CROOKED HOUSE. UK, 2017. Starring Max Irons, Glenn Close, