And Then There Were None, BBC1

Philip Lombard (AIDEN TURNER), Thomas Rogers (NOAH TAYLOR), Vera Claythorne (MAEVE DERMODY), AJ Marston (DOUGLAS BOOTH), Dr Armstrong (TOBY STEPHENS), Judge Wargrave (CHARLES DANCE), William Blore (BURN GORMAN), Emily Brent (MIRANDA RICHARDSON), General Macarthur (SAM NEILL), Ethel Rogers (ANNA MAXWELL MARTIN)

Guilty looks – Aidan Turner, Noah Taylor, Maeve Dermody, Douglas Booth, Toby Stephens, Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, Burn Gorman, Sam Neill and Anna Maxwell Martin

A star-packed cast gathers for one of Agatha Christie’s best-loved mysteries

★★★½ BBC1, Boxing Day, 9pm

BASED on the Queen of Crime’s bestselling mystery of all time, And Then There Were None gets a handsome showcase and starry cast from the Beeb to ensure this three-parter is a lavish treat for the Christmas holidays.

Agatha Christie’s mystery, recently voted her best by the Crime Writers’ Association, is Christie par excellence with its isolated island setting, a motley band of victims and suspects, and a fiendishy silly denouement.

Programme Name: And Then There Were None - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: ++PURE DRAMA++ ++Publication of this image is strictly embrgoed until 18.01 hours Sunday November 8th 2015+++ Vera Claythorne (MAEVE DERMODY), Philip Lombard (AIDEN TURNER), Dr Armstrong (TOBY STEPHENS), William Blore (BURN GORMAN), Judge Wargrave (CHARLES DANCE), General Macarthur (SAM NEILL), Fred Narracott (CHRISTOPHER HATHERALL) - (C) Mammoth Screen - Photographer: Robert Viglasky

All at sea: The guests on their way to Soldier Island

But this is a beautifully produced mini-series that detracts nicely from the contrived nature of the story with stunning photography, discreet period touches and a terrific score.

For those unfamiliar with the tale, it is 1939 and ten strangers from differing backgrounds are lured to remote Soldier Island off the Devon coast for a get-together by the mysterious Mr and Mrs U N Owen. It’s not long before the guests all realise that none of them has ever met either of the Owens, who are absent from the cut-off island.

Aidan Turner as Lombard

One of the advantages of spreading the story over three episodes is that it unfolds slowly, so that tensions beneath the gentility gradually surface before the mayhem begins.

And Then There Were None - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Behind the scenes on the set of And Then There Were None. Vera Claythorne (MAEVE DERMODY), Philip Lombard (AIDEN TURNER), Judge Wargrave (CHARLES DANCE), General Macarthur (SAM NEILL), William Blore (BURN GORMAN) - (C) Mammoth Screen - Photographer: Robert Viglasky

Behind the scenes: Maeve Dermody, Aidan Turner, Charles Dance, Burn Gorman and Sam Neill filming And Then There Were None

Topping the cast is Aidan Turner, now burdened with the status of Sex God thanks to that shirtless picture of him in Poldark reprinted 40,000 times by the newspapers. He plays the brooding Irishman Lombard here.

Charles Dance is the retired judge Wargrave, Miranda Richardson the snooty, god-fearing spinster Miss Brent, and Sam Neill plays General MacArthur. The strange atmosphere is helped by the odd servants, played by Noah Taylor and Anna Maxwell Martin.

The rest of the shifty-looking characters are performed by Toby Stephens, Maeve Dermody, Douglas Booth and Burn Gorman.

All of which makes it a rich confection of a show – and perfect for Christmas.

See also:

• My recent feature in the Sunday Mirror: The celebrity kidnap that inspired Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express

Spies of Warsaw BBC4 with David Tennant, Janet Montgomery PREVIEW

BBC4's Spies of Warsaw with David Tennant as Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier
Watching the Nazis – Colonel Mercier (David Tennant). Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★ 

BBC4: starts Wednesday, 9 January, 9pm 

Story: It is 1937, and Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier, a decorated soldier from the First World War, is a French military attaché in Warsaw, Poland, while Hitler’s Nazi regime looms over mainland Europe. He leads a double life – embassy official by day, spy by night, with the latter role making him highly distrustful of Germany’s military schemes.

‘Tis the season for spy dramas. Following the excellent Restless on BBC1, sister channel BBC4 keeps up the intrigue with this second wartime espionage story.

It’s a classy, engrossing tale, based on Alan Furst‘s acclaimed novel, and adapted by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who are big fans of the American author’s books. And in David Tennant, a captivating performer whether playing Doctor Who or Hamlet, the two 90-minute films have an actor who is suitably dashing as the decorated French soldier and hero of the story.

BBC4's Spies of Warsaw with Jane Montgomery as Anna Skarbek
Mercier has a complicated romance with Anna

His character, Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier, is a cultural attaché at the French embassy in Warsaw. For a former man of action, the embassy dances and complacency of French diplomats in the face of covert military activity on the Nazi side of the border is frustrating.

Jane Montgomery is Anna Skarbek
By deceiving a German engineer into passing on Nazi tank secrets and by launching his own night-time border raids, Mercier begins to understand that Hitler is getting ready for war – a prospect his diplomat colleagues dismiss.

But there is also romantic intrigue in the shape of a Parisian lawyer for League of Nations called Anna Skarbek, played by Jane Montgomery. She is hitched up with a drunken Russian journalist, and it is not long before Mercier is launching his own covert operation to seduce her.

Mercier is a chevalier, a French knight, and a gentleman, but where the beautiful Skarbek is concerned, needs must. However, it is his sense of honour that pushes him to risk his life to expose the brutal plotting of the Nazis.

