A Locked Room Mystery to the 10th Degree

I decided to read And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie after seeing the BBC miniseries on Lifetime. I’m always interested in the choices made to adapt a book into a different medium.

The basic premise is that ten strangers are invited to an island under different pretenses and shortly after dinner are accused of crimes via gramophone. Once they realize they are stuck on the island and are being picked off one by one, they begin to doubt each other, make alliances, break them – all while trying to stay alive.

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There are a handful of changes made for the miniseries, most of which made sense to me.

(Note that to talk about some of the adaptations, I’ll spoil some details but not the big reveal.)

The types of crimes

The book focuses on murders of a more passive sort – a lack of action instead of an overt act. The miniseries tweaks some of the crimes so that the individuals actively participate in the murders.

In the book the General sends his wife’s lover on a mission that everyone knows will end in his death. In the miniseries, the General attacks and kills the man.

Lombard leaves African natives to starve in the book but the miniseries shows a flashback of Lombard bloody and running toward the screen with a weapon raised, the implication being a slaughter instead of abandonment to certain death.

The book has ex-detective Blore knowingly perjure himself to send a man to jail where he dies. The miniseries has him beating a man to death in a jail cell, among other possible violations to the man.

Mr. and Mrs. Rogers smother a former employer in the miniseries – well, Mr. Rogers does and Mrs. Rogers stays quiet. In the book, the old woman needs medicine to keep her alive and she dies when the Rogers withhold it.

I didn’t expect the book to have such different types of crimes. It makes the underlying theme of the novel more apparent. Not all crimes can be punished under the law. But should they still be punished? If so, how?

The miniseries makes it clear that these people have ‘gotten away’ with murders, as opposed to eluding justice through the vagueness of the crimes which makes them unable to be proven.

Don’t trust anyone – except Poldark

Due to the nature of the medium, Christie is able to get in the heads of all her characters. The book is in third person but revolves from character to character in lots of shorter sections. We get to hear the thoughts as they begin to doubt each other and fear each other. We see them reliving their crimes through memories or trying to subdue the memories.

This sort of internal dialogue is impossible on screen. Dialogue is added in the form of fights that demonstrate the growing distrust. Scenes with two characters at a time show attempts at alliances that appear in the book through thoughts and choices.

An interesting alliance that sort of appears in the book but is created in a big way in the miniseries is between Lombard and Vera Claythorne, a former governess. The book has them deciding to trust each other. The miniseries has them attracted to each other, so much so they decide to lock themselves in a room one night for ‘protection’. I’ll leave it at that.

Aside from the fact that Lombard is as sexy as Poldark so you want to see him make out with someone, I’m not sure why the miniseries added that element to their relationship. It’s also like the crazy scene with a handful of survivors going nuts and drinking and snorting cocaine and dancing, probably a demonstration of their stress and attempts to feel and stay alive. Nothing like that in the novel. But again . . . Poldark, so, I get it.

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A protagonist

In the novel, there is no protagonist. People are dying left, right and center, and the changing points of view keep all remaining characters important.

The miniseries chose to spend most of the time with Vera Claythorne. She isn’t nearly as hysterical as in the book so is able to take the audience along for the ride. She discovers the creepy disappearance of the figurines on the dining room table as each guest is killed. She’s not quite a full-on protagonist in the miniseries but making her a more active character provides a through-line for us to follow.

Addressing the epilogue

The miniseries folds in the epilogue into a tense and stressful final scene. It’s great and answers all the questions, just like the epilogue in the book. That’s all I’ll say about that.

 

And Then There Were None is an excellent introduction to a reader who hasn’t encountered Agatha Christie before. Many of her novels are locked room mysteries but this story takes that premise and expands it to a locked house/stuck on an island with no way off mystery. While the style may take some getting used to (no simple “he said” at the end of a dialogue line here; Christie often leads with “So and so said” and tosses in an adverb), the writing is tight and tense as it flips from one character’s point of view to another.

And if you’re not so much into books, watch the miniseries. It’s terrific and Aidan Turner wears nothing but a towel for a while. I’ll leave you with that. Enjoy.

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3 thoughts on “A Locked Room Mystery to the 10th Degree

  1. Well that final image was certainly nice. Great point about the book crimes being outside the reach of legal remonstration. Makes for a different feeling story and morality.

    A summer school teacher read this aloud to our class one year…between 7th & 8th grades I think. We may have watched the black and white film as well. And I checked it out from the library to read for myself. I remember it being my introduction to the concept/trope of “red herring.” Curious that a new miniseries was made…sometimes it’s not clear what about the current moment, if anything, inspires these dips back into the “classics” well. Or perhaps Christie is one of those authors whose stories are evergreen, at least for a while.

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    • Interesting book to read in middle school. Nothing untoward so it wouldn’t be inappropriate but I don’t recall any of my teachers picking something as interesting as a mystery.

      I feel like each generation often needs its own version of something. I see this a lot with BBC series. There are numerous version of the same Austen or Bronte book. Even Poldark, which I referenced above, was previously a miniseries, maybe in the 70’s? Sometimes a particular theme stands out as timely. Sometimes I think it’s just about revisiting an old favorite.

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      • Excellent point. Some stories seem to especially lend themselves to reinterpretation. And we as a culture of entertainment-based storytellers seem to have an irrepressible urge to find ourselves in them, hence the need for remakes. We’re such a reflexive culture…hm…you’ve given me a lot to think on. Parson me while I meaner down this rabbit hole…

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