Last week the BBC aired a new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, her classic novel about ten strangers trapped on an island with a murderer. The three episode miniseries was quite engrossing, and interesting because of how it managed to quite faithful to the text (the 1939 setting is kept, for example), yet be quite different too. I noticed that the British press liked to call the miniseries “atmospheric,” but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
The basic approach the makers of And Then There Were None took is to make a 1990’s horror movie out of the material. Of course, the original novel is a direct ancestor of the slasher film genre, so to some extent this series is just paying the favor back. But if your biggest problem with Agatha Christie is that she didn’t write enough gory disembowelments or psycho-sexual subplots, this is the adaptation for you.
I’ll give an example. One of the people trapped on the island is the spinster Ms. Brent. Like everyone on the island she was apparently responsible for someone’s death, and the unseen host on island threatens retribution. In Brent’s case she had a young maid who became pregnant, and because of her extreme Catholic beliefs she threw the maid out on to the street. The maid, with nowhere to go, drowned herself.
In this new version a flashback makes it clear that besides being motivated by her rigid religious beliefs, Ms. Brent (Miranda Richardson) is also a self-hating lesbian who was attracted to the maid. And the maid kills herself by jumping in front of a train, leading to a shock scene where Brent imagines she sees the maid’s mangled ghost while she prays.
It’s amazing how contemporary a story can feel when adapted well. The ending of the miniseries, while largely the same as the original novel (something that can’t be said of most adaptations, including the play Christie herself wrote), does restructure things a bit so that the killer gets a chance to explain his whole plan onscreen. When he does the series makes a skillful comparison between the novel written 75 years and certain modern reality TV shows. It’s fun stuff.