If you’re looking for murder, hungry carnivorous birds, smouldering looks between attractive people, a guy snorting cocaine while simultaneously smoking a cigarette, evil servants offering suspect food, no phone service, A++ British actors, costumes so flaw free it’s like reading the 1939 September issue, and Aidan Turner wearing just a towel, you’ve come to the right place.
You know the shit’s tight when even the opening credits are jaw-dropping gorgeous. Like a gorgeous short film, the credits deconstruct the same green figurines that feature prominently in the miniseries to build up this replica of Murder Island. Like how PLL’s A is always playing around with broken dolls, right away we’re seeing that this whole scenario is being run by someone who likes to play with human life as a kid might a dollhouse.
I’m fascinated with how depending on how you shoot it, the seashore of the United Kingdom can look either *pull on a fisherman’s sweater and snuggle up cozy* or *dystopian-level bleak and unbearable*. The cinematographers here obviously go for the latter.
This may be a classed-up BBC co-production but it’s also a Lifetime Made For TV Movie which means we get a damaged-yet-beautiful heroine in Vera Claythorne. Hey, girl! Looking good in this intro flashback in your matching crimson lippie and swimsuit. Seriously adoring this swimsuit with its belt and super-flattering waistline and it seems to be knitted? It’s immediately evocative of the late-1930s setting and also right away lets us know that Vera’s able to serve a perfect matte lip even in the middle of a large body of water so she’s not a woman to be underestimated.
Then we jump cut to present day (i.e. 1939) and things couldn’t be more different.
Somehow between the red lipstick water adventure and the present, Vera’s a) given up lipstick, b) taken up smoking, and c) become the sort of unemployed person who hears “A total stranger wants you to join them on a creepy murder island for the weekend” and is like, “Sign me up.”
It does bear noting that Vera’s serving up Peggy Olson-meets-Lady Edith business lady realness in a very 1939 way here. Note the brooch: this is the first if MANY brooches included in this miniseries.
And just how creepy is Murder Island? Oh, just the sort of place that contains a bottomless pit into which you must throw daily sacrifices of raw meat to the carniverous birds. What this miniseries does not explain is: if the birds aren’t fed, do they attack? Or is this like a nature preserve? Or just the everyday subtle influence of Cthulhu?
How does one get to Murder Island? Well, apparently the Hogwarts Express has a side business of murder transport as Vera hitches a ride in the same cabin as another party guest, one Aidan “Poldark” Turner and his 100% smoldery all the time eyes, which sizzle right through her stockings and garters to the extent she switches seats because, I assume, ten more seconds in his presence and she’d be on him like a koala on eucalyptus. I haven’t experienced Aidan Turner in this era of clothing and have to say he does not disappoint. But then again, I’ve always had a weakness for a hot man in a three-piece pinstripe suit.
Also en route is Not!Chuck Bass, who we meet driving erratically (mega-foreshadow there). He may be a 1939 sociopathic dudebro but this bomber jacket is giving me chills. I would not mind at all if everyone returned to dressing in special driving clothes like this, rather than throwing a hoodie over our day-old pyjamas to drive to the 7-11.
In case you weren’t sure Not!Chuck is like patient zero for the affluenza defence, his intro scenes included this precious moment where he was shown snorting cocaine from a tiny spoon AND smoking a cigarette SIMULTANEOUSLY. That is some self-destructive rich white guy multitasking right there.
Along with eight little guests, the island has two little servants who greet Vera and Aidan’s boat by looming overhead like the ghosts of ravens who are also vampires.
I really can’t describe these two any better than we did in our pre-show, as Edward Gorey style servants on holiday from Crimson Peak. Like, these are the housekeeper and butler you hire when you’re literally Dracula and need servants who will scare away any prospective visitors. Mission accomplished, you two.
Spotting these two, all of the guests have a simultaneous moment of clarity. Unfortunately, their boat has already done the smart thing and got the hell away from there, so they’re all stuck.
