If Agatha Christie is the queen of mystery, she is also the repeated victim of theatrical adaptations.
I’m sure like many of you here, I’m a big Agatha Christie fan. Her work reminds me a lot of Edgar Allen Poe, of whom I am also a big fan. I enjoy the deceptively simple set up of Christie’s mysteries that inevitably leave you scratching your head.
Take Murder on the Orient Express. A man is murdered in his train compartment, but at the supposed time of death, he was alone. Seems impossibly simple, right?
Put this against The Purloined Letter by Poe. The object of the story is a letter being used for blackmail and the question in regards to its whereabouts. I don’t do spoilers here, so you’ll need to check out that short story for yourself, but I’ll give you a hint. The solution is simple as well.
But back to Christie –
And Then There Were None
This mystery novel was first published in 1939 in the UK under a title which is rather controversial in today’s world. So I’ll just link to it so you can see it for yourself. It’s interesting because the novel was reprinted from 1964-1986 under a different controversial name. But for the most part in this US, this mystery book has been known as And Then There Were None, based on the last words of the popular poem on which the plot is draped.
The poem is a nursery rhyme that has been adapted over time to use different words such as Indians. But the adaptations largely use the poem that substitutes Indians with soldiers. You can see a version of it here.
Ten strangers are lured to an island home off the coast of Devon by a mystery man that each of them know only as U.N. Owen. Each are brought under different false pretenses, and once assembled are excused of murder through a recording on a record. One by one the individuals are murdered as atonement for their misdeeds.
It’s a great book. Definitely read it. But what I want to touch on today are the theatrical adaptations.
The Theatrical Adaptations
I’m always curious to see how a book might be adapted into a movie or television show because a visual medium is so different from a written one. For instance, I’m curious to see how Eleanor Oliphant will be adapted because so much occurs in the character’s mind.
And Then There Were None has had several theatrical adaptations, and the reason I say Christie is the victim of adaptations is that none of these productions keep the original ending from the book.
That is until now.
In 2015, the marvelous people at the BBC distributed an adaptation by Mammoth Screen/Agatha Christie Productions/Acorn Productions/A&E Networks that keeps the original novel’s ending!
As a fangirl, this was better than a book sale when I discovered this mystery miniseries. (It recently aired on PBS in the US in case you missed it!)
Now I don’t do spoilers, so I’m not going to say what happens at the end that makes me tickled pink about this miniseries, but I will say this.
The novel has a richly DARK ending. Far too dark for a visual medium at the time the book was published so you won’t see it in the earlier adaptations for television or film. (If you’re looking for an example, I recommend the 1965 version directed by George Pollock.) A writer on the 2015 production was said to have spoken about this dark ending because it’s so unlike Christie’s other works. Poirot or Marple (Christie’s most famous characters arguably) are always there in the end to interpret and save the day. Not so here. This story is disturbingly without redemption.
Now I just praised this adaptation for sticking to the script, right?
Well, I’m also going to praise it for WILDY DEVIATING from the script.
This miniseries is thick with character building. In the book, you learn what each person is accused of, but there’s either an explanation that pardons them from their crime or they, in fact, just didn’t do it. We never learn much else about them. In this miniseries, not so much. These characters are EVIL, and I LOVED it. The adaptation never faltered from the guilty sentences placed on these doomed individuals, and it made it that more exciting. Their backstories were told through gripping, startling scenes until you could taste their guilt.
Yes, I loved this theatrical adaptation, and yes, I think the book can in many ways always be better, but To Kill a Mockingbird has taught me to say the book isn’t ALWAYS better. Sometimes it’s just different.
Have you seen an adaptation of And Then There Were None?
Tell us what you thought about it in the comments – but please, no spoilers!