M, 98 minutes
Review by © Jane Freebury
Riffing on Agatha Christie’s work, it has a focus on its a pair of unlikely young coppers rather than the potential victims, and manages a life of its own
Even if the phenomenal success that The Mousetrap has enjoyed is a mystery to us, we have to hand it to the stage play that has broken all records in London’s West End. As the quintessential English whodunnit nears its 70th year in production it doesn’t seem to be about to end its record-breaking run anytime soon.
The Agatha Christie brand doesn’t guarantee box-office success, however. Grandiose adaptations of her work that were directed by Kenneth Branagh have been a mixed success despite the A-list casts and the high production values.
The most recent versions of Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile may have stuck closely to the original, but this breezy new caper, See How They Run, is a riff on Christie’s work that has a life of its own. Written by Mark Chappell and directed by Tom George, both of whom have a television background, it is jaunty, crisp and undeniable fun.
The opening set-up is narrated by Adrien Brody’s bored and dismissive director, Leo Kopernick. Over from Hollywood with hopes of directing a film version of The Mousetrap when it ends its run in the West End, he is attending an event to celebrate the play’s 100th performance, along with the cast and crew.
No one holds as much of a grudge as the mysterious figure in pork pie hat and overcoat who dispatches him with a sewing machine while alone backstage
He hasn’t even seen the play and yet is sure it is a second-rate murder mystery that he could make it marginally more interesting as a film. He insults both the play’s leading man and lady, Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson) and his wife Sheila Sim (Pearl Chanda), and a number of others. The playwright, Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo), would like to see the back of him, but no one holds as much of a grudge as the mysterious figure in pork pie hat and large overcoat who dispatches Kopernick with a sewing machine while he is alone backstage.
As the most obnoxious character in this whodunnit he would, by his own prediction, become the first murder victim. The obnoxious Kopernick has demonstrated that he is the perfect fit.
When the police arrive, the focus shifts from the theatre and film crowd to the inspector and his rookie colleague who are in charge of the murder investigation. Inspector Stoppard and Constable Stalker, gorgeously played by Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan, arrive on the scene.
Much more relatable and infinitely better company than the tiresome, pompous characters who are the potential murder victims
As a movie buff with her head stuffed with details that she can’t keep quiet about, Stalker is star-struck to begin with as she takes part in the investigative interviews with actors and writers. Even if she has a bad habit of jumping to conclusions, she is thorough, writing extensive notes while Stoppard relies on his instincts. She soon wises up to her shambolic superior, always one to slip into the pub for a sly drink when he can excuse himself. They make a great pair.
The single location where suspects in a whodunit are typically confined until the crime is solved, is largely done away with. The action takes place across London, except for some brief scenes towards the end where it moves to Agatha Christie’s manor. As the eccentric writer, Shirley Henderson is memorable in a small role.
With a title like See How They Run, the film is obviously riffing on the children’s nursery rhyme Three Blind Mice that gets an airing in The Mousetrap too. With characters named Stalker and Stoppard, it won’t be any surprise to hear that there is also plenty of wordplay of little significance, sometimes laboured, to remind us that we are watching high farce.
It was interesting to read that the late Richard Attenborough, older brother of broadcaster David, and his wife Sheila Sim were members of the original cast that opened the play. There are other people drawn from real life who are portrayed in the film. The producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith), and Christie herself, of course, too. London’s grand West End plays itself, of course.
See How They Run is funny, brisk and witty, with a wonderful pair of lead characters. Maybe not as sharp as other recent Christie spoofs, but it’s an entertaining hour and a half.