In the foreground of ths pic is Sam “Jurassic Park” Neill, here playing a retired Army General in Indiana Jones drag. Vera’s throwing down fancy secretary traveling suit realness in a glamorous purple and green number. Behind her in which is Dr. Malpractice Suit, your standard-issue blowhard know-nothing, and bringing up the rear in black is Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones. All the men in this miniseries wear very baggy pants yoinked up to Urkel-level, which was the look in 1939 but can look a little odd to our 2016 eyes, accustomed as we are to guys in extra-low-waisted skinny jeans.
Much like you or I change out of our leggings and tunics after landing, Vera changes out of her traveling ensemble into this buttoned-up blue dress. Add a some hipster glasses put her hair down and this could be a screencap of Jessica Day on New Girl.
This blue dress is such a lovely garment. The back detail includes quasi-angel’s wings on her shoulder blades as well as a neat waist tie. It looks both comfy and classy and not unlike something Kate Middleton might, actually. Sweet art deco lamp in the foreground here, too. No detail was left un-gorgeous in this production.
Vera, as well as the other guests, each find a framed copy of a grisly children’s poem up on their walls. Like all old timey children’s poems, it’s all about death and outlines the manner of death of “ten little soldiers” which: FORESHADOW.
Because the poem’s about ten soldiers who all die, and there are ten guests on the island, and by the way U.N. Owen (their alleged host) is not there almost like that’s not a real person,and the phones don’t work, and over dinner a recording plays that reveals all ten of them are… duh, duh, duh… MURDERERS! At this point, I’m thinking their host is a time-traveling PLL’s A.
Finding out that your own murders were revealed AND that everyone you’ve just met is also a killer freaks everyone out to some extent – other than Not!Chuck, who DGAF in the most spectacular manner, all, “Oh, yeah, I guess I may have driven over two children at some point. Whatevs.” Then he sips his port and DIES OF POISON.
So they’re all like, “What unpleasant business. Oh well, he seemed like a terrible person anyway, stiff upper lip whut whut” UNTIL in the morning they find a similar fate has befallen Evil Mrs. Hughes (just before this, we learned via flashback that she was complicit, along with Evil Mr. Hughes, of murdering their former employer via pillow-smothering).
As Oscar Wilde might say, one death is a tragedy, and two is carelessness. Vera’s starting to get that thousand-mile glazed look again and from now on, she starts wearing her hair a bit looser and her robe a bit more open. Loving her nighttime ensemble, obviously.
This is Dr. Maggie Smith’s Son from earlier, bringing us 1939 man robe fashion for us all. As with the earlier driving attire, I have no problem with a return to men in silk dressing gowns inthe mornings. Fun fact: Toby Stephens, who plays Dr. Armstrong, is the son of the one and only Dame Maggie Smith aka The Dowager Countess of Grantham and now that I’ve said that you can see the resemblance, no?
The island may have a doctor and an army general and a judge and a police officer, but the smartest person on sight is clearly ex-governess/secretary Vera who’s the first to realize the pattern of death matches the children’s poem. This new day look is sort of Kindergarten teacher realness, though her hair is less styled than before. This bow is tied almost too tightly, like she’s trying to retain control over some aspect of her life.
Giving credit where it’s due, the second-smartest person on the island is also the hottest, i.e. Aidan Turner, who we learned both via flashback and his own exposition that he’s a soldier of fortune who’s killed probably lots of people, most recently while while diamond hunting in Africa. He’s also physically incapable of sitting anywhere without throwing one arm out in this Don Draper-type manner. As a big game hunter, he’s the one who clarifies that they’re being hunted. Oh also he brought a gun with him, which I’m sure won’t be important later.
The series of murders sends all of these pretty adult liars into shame spirals, as they each start hallucinating the ghosts of their victims like it’s Crimson Peak in here. Sam Neill, retired Army dude, takes his PTSD murderer guilt off to sit on the edge of the carnivorous bird death pit which: NOT THE BEST CHOICE OF LOCATION, SAM.
