Saturday, March 19, 2016

And Then There Were None

I'll start with a spoiler-free review, and probably add a spoiler section at the end. If you don't know this story it is not one you want to have spoiled -- and in fact I would even recommend reading the book before watching any film adaptations. Because, as we all know, the book is always better. However, this new three-hour BBC miniseries comes magnificently close.

Ten little Soldier Boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.

Ten people are invited to a mansion on a tiny island, where they are then killed off one by one in a manner dictated by a children's poem that hangs in every room. Starring in alphabetical order: , , , , , , , , , and .

The only other film version of this I've seen is the 1945 one, which was really quite disappointing by having neither a tone nor even a plot that was accurate to the novel. This one was the first adaptation in quite a while, and being made in modern times, it was practically guaranteed to have the right amount of darkness in its tone, and also boasts an absolutely fantastic cast. Even the characters that die first have big names to them, and are characterized so well that when they suddenly die you honestly feel like it was before their time.

Nine little Soldier Boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.

The run time was around three hours, and in the first half-hour to hour, the film gets off to a very slow start. I was impatient for the murdering to get going, and once it did things picked up pretty well and started a nice slow-build to the end, but before that it didn't sit right. I'm all for movies taking their time to set up properly, but here it felt like the film was actively stalling and trying to wait as long as possible to start the bloodbath. Later, the plodding, smoothly moving pace creates some quite thrilling suspense, but it should have started with more of a beat.

That is one of two problems that actually dampened my watching experience, but the second is spoiler-y, so I'll get to it later. One thing that annoyed me a little but didn't hinder any enjoyment was that any sexuality in the story was amped up and squeezed in because you-know-you-gotta-have-that-stuff! All was kept at a PG-13 level though, and with a quick tap of the remote they were skipped with no harm done. Still, I reserve the right to be annoyed. People just don't seem to understand that Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None was actually one-hundred percent perfect exactly the way it is, and that the best way to adapt it would be to translate it to the different medium as exactly as possible and resist the temptation to add one's own "spin" or anything else.

Eight little Soldier Boys traveling in Devon;
One said he'd stay there and then there were seven.

This adaptation ultimately flounders while trying to add its own spin but succeeds in being the best adaptation yet by attempting to add or change the least amount of things. It smartly takes most of its cues from the novel, and expertly plays the chilling terror of this mystery. It is gruesomely violent on occasion and is always giving off a feeling of dread as it slowly and methodically goes through its horrible checklist. The cast delivers spectacularly with many poignant performances, and whenever the script remains in the adaptation area, it does its job beautifully. I almost wish it were shorter, and had less of a "period drama" feel to it, because it takes a little patience and a certain amount of interest to actually watch it, but for me it was easy -- even with the overlong beginning. It's not perfect, but it's flaws you can count on one hand and I am happy to consider it the current (and first) definitive film adaptation of Christie's masterpiece.

Seven little Soldier Boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.

Six little Soldier Boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.

Spoiler Warning! (From here to the end.)
And now on to some points that involve spoilers. First of all, a little more on the cast: Douglas Booth impressed me with his short-lived character, as did Anna Maxwell Martin in her nearly unrecognizable and creepy role. They, and then Sam Neill, Noah Taylor and Miranda Richarson were the first half to go, and while each of their characters were fully developed, the remaining five were doubly so. Toby Stevens' Doctor and Burn Gorman's Inspector Blore defined their characters so well, while in the book they never stood out to me. The characters that did stand out in the book where Vera (Maeve Dermody) and Lumbard (Aiden Turner) and they were the two I was most excited to see. And another whose performance I was highly anticipating, Charles Dance, did impress effortlessly and coolly -- when he was able that is -- sadly his character was involved this show's worst failing.

Five little Soldier Boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.

Four little Soldier Boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.

Turner was Lumbard down to the bone -- ideal casting. Dermody was the only actor in the show I'd never seen before, and she impressed me right along with the rest of them. And I liked that these two were given more attention overall; so we could get even more attached to them before they died. The scene on the beach when they are down to two and Vera shoots Lumbard was my favorite part of the book, and I was thrilled by how it played out here. So intense, terrifying and tragic; it was spot-on perfection, and the highlight of the whole production. After that Vera is supposed to go back to her room, find a noose waiting for her, and willingly hang herself. The book then gave us an epilogue to explain everything. But that's where this adaptation made its biggest blunder.

Here, instead, Justice Wargrave reveals himself to Vera once she's alone and explains his whole plot to her -- villainous monologue style -- effectively bringing the story to a screeching halt mere seconds before the end of the climax. It totally destroys the pacing that was up until then very tight and brilliantly effective, just so that there wouldn't have to be an anticlimax in order to explain everything. After he finishes his monologue the pace isn't able to get up to speed enough before the end and therefore the end doesn't have to power it should have had. Instead it was rather confused and sadly disappointing compared to what I was expecting after the previously mention magnificent highlight on the beach.

Two little Soldier Boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.

That final flaw being so close at the end makes it stick in my mind and put a pretty large damper on the whole production, but when I remember everything else, it's flaws are in such a small percentage of the show that it doesn't seem fair to judge it all only on my disappointed last impression. I want to re-watch it soon, in the hope that my adjusted expectations in some places might help my overall impression be more evenly positive. Right now, I completely adored some of it, and actually despise other parts. The cast was flawless, and the characterization wonderful. The violence level was exactly where I was hoping it would be. And the tone was somberly rich and thrilling, and even legitimately scary. Not cheap horror-jump-scares, but real, chilling fear.

One little Soldier Boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.

And considering it all, all the flaws I saw where just things that lightened the fear and the darkness, or made the disturbing, sobering side of the story less hard-hitting. I suppose it's hard to create and develop characters so well only to kill them off with no resolution, abruptly and heartlessly. And I suppose that the fact that no one can do it with as much resolve as this story's original creator even making an adaptation speaks quite powerfully to why Agatha Christie is the one who is called the "Queen of Crime." You can rise to some pretty impressive heights and still not even hope to match her.

4 comments:

  1. I watched a film adaptation of this and I loved mysteries, especially Agatha Christie ones, so I need to watch this! So, I'm curious, where did you watch this? Was it on streaming or TV? I didn't read the entire review because of spoilers, but you got me excited to see it!

    -James

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I saw it on TV -- on Lifetime, which was it's American premiere. I'm not sure where or if it's available now. It may take a bit to be released on streaming or DVD or whatever. I hope you can find it! I imagine you'd enjoy it. :)

      Delete
  2. Sounds like you really liked this one too, Sarah! I'm surprised I enjoyed (or maybe that's not the right word) it as much as I did. But it's such a magnificent production that I couldn't help but be drawn into its amazingness! The story, the cast (ALL BRILLIANT, even the newcomer who played Vera) and setting were all chilling in such a creepy way that I couldn't help but find this one an amazingly good production.

    Great review - and YES, this --> and in fact I would even recommend reading the book before watching any film adaptations. Because, as we all know, the book is always better. However, this new three-hour BBC miniseries comes magnificently close. Or at least I would think so because everything BBC does is amazing (and I've not read the novel).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did, even though that one thing at the end really bothered me. It did do an amazing job at creating an involving and exciting tone, and some parts were absolute perfection. :D You should read the book sometime! It's brilliant, and pretty short too, so it's not at all daunting. Thanks for reading Rissi! :)

      Delete