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.