Vera spends some lady time with the only other not-yet-murdered woman, who unfortunately is a psychotic repressed lesbian played by Is She Seriously Not A Dame Yet Miranda Richardson who spills the beans via flashback on how she passive-aggressively caused the death of her unwed pregnant ward who she was secretly lusting after. At this point, surrounded by murderers as she is, Vera’s like, “Meh, I’ve heard and/or done worse.” Loving Vera’s shoes here, sort of a Miz Mooz vibe. Oh, and in the background is not another dead body, I think that’s just Tywin Lannister catching some rays.
Post lady murderer bonding, Miranda spots the carniverous birds circling the death pit but as we all know, they were given their daily sacrifice earlier, so what fresh meat are they circling?? Sidenote: Miranda may be an evil repressed lesbian murderess but damn can she wear a brooch and a pattern.
Oh and if you had “Sam Neill in the death pit with a telescope” in the murder pool, you’ve just won $10 but also: that’s a pretty ridic office pool because anyone with Wikipedia access can figure out who dies in what order.
Three deaths is apparently Vera’s murder tippingn point, particularly as it’s become obvious the killer has to be one of the remaining survivors. So she charges out into the open waters to try and swim away from certain death. Tywin Lannister is like, “Calm down, drama queen. If we all work together maybe we won’t all get murdered, too. Plus I got a hot tip Aidan Turner may be shirtless pretty soon so…” and Vera agrees to come back inside…
… Only to find another dead body! Evil Mr. Carson, in the wood shed, with an ax….
… Followed by Miranda Richardson in the study with a knitting needle. So we’re down to five survivors who, at this point, are so desensitized that they don’t even bother moving the bodies into beds, just stepping over them in the hallways.
The combination of murder, Predator-like being human hunted, and her own PTSD flashbacks has caused Vera to become to unhinged she’s face swapped with Helena Bonham Carter. Check how low her latest neckline is. She’s given up on the prim and proper look and letting her inner goddess shine at this point.
Then, just like in that episode of Community where Annie lost her pen, the five survivors agree to each strip down and let their rooms be searched to find Aidan Turner’s missing gun (oh right, the gun’s gone MYSTERIOUSLY MISSING). While the other men opt for decorum in tightly-tied robes, Aidan’s inner goddess also won’t be restrained and he lets it practically fall off his body.
Vera also makes an interesting outfit choice for this stripdown situation, slipping into her red swimsuit from the flashbacks. It’s notable she packed this along at all on this ostensive business trip, but I always bring a swimsuit on every trip too because you never know. But you guys, this choice is SO INTERESTING. She could have worn her underthings inside her robe but instead she chose the outfit she was wearing the day she MAYBE MURDERED SOMEONE which is also the brightest sexiest color possible.
But Aidan does her one better, doffing his robe in favor or strutting around in a bedsheet wrapped so low on his hips this is well beyond shirtlessness and into V cut territory. In appreciation, Vera slides open her robe to offer a view of her bod.
The sexual tension is INSANE as they’re both shooting off the most smoldery of smoldery looks.
Like even the camera itself wants to maul Aidan at this point. This camera angle is practically up his nose. “MAKE OUT!!!!” screams the entire viewing audience, collectively forgetting we’re in the middle of a murder mystery.
Anyway, the whole gun search operation doesn’t turn up with anything because A has cleverly hidden it INSIDE THIS BEAR RUG. I don’t know, you guys, I feel like if it were me, I’d have looked there but then again, I have the benefit of 75 years’ worth of TV shows, books and movies inspired by this novel. And what’s that the key for? Is the bear’s mouth sort of a safe?
I should mention, throughout everything, we keep jumping back to scenes from Vera’s past to help explain her deal. We know she was a governess for a rich family whose kid died, that she used to wear a lot of red, that she was *lovers* with the uncle of the kid who died, a guy who just so happened to inherit an entire fortune once the kid died. I love the study in contrasts here, as her employer’s in blue and cream in contrast to Vera’s scarlet accessories. Vera’s eternal form definitely has a lower neckline than she was pretending earlier, and the bright colors pop with her coloring. Her employer is srving up Greta Garbo for days and I am here for it.
