story
But still worth watching

A New Take on an Agatha Christie Classic

There are some stories so classic that each generations seems destined to remake them.  One of those is Agatha Christie’s masterpiece And Then There Were None.  The latest version of it was a miniseries released late last year by the BBC.  With almost three hours to tell the story, there is plenty of detail, but it overshadows the story at times.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it is set in 1939 and centers around 10 strangers who have been invited to a house on a remote island by a mysterious couple with the same initials - U. N. Owen.  After dinner, the 10 people are accused of having previously committed murder.  And then one of them drops dead.  The deaths continue, and they follow an old nursery rhyme.  Since they are trapped on the island, can they figure out who the killer is before all of them are murdered?

When done right, it is a creepy, engrossing story with an absolutely fantastic ending.  And I never tire of it.  While it’s been 20 years since I “read” the book (I listened to the audio version), I’ve seen the play multiple times and watched an earlier movie version of it over the years.  Each time, I’m mesmerized by the intricate plotting that takes place here.  Okay, so a few of the things only work out because of an author making them work out, but it is still a completely joy to watch unfold.

So, as you can imagine, I was looking forward to this new version.  It boasts an outstanding cast with the likes of Miranda Richardson, Sam Neill, Aidan Turner, and Anna Maxwell Martin to name but a few.  They all do amazing jobs bringing these characters to life once again.

And, as you can imagine from the earlier comment, I had no issue at all with the plot.  It is the same story I already know and love.  There are actually two endings to the story, both created by Agatha Christie herself.  There’s the ending of the book, and a slightly different ending she created for the play when it was produced a few years later.  I’m not going to giveaway which one this has, I’ll only say it is my favorite.

Likewise, the costumes are magnificent and the setting is lovely.

So what went so horribly wrong?  The need to expand the story to fill three hours just doesn’t work here.  There are lots of shots that are supposed to add atmosphere and create suspense, but they just don’t work.  Instead, they slow things down.  We do get flashbacks to the crimes the characters are accused to having committed, and that part actually works.  This is an important part of the story, and it’s always hard to make it work in a visual media, but I thought it worked brilliantly here.  Likewise, the ending, another tricky thing to handle, came off well.  But the atmosphere and suspense shots?  Pointless and boring.

What’s too bad is that, as the story progresses and the characters get (understandably) more and more paranoid, that doesn’t translate to what we are seeing on the screen.  If they’d spent more time working on that and less time setting up the atmosphere shots early on before the characters know just how much danger they are in, it would have been much better.

Additionally, the additional time could have been used to help develop the characters so we care more when another one meets their untimely end.  A couple of the characters I was actually happy to see die (and that’s fine in a murder mystery, too), but some I felt rather blah about.  I’m not blaming the actors here, but instead blaming the writing and directing that spent more time on visuals over these important mechanics of character development.

The lavish visuals and the wonderful plot make And Then There Were None well worth watching once.  However, it’s not the definitive take on this classic story.  We will have to keep waiting for that.


  1. I enjoyed this one but there were some scenes that felt both rushed and slow. I did like the casting and how they made Phillip Lombard look like the character in the book and not like the romantic hero he frequently gets turned into.

    1. Rushed and slow. That's actually a pretty good description of much of this movie.

  2. I have complicated feelings about this version. REALLY enjoyed the beginning, and I think the cast was first rate. (Huge Charles Dance fan.) But it went off the rails a bit for me. I prefer this ending as well, but even then they mucked around a bit. Agree that it is well worth watching. Movies like this make me want to do Google hangouts with other folks to either rant or rave. Or, as in this case, both.

    1. Of course, I'm not completely sure how to do the ending from the book on screen. For a movie version of the ending, I actually kind of liked it. Then again, it's been so long since I read the book, my take on the book is probably distorted by the play, which I've seen much more recently and frequently.

  3. So what went so horribly wrong? The need to expand the story to fill three hours just doesn’t work here.

    That was "horribly wrong"? Granted, I think the story could have been told in at least two parts. But I don't regard the three hour running time as "horribly wrong".

    I did like the casting and how they made Phillip Lombard look like the character in the book and not like the romantic hero he frequently gets turned into.

    Lombard was still whitewashed to a certain degree. The production removed the character's racism and dumped it on William Blore and Emily Brent.

    1. Those characters are pretty racist as well. None of them are nice people in the original story. But how they have to change the characters around is part of why I have mixed feelings about the play with the happier ending.

    2. They SORT of made Lombard like the book character. Don't get me wrong, Aidan Turner is by far the best representation of Philip Lombard ever to grace an adaptation, but they made him a little too action-heroish for me. Lombard was a force to be reckoned with in Christie's novel, but he had a strong sense of humor throughout the story.

      This was due in large part to the fact that he viewed the situation as a sort of game he had no chance of losing. He never expected "U.N. Owen" to get the best of him. His unflappable demeanor was maintained practically to the very end, and he only got rattled once, after the person he suspected as being the killer was apparently killed. Lombard was a bit more ragged in this filmed version, and a bit more humorless. Still, I can understand the motivation for doing so, as it will certainly be a surprise to the uninformed viewer when his ultimate fate is revealed.

      I've seen every filmed version I can get me hands on, and Desyat Negrityat was my untouchable favorite until this one came along. I do love it. There are a few things I didn't like to see changed, but overall this is the adaptation I've longed to see and I was happy with the results.

      Charles Dance was a fantastic Wargrave, Really, the whole cast was fantastic. The interplay between Burn Gorman and Turner was flawless, and Toby Stephens really stole a lot of scenes as the increasingly-hysterical Armstrong. Maeve Dermody was a lovely, and haunted Vera Claythorne, and knowing how the story shapes out, it was neat to see an actor of the calibre of Sam Neill playing one of the characters who makes an impression, but burns out of the story fairly early.