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

Peaky Blinders 2, BBC2, with Cillian Murphy, Helen McCrory, Sam Neill, Tom Hardy PREVIEW

Arthur Shelby (Paul Anderson), Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy), John Shelby (Joe Cole)
Flash mob – Arthur, Tommy and Joe paint London town red. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC2: starts Thursday, 2 October, 9pm  

Story: As the 1920s begin to roar, business is booming for Birmingham’s Peaky Blinders gang. Shelby starts to expand his legal and illegal operations, with sights set on the race tracks of the South. The only problem is, the London Jewish and Italian gangs are in his way…

PEAKY BLINDERS has muscled in on new turf in British television. The Beeb and ITV have rarely ever ventured into the full-blown gangster drama.

Peaky Blinders pub is blown up
Boom town – the new series gets an explosive start

BSkyB gave it a go with a couple of nasty series based on Martina Cole’s novels (Tom Hardy was particularly good in 2009’s The Take), but the mainstream broadcasters have generally stuck with heist jobs (Widows, Inside Men), cop series (The Sweeney, New Tricks, Lewis, Scott & Bailey etc etc), cosies (Poirot, Father Brown), serial killers (The WidowerThe Fall) and whodunits (Broadchurch, Murder on the Home Front).

When they have featured gangsters, such as in C4’s The Fear in 2012, starring Peter Mullan, it’s all a bit small scale. There have been some classic Brit gangster movies, of course – Brighton Rock, The Long Good Friday, Get Carter, Sexy Beast for starters – but TV has largely steered clear.

England’s little-known gangster past

Why is that? While Britain has never had the wild illegality of Prohibition or the industrial scale Gomorrah to see how enormously international the Neapolitan crime empire is), there have been major crime groups here that have somehow never sparked a major TV drama.

Charlie Strong (Ned Dennehy), May Carleton (Charlotte Riley), Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy)
Charlotte Riley is the aristocrat May Carleton

criminality of the Mafia or the Camorra (read Roberto Saviano’s terrifying

Oddly enough, one of the few UK television series to get into gang culture was also set in Peaky Blinders‘ rarely portrayed hometown of Birmingham. The BBC’s Gangsters, starring Maurice Colbourne and Saeed Jaffrey, ran for two series from 1976 and featured the city’s multi-cultural criminal community, along with strong violence and bold storytelling.

But even so, there’s never been a series made here that has leant as heavily on the American gangster tradition as Peaky Blinders does. Creator Steven Knight has drawn on the stories he’d heard as a lad about Birmingham’s post-First World War gangs with razors in the peaks of their flat caps – and conjured up England’s little known gangster past.

Tommy Shelby’s face-off with London’s gangs

This second series has really found its feet, too. The action steps into the 1920s as Tommy Shelby

Aunt Polly Gray (Helen McCrory), Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy)
Tension between Aunt Polly and Tommy

plans to boldly break into the lucrative illegal race-track gambling in the South, currently run by London’s vicious Jewish and Italian gangs.

It’s a brash gamble that Aunt Polly (Helen McCrory) and younger brother John Shelby (Joe Cole) are concerned about. With everything going so well in Brum, why stick their neck out?

In fact, problems are mounting for Tommy in his hometown, with Irish terrorists causing him a lot of grief and Sam Neill’s virtually psychotic Chief Inspector Campbell back gunning for him. All of which makes Tommy’s Southern move particularly risky.

Brum is grittier than Downton Abbey

So many British TV dramas milk a soppy faux past to give the action a vintage feel. Father Brown, WPC 56, Murder on the Home Front, Downton Abbey – all have a period gloss because TV honchos obviously think viewers are seduced by sham history.

Peaky Blinders, in contrast, has soot under its fingernails. Steve Knight takes the history seriously and has pored over old editions of the Birmingham Evening Mail and books about the era to research his story.

It is an absorbing portrait of that time, much as Boardwalk Empire, currently in its last series on Sky Atlantic, is also a fascinating window on Prohibition. The black streets of industrial Birmingham with their blast furnaces and the throb of machinery on the soundtrack create a suitably hellish vision of the city.

Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy)
Big shot – Tom Hardy as gang boss Alfie Solomons

Tom Hardy as gang leader Alfie Solomons

Cillian Murphy is again on good form as the emotionally dead soldier turned gang leader. The sets and the cast are bigger and the raucous soundtrack – everything from Nick Cave to Johnny Cash – is pounding as in series one. The opener finishes with a particularly brutal finale that poses a powder keg of dramatic possibilities for the ensuing episodes.

And with Tom Hardy – superb in Knight’s fine claustrophobic movie Locke and whose casting is a coup for a BBC drama – about to arrive in episode two as gangster Alfie Solomons, Peaky Blinders should become cult viewing this time round.

Cast: Cillian Murphy Thomas Shelby, Sam Neill Chester Campbell, Helen McCrory Aunt Polly, Paul Anderson Arthur Shelby, Joe Cole John Shelby, Charlotte Riley May Carleton, Tom Hardy Alfie Solomons, Noah Taylor Sabini

Check out these links…
Peaky Blinders series one
Peaky Blinders playlists
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