The late writer Agatha Christie is rightfully considered one of the premiere dames of the murder mystery. In her very long writing career, she created two classic detective characters, the Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot and the fussy Miss Marple as well as a slew of fascinating novels, short stories, and plays.
But if you were to stand back and rank entire œuvrer, there are two novels in particular which it seems almost everyone knows: The Hercule Poirot mystery Murder on the Orient Express and the standalone 1939 novel And Then There Were None.
There are many, myself included, who would point to And Then There Were None as Agatha Christie’s best overall novel. The plot is simple yet incredibly intriguing: A group of 8 individuals are invited to Indian Island under different -and they soon realize false- pretenses. There they find two servants, a butler and cook, bringing the total number of people on this distant, wind-swept island to 10.
And that night, they are each accused of different murders.
And that night, the first of them dies.
Followed by another.
The original novel when released had the absolutely terrible name Ten Little Niggers, after the minstrel song. This was very soon changed, both in the title and in the book proper, to Ten Little Indians (not all that much better an alternative!) and settling on And Then There Were None, but the novel retained the Indian motif, with the island the group was on was called Indian Island.
There have been many adaptations of this book, the first being made in 1945…
That movie, IMHO, was delightful but they did change the novel’s rather grim tone and ending to make a much more pleasant “Hollywood” ending.
There have been other adaptations of the novel over the years and in 2015 the BBC made a mini-series adaptation, which is the focus of this review. Here’s the mini-series’ trailer:
I picked this up a while back and, like so many things, had it filed away and ready to be seen when I had the time. Over the course of two nights, the family and I watched it, and it was a most curious experience.
First off, the mini-series wisely decided to get rid of the “Indian” motif. Indian Island becomes Soldier Island, and the “Ten Little Indians” poem/song which is the basis for the mystery is changed to “Ten Little Soldiers”, to further remove the original source material from its unfortunate racial overtones.
Watching the series, I was struck by how… dull… the opening was. In fact, it was so laid back that I wondered if it would be any good at all.
However, once the characters were on (ahem) Soldier Island and the murders started, things hummed along. I was totally entranced with the rest of the first part of the series (originally the series was released in 3 one hour parts, but the version I was two parts, each 1 and 1/2 hour long).
After finishing that first part, I was more than eager to watch the second/concluding chapter. I thought it was so damn good, perhaps the very best adaptation of the book I’d seen.
Yeah, the second part, IMHO, was something of a let down.
To be fair, it wasn’t a total disaster, but clearly the screenwriter decided to ventured into new and different areas. There was sex. There was a weird drug sequence. Neither was found in the original novel and, frankly, it didn’t fit in with the movie proper IMHO.
Worse, the ending, which I always felt was the strongest element of the novel (I’ll get to that soon, I’m re-reading the book right now and will offer a review of it presently), was botched in the mini-series.
So my ultimate review of this mini-series goes like this: Starts slow, turns really great, but then ends in a murky, not quite satisfying fashion, IMHO.
It is not the worst adaptation I’ve seen of a novel (in general), but considering how good the story was presented for a while, it hurts to see the screenplay side-roads taken which hurt the overall product.
Still, I’d offer a mild recommendation. The acting is good, the cinematography/scenario is excellent -I absolutely loved Soldier Island’s presentation- and the production in general is first rate.
If only they had stuck with the novel a little more closely and hadn’t gone off on more modernistic -and sadly silly- tangents.
Ah well, it is what it is.