Those familiar with Agatha Christie know that And Then There Were None is not the original title of this masterpiece of mystery fiction. The elephant in the room is the name under which it was first published: the racially charged Ten Little Niggers, taken from a poem of the same title. As if things couldn't get more uncomfortable, that poem was a variation of the equally politically incorrect rhyme Ten Little Indians.
Not surprisingly, when the book became a play, U.S. audiences and African American newspapers such as the Pittsburgh Courier protested. Ironically, however, the story in no way relies upon or centers on race. The poems - like the novel - catalog the one-by-one loss of a group of ten people, hence the borrowing of the title. Regardless, to counter the easily perceived insensitivity, And Then There Were None became the more socially acceptable appellation of Christie's most ambitious project. The book is today considered the best-selling mystery novel in the world.
While there have been several film adaptations, the BBC aired the first television project based on the novel in December 2015. Shortly thereafter, the three-part miniseries re-aired on America's Lifetime network. The DVD launched spring 2016, and the series will stream on Acorn TV in September 2016.
Screenwriter Sarah Phelps kept the modern remake true to its original 1939 era and sensibility. In fact, the action takes place just weeks before Europe is plunged into World War II. Whether or not Christie meant to create a metaphor for the foreboding felt by the people of Great Britain we cannot guess. That she did is unquestionable.
Although stage productions have introduced new endings, the BBC's And Then There Were None sticks closely to the novel. Ten strangers are invited to the isolated, privately owned Soldier Island - each seemingly requested for specific and personal reasons. They are surprised to learn that their hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Owen, have not yet arrived. The servants, Mr. and Mrs. Rodgers, assure them that the Owens will appear the following morning. Unfortunately, not everyone survives the night. In fact, over the course of several days, the "guests" - one by one - fall victim to gruesome deaths. The finale demonstrates Christie's true genius at plotting and suspense.
Christie admitted that And Then There Were None was her most difficult book to write. There is no Belgian detective to solve and explain the killings; no spinster amateur investigator to wrap the case up in a tidy bow. Instead, the complex plot tosses clues to an audience that must be on its toes to catch them. In the end, few armchair detectives succeed in outwitting Christie.
The cast of And Then There Were None is simply remarkable. Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), Miranda Richardson (Harry Potter films), Charles Dance (Game of Thrones), and Aidan Turner (Being Human, Poldark, The Hobbit Trilogy) are just several of the esteemed actors in the production. Relative newcomer Maeve Dermody is absolutely captivating as Vera Claythorne - particularly astonishing since she only won the role four days before the start of filming.
Almost a cast member itself, the stunning wardrobe is flawlessly illustrative of the decade, especially for the male actors. The high-waisted pants, snug vests and suits, and arrow-straight ties harken perfectly to the 1930s, yet stand in stark contrast to the violence and mayhem happening everywhere on Soldier Island.
Whether you watch it on demand, purchase the DVD (which includes wonderful bonus footage), or wait until it streams on Acorn TV, don't miss And Then There Were None. It is both true to the original yet remarkably fresh in its retelling. It might even lead you back to the novel, of which Agatha Christie was, justifiably, immensely proud.