Despite having read almost every Poirot books as a teenager, I never really delved into Agatha Christie’s other novels, so the Boxing Day BBC adaptation seemed like an excellent excuse to read it, and revisit an old favourite author.
It was not what I expected! I’d assumed from the adverts that the BBC adaptation would make it a little darker, as the recent episodes of Poirot have been (seriously – what the hell was going on with Appointment With Death?! What the hell was that evil nun doing there? And the child abuse plot point – that was both horrible and unnecessary. One of my favourite books was slaughtered horribly…just like Mrs Boynton. Except that her own sticky end was a deserved one.) I’m used to what the lovely Louise Wykes described on Twitter as the ‘gentle peril’ of Poirot. I was not prepared for a genuinely chilling crime novel that I couldn’t put down until 2.30am in the morning, after which I couldn’t sleep until about 6.00. As I’m currently judging the CWA Short Story Daggers Award, I hadn’t brought much with me to the in-laws that was especially comforting either…
Eight men and women receive letters from a mysterious UN Owen, inviting them to Soldier Island for various different reasons, from whether mutual friends will also be attending or to work as a secretary. After dinner, a disembodied voice addresses each of them, accusing them, and the married couple serving them, of specific murders. All of them but one denies the charges, arguing that it was an accident, and not something they can be held responsible for – from the judge who sentenced a possibly innocent man to death, to the governess whose charge drowned, the reckless driver who knocked down and killed two children or the surgeon whose patient died on the operating table. Only Philip Lombard openly and remorselessly admits to causing the deaths of 21 natives in East Africa, by abandoning them with no food.
And then one of them dies… It could have been an accident, but then more and more of them are picked off – and each death follows the events of the poem ‘Ten Little Soldiers,’ of which a copy is found hanging in every room. And it becomes increasingly clear that no one is coming to the island to save them.
It’s spinetingling stuff. With each increasingly suspicious death, the tension raises and by the end you could cut it with a knife. The survivors react in the same way you would expect any Agatha Christie characters to react – by making more tea and trying not to lose it. Twists and red herrings are thrown our way, and the final reveal utterly knocked me for six.
I really enjoyed the adaptation – and did my usual explaining to my captivated fellow watchers exactly how it differed from the book (I’m very popular in such situations). Some of the murders and crimes that the characters were indicted for were subtly changed but on the whole, it was a faithful and fantastically cast adaptation. The presence of Aidan Turner as Lombard wearing what appeared to be a handkerchief-sized towel (an actual occurrence, more or less, in the book, though the size of the towel was not specified) was always going to add to the proceedings. Props also go to Charles Dance as a Judge Wargrave and Burn Gorman as William Blore, who despite committing a far worse crime in the adaptation than in the book, delivered a surprisingly moving speech about who would tend his allotment after his death. Never have I felt more emotional about radishes. (It caused my other half to think ‘Oooh, I could go for a good radish right now…’)
Either way, radishes or no radishes, And Then There Were None, with the new and improved title, is Agatha Christie at her best, and the adaptation is definitely worth watching.
Ehem. You’re welcome.