The BBC can always be relied upon to produce the best quality drama, as proven by their most recent effort; a bold adaptation of the best-selling crime novel of all time, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Celebrating the 125th anniversary of the author’s birth, writer Sarah Phelps, who also wrote the BBC adaptation of J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, triumphantly brings the 1939 novel to a new generation.
Shown over three consecutive nights, the drama featured a stellar ensemble cast, including Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, and Sam Neill as ten strangers invited to the secluded Soldier Island by the mysterious Mr U. N. Owen. The tension and paranoia built up as each guest was accused of murder, and justice was served as one-by-one they were killed off until none remained.
This latest adaptation of Christie’s novel was an enjoyably dark drama with a chilling atmosphere, fantastic acting and the perfect amount of tension and intrigue to keep over-indulged or hungover viewers gripped. Yet, Twitter seemed preoccupied with another aspect of the drama entirely, that of the towel-clad wanderings of Philip Lombard, played by heartthrob Aidan Turner, famous for his topless scything scene in the BBC’s recent revamp of Poldark. Twitter users praised the invention of live pause and side-lined the murder mystery to flood the site with their passionate appreciation of the Irish actor, with some tweets equating his performance to a James Bond audition. However, despite impressive Boxing Day viewing figures of 6m, the production had its fair share of critics who found entirely different talking points.
Tabloid Scrooges and Agatha Christie anoraks have condemned the adaptation’s use of ‘inappropriate themes,’ with the Daily Mail deploring the show’s portrayal of ‘drug abuse, gruesome violence and swearing.’ Dr John Curran, a Christie aficionado, expressed alarm at the inclusion of such ‘unnecessary’ and ‘appalling’ behaviour in the mini-series, stating Christie’s enduring appeal is due to her lack of ‘graphic death scenes,’ ‘violence’ and ‘bad language.’ Controversial elements of the series included the use of cocaine by hedonistic playboy Anthony Marston, a drunken revel by the guests and the portrayal of a sexual relationship between Lombard and Vera Claythorne, brilliantly played by Australian actress Maeve Dermody. The fact that none of these elements are explicitly featured in the novel seems to be the reason why this latest adaptation has ruffled the feathers of Christie purists, although they took no issue with other brutal, yet book-faithful, elements of the series. These include the writer’s audacious decision to retain tragic character backstories of teenage pregnancy and child murder and the original bleak ending, rather than succumb to the sanitised story of previous adaptations.
The makers of the show challenged critics by arguing that the changes revealed elements of Christie’s most psychologically complex novel, teasing out a subtext already present within the book to appeal to a younger twenty-first century audience. Executive producer Karen Thrussell comments “I think it’s a very faithful adaptation but we take things a little further in some respects as it is 2015,” whilst director Craig Viveiros says the adaptation is “about turning the idea of a Christie on its head and pushing it forward to a new generation.” The vast majority of viewers expressed their approval of the mystery and high tension created by the production, and early whinging and condemnation seems to have been misplaced. Many viewers were more than happy to see the latest success of the BBC in updating and expanding upon a beloved literary classic.
Ultimately, And Then There Were None was a triumphant success for the BBC this Christmas. It smartly silenced critics whilst simultaneously updating the original novel with a gripping, disturbing and unflinching exploration of morality and brutality. This expansion on Christie’s novel is more befitting of twenty-first century television, viewers of which have by now seen an awful lot worse than some cocaine snorting and a single F-bomb.