Enjoying the ongoing adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. What with that, Doctor Who, Meet The Midwife and a Victorian-era Sherlock later this week, it really seems that the BBC have reached Peak BBC this Christmas. Appropriately enough, And Then There Were None is Agatha achieving Peak Christie, with a bunch of disparate strangers trapped together in an old dark house (which, in turn, is located on a remote island). Soon, people start getting murdered, and it’s only a matter of time (and, literally, a process of elimination) before the murderer is revealed, by which time it’s far too late anyway. It’s a device that I used myself for Four Play, although I had to rely on somewhat more contrived reasons to keep everyone in the same house.
Sarah Phelps has done a spectacular job of adapting the story, smartly keeping everything drenched in the Christie mythos, while allowing the characters to break free into relative realism as much as possible. So, while everyone speaks with a stiff, buttoned up manner in polite company (at least, before people start getting bumped off), as soon as the genders are divided – the men wandering off for cigars and war stories – their language becomes a lot more loose and louche. Not only does it add to the realism, but once you understand that each character is themselves presenting a character, it immediately makes everyone more suspect.
I first read And Then There Were None about ten years ago, and haven’t returned to it since. That means that while I remember the central clever rug pull that Christie delivers at the end and could essentially spoil the ending if I wanted to, I can’t recall a certain fine detail that’s fairly important, so I’m going into episode three fairly blind, enjoying the ride as things (and bodies) fall into place. What I do remember is that there are two different versions of the story. At least, I think there are, I’m deliberately not checking the facts on Wikipedia so that I can retain my slight levels of plot blindness for as long as possible. But my recollection is that there is one ending for the novel, which is smart, fiendish, and a stage version, which – well, isn’t. If memory serves, the play is also by Christie, but cheats and fumbles the ending. It’s an understandable and even forgivable fudge – the writer of a novel has a lot more freedom: the author can dictate their voice over proceedings, and alert your attention in particular places. A playwright is (generally) limited to what characters are saying out loud. That’s not always true for every play, but it certainly tends to be the case in a genre that by its very nature is propelled by exposition (‘you may be wondering why I have gathered you all here’).
So on screen, it would appear that the stage (but clumsy) version would be the way to go. But Phelps’ version so far has been so witty and smart, I have every faith that she’ll stand on the shoulders of the original novel, and deliver the ending that is clever, breathtaking – and frankly, bloody cheeky.