A creepy butler looking like a freshly dug-up corpse. Tick.
An even creepier housekeeper with lots of secrets and strange mannerisms? Tick.
A dashing cad? Tick. (Actually, two ticks, both Poldark star Aidan Turner and Douglas Booth fit this particular bill with their characters Philip Lombard and Anthony Marston.)
A retired general (Sam Neil), a retired judge (Charles Dance), an undercover policeman (Burn Gorman) and a mysterious location with a drawing room.
Tick, tick and tick again…
All we didn’t have was some lead piping and someone called Colonel Mustard but I am sure that will come.
The BBC’s Boxing Day treat And Then There Were None was classic Agatha Christie. A story set in 1939 in a mysterious out of the way location (an island off the Devon coast), with all the protagonists getting bumped off one by one in a pattern following a grisly (and in its original form highly politically incorrect) nursery rhyme.
Thankfully that rhyme has been changed. But this is still the kind of story that gets satirised and spoofed when people want to mock this sort of thing. But in the hands of Agatha Christie and the BBC – two institutions which are the real deal – well, no one does it better.
It’s also very well adapted. It’s certainly feels a bit slow (it’s one book stretched out to three hours) but director Craig Viveiros has ramped up the tensions of Sarah Phelps’ subtle and thoughtful script as the protagonists face their fate. It looks incredibly spooky and is laced with atmosphere.
Surprise and shock are also key whodunit tools which were used well and judiciously. The sense of doom is built up brilliantly, the guests taking the boat to the island (you fools!) settling down for drinks and dinner before BAM! A record player blares out the menacing accusation that everyone in the house is suspected of one murder or another. And then the killings begin.
The man who seemed the biggest wrong’un at the beginning – Aidan Turner’s roving-eyed baddie Mr Lombard – actually shone in this moment. At least he admitted his crime (bumping off a few “natives” while orf in Africa – he’s not nice but at least he’s honest) while the others were in various states of denial.
A flashback told us that the sinister-looking butler Thomas Rogers (Noah Taylor) was guilty of killing his old boss to get her inheritance and it wasn’t long before retribution was dealt. His wife, Anna Maxwell Martin’s poor housekeeper Ethel, was dispatched in her bed.
This gave us perhaps the strangest moment of all, a bit of strange Christie kitsch that was both hilarious and chilling.
“She’s been dead for some hours,” intoned Toby Stephens’ dastardly Dr Armstrong to Rogers over the still warm body of his dead wife Ethel the following morning. “I will inform the others not to expect much in the way of breakfast in the circumstances.”
“Breakfast will be provided,” said the sepulchral Rogers, who is clearly not a man to grieve in these situations.
“Good,” said the Doctor.”
Bloody hell. I reckon Armstrong may be next for the chop in episode two if he continues with that kind of narcissistic shizzle. A flashback also suggested that he is guilty of his crime – killing one of his own patients while under the influence of booze.
But (a lesson the dreadful Doctor A could have remembered in the operating theatre all those years ago) it’s important to keep your wits about you in this world – whether you’re a guest in this house or a viewer watching.
I simply have no idea who did this and I am determined to find out. If a test of a good drama is whether you will be wanting to watch episode two then count me in. I can’t wait for the next instalment. This is brilliant. Bravo everyone involved.