Musings About Music In Film

And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None aired during the Christmas just gone, a three-part adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel of the same name, and met with adoration and acclaim. It's the perfect kind of tale for long, winter evenings. Eight strangers, all of various professions and dubious pasts, are called to the mysterious Soldier Island by a Mr and Mrs Owen. They're tending to by two servants, Thomas and Ethel Rogers, but their hosts are conspicuously absent. All of the guests and staff have been brought there for a reason, but not, perhaps, for the reasons they think. A gramophone record is played, listing each guest and the alleged crime that they committed, immediately setting proverbial cat amongst the pigeons. As time moves on, the first body falls and slowly it becomes apparent that there is someone on the island intent on killing them off one by one.

As a crime writer, Agatha Christie's influence is enormous, but And Then There Were None demonstrates a canny knack for a horror/thriller narrative too. It is one of Christie’s most popular and highly regarded, deviating from her usual formula by taking away the certainty of a detective figure, like Marple or Poirot, to solve the murder. As Sarah Phelps, who adapted the novel for the BBC, observes, “no one is going to come to save [them], absolutely nobody is coming to help or rescue or interpret.” That sense of desolation filters into Phelps’ adaptation and the descent into paranoia that the characters face before their end.

Given how influential this particular work of Christie’s is, Stuart Earl’s score rightfully stays the right side of the screaming strings of a slasher movie with all the elegance of the country house murder mysteries that the author was famous for. What strikes most about Earl’s music is that sense of inevitability that Phelps speaks of; there’s a constant sense of movement from the mystery of their gathering on the island to the slow and macabre reveal that they have been brought here to die. ‘Swan Song’ in particular feels like we’re hurtling towards something terrible with little or no chance to stop it.

‘A Past Remembered’ is a gorgeous and fitting opening, slowly building itself up from an ethereal start to a quick burst of sinister strings at the close, just hinting at the characters’ journey and their ultimate ends. ‘RSVP’ builds on that sense of urgency, layering the violins and their train-track rhythm with the deeper, sweeping notes that finished the previous track. That and ‘Journeys’ are easily the score’s highlight and is as vibrant as it gets. They also happen to be the longer tracks on the album and hint to a more beautiful and expansive score that straddles the fine line between an idyll and a nightmare.

The simple problem with Earl’s music is just that we don’t get enough of it. Whilst it worked startlingly well during the episodes with their similarly fractured and dark visual accompaniments, the score in isolation can be somewhat repetitive. Shorter tracks such as ‘Escalating Dread’ is every bit as generic as it sounds whilst the enigmatic and dreamlike regret ends just as you begin to appreciate the work that it is doing. Those tracks, most under a minute long, are excellent for the short, sharp shocks of a horror, but it feels a little frustrating, particularly with the longer tracks offering up what feels like more complete and thematically relevant works.

That sense of a journey undertaken runs through the listening of the album itself, as you listen to the beautiful scene-setting of the opening tracks, the more visceral and dissatisfying horror of the middle section before returning for the deliciously dark final music. ‘Vera’s Truth’ is a lovely little slice of melancholy before we return to the more expansive sounds of the ‘Conclusion.’ The ‘Credits’ music combines everything about the album into one neat final track; there’s a relentless sense of movement to it, a deep foreboding and a richness, but simply, there’s not enough of it.

And Then There Were None is available now from Silva Screen

-Becky Grace Lea