Even if it airs here on Lifetime, BBC One’s And Then There Were None is fantastic, suspenseful mystery
No offense to the network, but when I imagined a Lifetime production of Agatha Christie’s classic novel And Then There Were None, I imagined a cast filled with Jennie Garth’s or the occasional Dean Cain. This new production, airing in the U.S. on Sunday night, stems from BBC One where it aired in a post-Christmas slot.
Happy Christmas, indeed.
And Then There Were None stars Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, Noah Taylor, and others in the adaptation of Christie’s most famous novel. Granted, the modern title is not the original title, but we won’t go into that now. By now, the story is so integral into modern culture that, I imagine, most everyone knows at least the general plot if not the outright ending. A group of seemingly random people are invited by a mysterious benefactor to a weekend on a remote island. One by one, each guest – allegedly (or not) killers all of them – is murdered by an unseen entity, each death predicted by an eerie rhyme made available in each room of the massive estate. “Ten Little Soldiers” illustrates their end, guest by guest.
If I’d ever read the original novel, then I’d long forgotten the ending. By the end of the mini, I’d correctly guessed the circumstances if not the ultimate final killer. Still, in this kind of production, the end result is almost incidental. The brilliance of And Then There Were None is in the journey. Even with a limited palate, the set design and cinematography effectively capture both the beauty of the remote setting as well as setting a foreboding atmosphere, particularly the dramatically photographed storm clouds. Director Craig Viveiros and writer Sarah Phelps (The Casual Vacancy) are clear studies in the world of Agatha Christie. They have done their inspiration proud by paying as much attention to the classy gore.
But ultimately, the mini-series is about the acting, and the playful company expertly runs with the material. MVP in my book goes to Oscar-nominee Miranda Richardson for her memorably odd turn as a racist, judgy Christian woman. Perhaps that’s an easy role to play. Richardson still brings the naturally despicable character a certain grace and dignity. Maeve Dermody, a prolific Australian actress, also excels the pivotal role of Vera Claythorne. She’s in nearly every scene, and she somehow manages to combine a sense of fragility with underpinnings of the femme fatale. It’s a tricky balance, but she pulls it off in a manner that upstages many of the more senior actors. Charles Dance (Game of Thrones), Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), and Noah Taylor (Shine) are all absolutely fine in their roles, as is the rest of the cast. But the two women are the true standouts in my opinion.
And Then There Were None ultimately doesn’t convey much grand meaning or deep theming aside from the social commentary inherited from the novel. It’s a still straightforward murder mystery, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The joy in the production stems from the acting and filmmaking prowess on display. It’s a classic case of talent elevating strong material to something that touches greatness.
Just don’t let that Lifetime placement trick you. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.