Deathwatch update: Tywin Lannister is now dead from the gun from the bear rug. This scene was lit really poorly so I’m not sure but it looks like he has spaghetti and/or yarn on his head? He was a judge who wore a wig, England-style, so did the killer put this on as a joke? Or is that meant to be his brain? Not sure. Between his toilet-death on Game of Thrones and this, Charles Dance is building a good resume of humiliating murder scenes.
And then there were four little paranoid survivors, who do what you or I or anyone else would do in this situation: throw down. Not!Chuck’s cocaine and mini spoon are on the scene, as are way too many cigarettes and lots of booze (to drink straight from the bottle, so as to avoid poisoning scenarios, because one of these four is the killer, or so they all think).
Then as is so often the way, drinking and drugs along with the constant threat of gruesome death, off the charts sexual tension and Aidan Turner’s raw sexual magnetism, one thing leads to another…
… and Vera and Aidan Turner hit the express train to the bone zone. Get it, you two.
Their walk-of-shame the next morning is basically a few feet out of the room where they find the body of one of the remaining party guests, not maulted to death by the bear rug as I first thought, but actually stabbed with a knife. The killer was maybe… wearing the rug at the time? In any case, the gun is no longer inside the rug, but back in Aidan’s room. This is good news/bad news. Oh also, Dr. Malpractice Suit is AWOL so they both assume he’s the killer…
… until they find his decomposing corpse either on the cliffs or in the death pit. Way too many cliffs on this island.
Paranoia gets the best of them, as Aidan is convinced there’s someone else on the island hunting them but Vera’s convinced Aidan’s been secretly the killer and then we all remember what channel this is on as as she pulls the Trademark Lifetime Movie Traumatized Woman Holds A Weapon At Her Attacker technique. A Killer Among Us: The Vera Claythorne Story.
She is not messing around, as she quickly fire off every dan bullet in the gun at Aidan, eliminating his hotness from the world. Now there’s no one left who can wear these magenta high-waisted blousy pants and still look hot af. RIP.
Flashback time!! We see Vera, post-drowning-death of her student, practicing her “I did everything I could and am absolutely, one hundred percent, not guilty” speech. But why does she have to practice this speech, if it’s the truth? Oh because IT ISN’T THE TRUTH. SHE FULLY MURDERED A CHILD. Oh and also is weraring a brooch on her… shoulder? To distract the people at the inquest from her obvious lies?
Vera’s sob story convinces the inquest that she wasn’t involved, so she thinks she’s in the clear and can now run off with her now-rich lover. Somehow, despite the lack of color, Flashback Vera still looks so much more lively and sweet than Murder Island Vera. Or at least she is until her lover is like, “Um, despite what the inquest said, you clearly murdered my nephew. Bye Felicia.”
Howdunnit? Well, Vera told l’il Cyril to go for a swim she knew he wasn’t up to, then sat around wasting time as he headed out. She then ran towards the water yelling his name, for show, then slowed down and basically floated around to kill both time AND Cyril, so that it would look like she’d tried to save him. So the opening flashback was of Vera mid-lowkey murder, not just a woman having a relaxing float and Vera is a stone-cold murdered, which maybe we should have realized from minute 1 when we saw this perfect matte lip in the middle of the ocean.
Having now revealed to us that she’s as much a dirtbag as the rest of them, Final Girl Vera heads inside and finds A has left her a convenient noose. She’s ready to hang herself when someone comes through the door…
… Tywin Lannister! His spaghetti-head death was faked! He lured them all out here because he gets off on punishing people, sort of like Dexter! He’s also dying of a brain tumor! Vera tries to convince him to save her and work as partners, but he’s not having it and kicks the chair out from under her after delivering a really stunning villain speech.
And heads downstairs, where he toasts himself, and then somehow shoots himself in such a way that it looks like someone else did it.
And that’s that, you guys. Every single person in this miniseries ended up dead so they leave us with a shot of the only character left, Murder Island itself. I think we all learned a very valuable lesson, which is: don’t murder BUT if you do, don’t accept mysterious invitations from strangers to spend a weekend on murdery islands.