And Then There Were None‘s debut last night was perfectly timed. With Downton Abbey having left our TV for the last time last Sunday and game of Thrones still weeks away, there was a gaping hole left this past Sunday that The Walking Dead‘s lack of period costuming gave it no way to fill. Enter the US debut of the Christie classic, which aired last December on the BBC, ready to handsomely steal us away, at least for one Sunday evening, followed by the second half tonight, on, of all things, Lifetime.
Now, before you look askance there there is anything on Lifetime, you should note the channel has attempted to step up its game recently. The channel which was once known as Terrible Fearmongering Movies Based Off The Worst Stereotypes of Our Patriarchal Society in recent years has been Terrible Fearmongering Movies Based Off The Worst Stereotypes of Our Patriarchal Society…and Project Runway. But very recently, Lifetime has attempted to jump aboard the Golden Age of Basic Cable, realizing that said age may in fact be nearly over. They scored big last year with the scathingly satirical UNReal. Now they’ve stepped up again, this time stealing the co-production credit for this miniseries with the BBC (who, in these uncertain charter days needs all the co-producers to share the financial burden with they can find.)
Whereas once this would have been done by the BBC alone, and aired on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery, or in conjunction with HBO, who would then get the first run rights, instead fans of the BBC’s period dramas had to go find Lifetime on the jumble of higher numbered channels and sit through endless commercials for scorned women, murderous cherubs and a dog that licks your nose as a reward for every sit-up you can manage. But perhaps those commercials were not the worst thing–with the original three episodes recut as two two hour movies, the tension needed to be paused, lest someone have a heart attack and screw up the order of those dying on screen.
Despite the arrival of the opening credits feeling abrupt with no Edward Gorey cartoons or Dame Diana Rigg to introduce them, and the aforementioned commercial breaks, this was still a fantastically produced series. Despite the unfortunate original name, And Then There Were None is one of the greatest murder mysteries Christie ever wrote, and she herself adapted it for the stage in 1943. Unfortunately, she felt the need to give it a happy ending, thereby somewhat ruining it–many of the theater and movie versions use this ending as well.
With the second half still to come, I cannot say in this review which of the endings the mini series will use, lest I spoil things. but suffice to say, so far, the nearly all-star cast has been utterly superb. In the “Why isn’t this on HBO” category we have no less than three deceased residents from Game of Thrones‘ Westeros: Charles Dance as Justice Wargrave, Burn Gorman as the Inspector and Noah Taylor as Rogers the Butler. Gorman and Taylor, as the two lower class male characters, have especially stood out–not every production gets the seething class resentment so palatable as part of the culture of terror surrounding the dwindling number of victims.
In the “Why isn’t this on PBS?” category we have Aidan Turner, currently shorn of his trademark Poldark curls as Lombard, the closest thing to a romantic hero to be found, and the one who in the alternate endings turns out to be innocent enough for sparing. So far the miniseries has not played to that, showing him as an unrepentant murderer of native tribesmen, going as far to show him walking out of a village he clearly set on fire, covered with human blood and smoking a cigarette. (Side note: that fact that Turner makes the horrors of colonialism look as hot as he does is no longer legal in the 21st century. Void where prohibited.)
The rest of the cast rounds out with Miranda Richardson as the piously snobbish Emily Brent, the sudden lesbian overtones of the maid of all work she drove to suicide are a new addition I had not seen before, and certainly add to the teeming sexual overtones to many of the murders. Toby Stephens, as the alcoholic doctor who killed a patient on the table is excellent with his projections of his own weaknesses on the women around him. And though Douglas Booth as playboy Marsten, Anna Martin as the housekeeper and Sam Neill as General MacArthur are offed early and often on the island, they all certainly make sure their characters leave an impression.
The only newcomer is Maeve Dermody, as the closest thing to an ingenue heroine, the secretary Vera Claythorne. (An Australian actress, the only thing I can recall seeing her in was a bit part in Miss Fisher.) So far the mini series has not shown her character to be guilty–there has been no flashback memory to belie her claims that the death of the child she was governess to was anything other than an accident…. yet. But then again, we still haven’t seen anything from Justice Wargrave either. I am looking forward to an extra helping of Charles Dance in part two this evening to make up for it.