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: agathachristie.com

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

Secret State starring Gabriel Byrne PREVIEW

Chaos – Deputy Prime Minister Dawkins (Gabriel Byrne) inspects the damage. Pics C4

Rating: ★★★★

Channel 4: starts Wednesday, 7 November, 10pm

Story: Deputy Prime Minister Tom Dawkins vows to take on the American petrochemical company PetroFex after a devastating accident on British soil. But an array of clandestine powers are ranged against him.

This is a juicy conspiracy drama for these days of official cock-ups, cover-ups and corporations ganging-up on the rest of us.

It’s the second time C4 have made a version of British politician Chris Mullin’s novel A Very British Coup – the first being shown in 1988 with Ray McAnally – but our dread of what goes on in the corridors of power and commerce has rarely been sharper.

In this new version there’s another Irishman playing the man in Number 10 – Gabriel Byrne. He is deputy Prime Minister Tom Dawkins, who’s left with a crisis when an exposion at a petrol plant owned by a US company kills several people in Teesside and devastates a community.

Dawkins and his rivals, Ros Yelland (left) and FelixDurrell

The Prime Minister is killed
When his boss, the Prime Minister, is then killed in a plane crash while returning from America where he’s been meeting the PetroFex honchos, safe-pair-of-hands Dawkins becomes temporary PM. That is, until one of the two government velociraptors – Felix Durrell or Ros Yelland – can slug it out in a leadership contest.

This pair waste no time elbowing their way to power, with Ros not exactly breaking down in grief at the PM’s demise – ‘He’s dead. We would have had to replace him anyway after he lost the election.’

The plot thickens nicely as Dawkins balances between these two while at the same time becoming aware that there is a whiff of scandal behind the tragic events, largely thanks to the efforts of journalist Ellis Kane.

The Americans ask GCHQ to bug a journalist
Was the plane the Prime Minister was travelling on, owned by PetroFex, hit by terrorists, or sabotaged by other interests? Why is the pathologist, who’s found toxicity in the bodies of blast victims, being blocked in his work? Why have the Americans asked GCHQ to monitor the journalist’s mobile phone?

A dark, menacing mood of unseen forces pervades the opening episode (of four). And a terrific cast plays up the shifty-eyed, duplicitous potential of the story for all it’s worth.

Gabriel Byrne is definitely star of the show as the establishment’s odd man out with his shred of integrity still in tact. He’s certainly an actor with an adventurous past (Miller’s Crossing, The Usual Suspects, In Treatment) and a fascinating future (the Beeb’s new detective series Quirke).

Investigative reporter Ellis Kane (Gina McKee)

Gina McKee, Charles Dance and Rupert Graves
Charles Dance’s baleful glances are perfect for the chief whip, while Rupert Graves is a shit once again as Felix. Gina McKee is the journo and Ruth Negga is the GCHQ analyst with a birds-eye view of what’s going on.

A slight criticism is that the politicians are a little too grotesque at times, with Felix Durrell and Ros Yelland resembling Alan B’Stard more than real life forked-tongue public servants.

But Secret State is engrossing and intelligent. Executive producer Jason Newmark explains why he and director Ed Fraiman thought Chris Mullin’s novel was ripe for an update: ‘The original novel was set in the 80s against the backdrop of Cold War tensions, and the thriller played upon the perceived Soviet threat to Britain as a reason for the establishment’s corruption of democracy.

Threats to democacy
‘In contemporary Britain such a stark paradigm no longer exists, but there are other, more hidden ways in which democracy is compromised. We retained the bones of the story of the original novel, but focused our thriller on the latent power of the military-industrial complex and global corporate capitalism as new threats to democracy.’

Conspiracy theory or not, in the light of the banking meltdown, Hillsborough and the expenses scandal, who’s to say the powers that be would never behave with such malevolent self-interest?

Cast: Gabriel Byrne Tom Dawkins, Charles Dance John Hodder, Stephen Dillane Paul Jacob Clark, Don Gayle Lead Journalist, Rupert Graves Felix Durrell, Ralph Ineson Wrigglesworth, Russell Kilmister Nillis Jacobson, Sylvestra Le Touzel Ros Yelland, Anna Madeley Gina Hayes, Gina McKee Ellis Kane, Ruth Negga Agnes Evans, Jamie Sives Lee Foulds, Al Weaver Joss Leyton, Douglas Hodge Anthony Fossett, Nicholas Farrell General Munnery, Michael Gould William Hawley, Kika Markham  Carol Molloy, Lia Williams Laura Duchenne

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