And Then There Were None is the finest of all Golden Age detective stories in my opinion- never mind that it lacks a great detective in the mould of Poirot or Marple. Agatha Christie wrote plenty of fine crime stories, but this has been my favourite since I first read it at a tender age. So the question I asked myself when anticipating this evening's first episode of the BBC TV three-part adaptation by Sarah Phelps was - would the TV version do the book justice?
There's been a lot of cunningly contrived publicity in the run-up to this showing which has been designed to generate interest. It has been suggested that Phelps was modernising the story in an inappropriate way, by introducing drug-taking, bad language, and other terribly topical features. Phelps, we were told, had never read any Christie before taking on the task of writing the script. I was rather sceptical about whether the script would prove as shocking as was implied. If you've ever read much Agatha Christie, you will know, for instance, that drug-taking crops up in a good many of her stories. And I devoted a good slice of The Golden Age of Murder to explaining why the perception that Christie's work is "cosy" is feebly inadequate.
The early scenes, which set up the complex mystery, were well done, I thought. This was probably where a less accomplished screenwriter would have found it easiest to mess up. The book supplies plot, dialogue and characters aplenty, but the challenge of creating the right mood at the outset was an important test, and I felt Phelps passed it with flying colours.From then on, the excellent cast, did the work of keeping me glued to the screen. The filming hasn't been done, as far as I can tell, on Christie's beloved Burgh Island, but I kept thinking back to my own trip to Burgh in September, and my brief experience of being cut off from the mainland for a while, due to the heavy seas....
Phelps has quite an interesting approach to pacing the plot developments, and as I'm starting to study the art of scriptwriting myself, it's helpful to see how an expert does it. Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, Aidan Turner and Maeve Dermody (who was excellent in the key role of Vera) were all particularly good, while Noah Taylor and Anna Maxwell Martin made splendidly creepy servants. Two members of the cast have met untimely ends so far. The body count will continue to mount tomorrow night. And I will definitely be watching.