David Tennant and Richard Lintern in Spies of Warsaw
Mercier and Colonel Lessard

Mercier is like a pre-war, French James Bond
Period detail is understated, moody and convincing, bringing a period to life when Europe was in a state of apprehension and totally alien to its current-day union, where intrigue and plotting generally take place round the conference table.

Spies of Warsaw is an old-fashioned espionage tale in setting and tone, with Nazi evil-doers in black trilbys and leather overcoats up against Mercier, a pre-war, French James Bond. But it is a nicely complicated drama, with the personal lives of Mercier and Skarbek tangled in the great issues of era.

The cast is full of excellent actors, with Burn Gorman as Mercier’s dismissive embassy colleague, Anton Lesser as Mercier’s German contact, The Killing‘s Ann Eleonora Jorgensen as one of Mercier’s agents, the granite-faced Polish actor Miroslaw Zbrojewicz as Mercier’s sidekick, and Julian Glover as the French general, among others.

David Tennant and Janet Montgomery in Spies of Warsaw
Dangerous love – Mercier and Anna

David Tennant – hero and romantic lead
And David Tennant rounds off the ensemble superbly, looking every inch the French officer while also throwing himself into the action and being romantic lead. Though he makes an excellent spy, his cover as an actor was soon blown in Poland when Polish Doctor Who fans tracked him down for an autograph.

All respect to the current Doctor Who, Matt Smith, but Spies of Warsaw is a reminder of how charismatic a performer Tennant is.

Cast: David Tennant Jean-Francois Mercier, Janet Montgomery Anna Skarbek, Marcin Dorocinski Antoni Pakulski, Ludger Pistor Edvard Uhl, Burn Gorman Jourdain, Ann Eleonora Jorgensen ‘The Countess’ / Olga Musser, Piotr Baumann Maxim Mostov, Miroslaw Zbrojewicz Marek, Ellie Haddington Madame Dupin, Tuppence Middleton Gabrielle, Anton Lesser Doctor Lapp, Adam Godley Julius Halbach, Nicholas Murchie Johannes Elter, Mel Giedroyc Trudl, Richard Lintern Colonel Lessard, Julian Glover General Beauvilliers, Fenella Woolgar Lady Angela Hope, Richard Teversen Roddy Fitzware, Magda Poplawska  Princess Ewa, Jan Pohl Zoller, Rad Kaim August Voss, Linda Bassett Malka Rozen, Alan Corduner Viktor Rozen, Tusse Silberg Helena Skarbek, Julian Harries Duff Cooper

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Martina Cole’s The Runaway, Sky1 – PREVIEW

Newcomer Joanna Vanderham as Cathy. Pics: BSkyB

Rating ★★★★½

Sky1, from Thursday, 31 March, 9pm

Some people read one Martina Cole novel and stop there – the books being too nasty for their taste.

So this brutish new series about London criminals based on one of her blockbusters will not please those folk who like to gaze at the pretty cottages on Midsomer Murders or the 1920s fashions on Marple.

It’s an unflinching take on the world of nasty men, prostitutes, abused women and rotten coppers. If DCI Barnaby or Hercule Poirot stumbled into Cole’s world, they would get a knife across the face, a knee in the balls and flung into the gutter – probably by one of the women.

Jack O’Connell as Eamonn

Cathy and Eamonn are childhood sweethearts, but there’s nothing sweet about their upbringing under the roof of her prostitute mother, Madge (Kierston Wareing), and if anyone has a heart it’s very dark.

Joanna Vanderham
‘I love you, Cathy,’ says Eamonn, played by Jack O’Connell (Skins). ‘I’ll make you happy, I promise,’ he says, before making her cry after crudely taking her virginity. Then he cries, and she forgives him. Everyone hurts the one they love.

Cole’s characters are selfish, cruel, gutsy, contradictory, but somehow believable. ‘I know I’m a shit mother, but I love you,’ says Madge in a typically paradoxical moment.

The world in The Runaway is unsentimental and rough, and if you’ve ever wondered what gangsters and armed robbers are really like, then this seems a plausible portrayal of the criminal breed.

‘You’re going away’
Cathy, played by Joanna Vanderham in her debut role, finds herself in the frame for murdering one of her mother’s vile punters, before a detective played by Burn Gorman (a long way from Lark Rise here) frames someone else for the crime – ‘You’re going away because I’ve made up my mind.’

Keith Allen, Jack O’Connell, Joanna Vanderham, Alan Cumming and Ken Stott

Meanwhile, Eamonn, who we first see spraying another man’s blood round the boxing ring, is making a violent reputation for himself while trying to join the local ‘firm’ run by a badly bewigged Keith Allen. Cathy ends up running away to Soho after being taken into care.

The action is set to shift to their adult lives as the East End kids grow into adults. They are drawn back together and survive in the London underworld of the 70s, before Eamonn eventually flees to New York.

Alan Cumming

I’ve only seen the opener and so missed the return of Alan Cumming in his first British TV role for 15 years, as the transvestite Desrae, who befriends Cathy. Ken Stott will also crop up. On the basis of ep1, The Runaway offers a punch to the solar plexus of TV crime drama that adds something fresh and distinctive.

The Runaway is grittier than most UK crime shows
So many crime dramas these days are either forensic porn, detective-and-sidekick yarns or costume series, such as Inspector George Gently and Marple. It’s shrewd of Sky1 to continue doing something different following last year’s The Take and Thorne. The channel is certainly offering crime drama that is more edgy than the Beeb and ITV.

And it was daring of them to pluck 19-year-old Joanna Vanderham from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama for her first starring role. Despite being called on to play plenty of emotionally charged moments, and the odd nude scene, the debutant comes through with credit. And in case you’re wondering, she’s not a Cockney but a Scot, from Perth.

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