I’m so pleased this classic murder-mystery did so well (this finale attracted six million viewers last night) because, among other things, it proves that a tasty little thriller like this can still have the same effect on televisual audiences in 2015 than it did to novel-reading audiences in 1939. Which also tells us that, by their nature, human beings don’t change a lot over the years. The same could be said of the characters in this story, too – you would imagine the same levels of stress, anger, paranoia would be exhibited by a group of people if they were subjected to the same situation today.
Over these past two hours of (excellent) television, the original 10 guests and staff have been whittled down to a mere handful. What started out as a jolly weekend away (albeit with strangers) has evolved into a descent into madness and an almost kill-or-be-killed scenario.
We joined the remaining guests going very mad indeed. A lack of sleep and the endless pressure of knowing you could be the next victim of this skilled and relentless hunter made for more suspicion and twitching paranoia (especially from Doc Armstrong and Blore). The two people who seemed to be handling the situation best – Vera and Lombard – decided on a different coping mechanism: at the end of a coke and booze end-of-days party (because coke’s always a good thing to take to calm down paranoia) and with their blood running high, they decided to have a shag.
Before all that we got to hear more about their past lives. Judge Wargrave described how his final convicted murderer smiled at him from the hangman’s noose to taunt him. But, as the Judge rightly said, justice comes to all, eventually. Blore described how he beat the life out of a gay guy who was caught in some men’s toilets. But finally it was Vera’s turn to ‘fess up… or at least get treated to the flashback treatment. As the Judge and, eventually, Blore were picked off in real time, we saw how Vera wove a dangerous web as governess, having an affair with her employer and then letting his nephew swim out to an unsurvivable distance in the sea and staging an effort to save him even though he was dead already. It was a cold, calculating crime, one that was designed and conceived by someone with a singular and psychotic focus. If his nephew were to die, her lover would inherit the lot [Updated: 13:58, 29/12/15].
Whatever her reasons the echoes and memories of her crime were beginning to turn her into a wreck, and even Vera – who’s been relatively cool and calm during this ordeal – was resigned to her fate. And resigned to the idea that the hunter had won; had designed everything to last so perfectly and beautifully. She knew exactly what she had to do, especially after she had shot dead her only friend Lombard on the beach, leaving her the last person standing. It was no use resisting anymore.
We were being led down the Vera-as-killer road but there had to be a final twist. And there was one: as Vera willingly slipped into the noose left in her bedroom, in walked the Judge, who explained (with Vera gasping for breath as her feet barely mad contact with the chair below her) that the final convicted murder smiled at him when he hung not to taunt him but because he recognised a fellow killer. The Judge – with cancer spreading through his body – wanted to feel what it was like to hunt and kill, so why not exercise this need on a group of people who deserved it? Justice comes to all, he said.
He kicked away the chair and let Vera hang. He then went into the dining room, and shot himself in the head. And then there were none.
It was an incredibly bleak ending to what has been a superb, creepy, thrilling and brilliantly staged Christie adaptation. There’s already talk that it could well be the best ever, certainly for a very long time.
But that ending though. We’re so used to seeing someone survive, that when no one makes it through it takes a bit of time to compute. Why? Because it infers that no one can get away with it; no one can escape. Justice and death comes to us all. And that’s a scary concept.
All in all, And Then There Were None was a magnificent piece of television, beautifully and lovingly re-staged with an ensemble cast that acted its socks off (we all know about Charles Dance, Sam Neill, Aidan Turner et al, but relative newcomer Maeve Dermody was a revelation as Vera).
Even though it was a tightly plotted whodunit – or, in this case, who’s-doing-it – the fact that these characters (who had all committed crimes in their pasts) were drawn to a deserted island by a non-existent host immediately made some people (myself included) think that Soldier Island was a metaphor for purgatory; a place in between the living and the dead. This may be the case. It’s interesting to note that these classic crime stories have a philosophical and slightly supernatural element to them, whereas many modern crime stories do not. We saw it in An Inspector Calls and, as it dealt with themes of justice, crime and punishment, we saw it in And Then There Were None, too.
In fact, one eagle-eyed Twitter friend said this:
Perhaps JJ Abrams and his Lost team were fans of Agatha Christie all along…