|'If this has a touch of Bond about it already, regardless of Aidan Turner's performance, then Maeve Dermody's Vera Claythorne is this film's Vesper Lynd.'|
A miniseries that sees calls for one of its stars to be cast as Bond must be doing something right and so it is with And Then There Were None, which not only has Aidan Turner doing his best audition for Fleming's spy but a whole lot more besides.
A classy and classic piece of Christmas TV programming, And Then There Were None adapts Agatha Christie's novel of the same name. In tested Christie style, the setup is unprepossessing and simple, dispensing with several logical leaps at the wave of a lace handkerchief. Ten strangers are invited to an island by someone they don't know. Quite why all of them agree is left hanging (though some are shown accepting money to travel), and soon several of their number are found if not quite doing the same then being poisoned, bludgeoned and axed. It's a classic locked door mystery: someone on the island, or one of the original ten, is offing the guests one by one. Can the survivors unravel the puzzle before it unravels them?
The approach taken puts new stars front and centre, supporting them with grizzled titans who lend the heft. Sam Neill, Miranda Richardson and Charles Dance are the main three in the latter group, with Turner and Maeve Dermody emerging as the audiences' real points of interest. All are outstanding. Dance, now magnanimously associated with the tyrant Tywin Lannister from Game Of Thrones, is easy to take for granted, but his performance here is so in tune with the wider miniseries (this original run was three one hour episodes: a binge watch for those late to the party will reap significant rewards) that it's difficult to imagine this without him, as well as the earlier seasons of Thrones. Richardson, as ultra-prim Miss Emily Brent, has a ball being the vilest person on the planet in possession of knitting needles and some wool.
The stars though are Turner and Dermody as mercenary Philip Lombard and ex-governess Vera Claythorne. Turner will, rightly, get several of the main notices. Lombard is a compelling anti-hero who rather egregiously gets to appear in just a towel at least once and, when fully dressed, is given a dinner suit. The ingredients for Bond are all here, leaving Turner to pull off simple imperative lines ('don't follow me!') with aplomb; something which he manages without challenge.
Vera though is a much more interesting character and her background is peeled back slowly and ambiguously, where other characters are given forthright treatment. If this has a touch of Bond about it already, regardless of Turner's performance, then she is this film's Vesper Lynd: a complex, three-dimensional female protagonist who only reveals her true form in the closing moments. It's a brave choice by the show's makers, but it works entirely and the final shot of Vera proves both haunting, surprisingly daring for a show which started at 9.05pm on BBC One and challengingly satisfying. That it feels this way gives a clue to the skill of narrative portrayal on show: this is not a straightforward 'good vs bad' story, and your emotions surrounding Vera come the close seek to prove that.
If there are major problems then perhaps the group of reluctant investigators do not make enough headway during the second episode, which seems to tread water for a time. There is also, perhaps, given the moralising setup of the tale, not quite enough of an attempt to drag this into the modern day. Some of the groups' crimes feel thinly motivated and the killer's own motivations, beyond those we already know about, aren't quite clear enough at the close. Some sort of pull towards publicity of fading societal structures and falling empathy could perhaps have elevated And Then There Were None even further.