Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is arguably the most famous mystery novel of all time, selling over 100 million copies since its initial publication in 1939. It’s been adapted countless times over the years in many formats, including film, radio, and the stage.
Miraculously, I’ve somehow managed to remain spoiler-free all this time about the final resolution of this story. I knew pretty much the entire plot of Game of Thrones before I watched the HBO series, and someone spoiled the ending of The Sixth Sense for me and I lost the desire to watch it.
But I remained remarkably in the dark about And Then There Were None, and after experiencing this story for the first time, I am incredibly thankful I got to encounter all of this story’s shocking twists and turns as complete surprises.
The 2015 BBC And Then There Were None miniseries is worth watching for the cast alone, which includes such esteemed British thespians as Charles Dance and Sam Neill. I actually first discovered this adaptation from a Facebook ad for a British streaming service called Acorn TV. I spotted actor Aidan Turner, who plays the lead character in one of my favorite period dramas, the remake of Poldark. I thought, “I should watch that miniseries, it looks interesting.”
Although it took me quite a while to get around to actually watching And Then There Were None, I never forgot about it. And when I started my trial of Acorn TV (I’ve been sampling different streaming services each month), And Then There Were None was the first thing I watched.
I’m sure pretty much everybody else besides me already knows the basic plot of this mystery, but just in case, it’s about 10 strangers who receive mysterious invitations to visit a manor on a secluded island. The hosts are suspiciously absent when all the guests arrive, and there’s a general sense of unease about this wild, desolate place.
Then, one of these guests dies abruptly in what is deemed an accident. However, the incident is no longer deemed “an accident” as more guests start to die, one by one. Now everyone is afraid for their lives, and they have no way to get off the island, the boat that dropped them off failing to return as promised.
Is one of the guests killing everyone? Or is there someone else hidden on the island, enacting their revenge? Alliances are quickly formed and quickly broken, as the survivors clamor to figure out who’s behind the murders before it’s too late.
There are plenty of classic murder mysteries out there, so what makes Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None so special? This story is far more than just a simple murder mystery — it’s a tense, magnificently plotted psychological thriller that literally kept me guessing until the final act.
In case you’ve also somehow managed (like me) to remain unspoiled on this story, then stop reading this review right now and go watch it! However, if you’re already familiar with the mystery and want to hear more about this particular adaptation, you’re welcome to forge on ahead. I was so fascinated by this miniseries that I couldn’t help myself from delving into some very spoiler-y thoughts.
As mentioned earlier, I’m not entirely sure how I managed to hear so little about such a famous mystery before I sat down to watch it. But because of my unfamiliarity, watching And Then There Were None was an incredible experience, and I was blown away by this 80-year-old story, which is still just as compelling today.
When I started watching And Then There Were None, I was expecting a straightforward mystery. I was convinced one of the guests was the murderer, but then as more and more people disappeared, I became certain there was someone else hidden on the island.
As it turns out, my first instinct was correct…though certainly not in the way I expected. The murderer turned out to be one of the first guests to “die”: Judge Wargrave, played by Charles Dance. Wargrave actually fakes his own death earlier on in the story, so that no one would expect him of committing the murders.
One of the story’s big twists is that the innocent guests being murdered are actually not so innocent after all. They’ve all done something terrible that they’ve kept hidden away from the world, and they’ve managed to escape the consequences…until now. Wargrave has appointed himself their judge, jury, and executioner, his cruel sense of justice leaving no one alive at the end of this shocking tale.
This twist really threw me, because I expected this story to have a hero: someone who wasn’t guilty of wrongdoing, who would crack the case and save the day. Yet really, everybody on this island is a terrible person, and the miniseries slowly reveals their backstories.
Kudos especially are due to Maeve Dermody’s performance as former governess Vera Claythorne. I really bought Vera’s lie about her tragic backstory, and I believed that she would emerge from this story as the hero. I felt so sympathetic for her and the terror she was experiencing while trapped on the island. It isn’t until the end of the series that you learn about the terrible thing she did to the child formerly in her care — allowing him to drown so her lover could inherit the boy’s estate instead.
I don’t always enjoy stories that are 100% filled with unlikeable characters; it’s nice to have at least one person to root for, who’s trying to do the right thing. However, the performances and the perfectly executed plot twists in this miniseries compelled me from the first scene to the final moments.
And Then There Were None is a spellbinding study of human nature, and a reminder of how easily some people can mask who they really are. It’s also disconcerting to think how many people in our own world escape justice; while And Then There Were None is a fictional story, I know there have been plenty of people throughout history who committed crimes and never had to face the consequences. Our justice system does not always produce justice.
On the flip side, the Judge’s violent, vigilante brand of justice doesn’t feel ethical to the viewer, either. He is also not this story’s hero.
I’ve been thinking about the themes and questions raised by And Then There Were None ever since I finished watching it weeks ago, and it’s always neat to see a story that transcends time and still manages to draw in new viewers years later.
Before I wrap up this review, I do need to mention the complicated history behind Agatha Christie’s original novel. The story has been previously published under an offensive and racist title. (It’s frustrating it ever bore that other name, because “And Then There Were None” is such a good fit for the story. That should have always been the title from the beginning.)
Agatha Christie wrote in a different time, and thankfully, culture has evolved a good deal since 1939. The 2015 BBC adaptation is able to capture the highlights of Christie’s original work, maintaining the story’s historical setting but viewing it through a modern lens.
After watching And Then There Were None, I went back and researched the history of the original novel, because I think it’s important to know where stories come from, and to remember the parts of our history that are not always pleasant.