2 January 2016 | l_rawjalaurence
Adept Transformation of a Whodunit into a Gothic Thriller
Others have remarked on the way in which Sarah Phelps's screenplay transforms Agatha Christie's best-selling novel - which has endured a long life as a play, as well as being repeatedly remade for the screen - into a three-hour epic full of thunder and lightning, both meteorological as well as psychological.
In its latest incarnation, the novel works brilliantly as a Gothic thriller that takes the lid off the civilized veneer of a group of Brits (and one Irishmen) and exposes the guilty passions lurking underneath. General John MacArthur (Sam Neill), an ostensible pillar of the community, cannot forget the time during World War One when he shot one of his officers in cold blood for making love to his wife. Emily Brent (Miranda Richardson), a spinster trying to lead a morally pure existence with plenty of prayer at night, willfully contributed to one of her "companions" throwing herself under a train by refusing her assistance during times of need. Dr. Armstrong (Toby Stephens) has been traumatized by the experience of tending to the wounded during World War One, to such an extent that he was guilty of professional negligence after the conflict had ended.
All ten protagonists have similar secrets to conceal; as the drama progresses, directors Basi Akpabio, Rebecca Keane and Craig Viveiros expose every one of them, just like peeling the skin off a pudding. What we discover is that they are all psychologically disturbed in some way; the visual effects such as the thunderstorm, the flashing lights, the rolling waves surrounding the island (on which they are all marooned), and the biting wind, are physical manifestations of their inner turmoil.
Viewed from this perspective, what might seem visually or verbally excessive - for example, Stephens's capacity to overact during times of extreme stress - is entirely justified. This version of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE explores the dark recesses of the human psyche to expose the protagonists' bestial natures. The 1939 setting is significant; in the year the Second World War broke out, everyone begins by behaving complacently, as if believing that their class- conscious attitudes would never alter. By the end, we understand just how precarious British society at that time actually was; few people had ever managed to come to terms with the horrors of the previous war, and the forthcoming conflict would only exacerbate their pain.
Sometimes Phelps's script seems somewhat anachronistic, with attitudes redolent of the contemporary world rather than pre-Second World War society. Yet the decision to adopt this strategy is justified as a means of helping us understand our past, as well as realizing just how difficult, if not impossible, it can be to conceal our sins. A memorable adaptation.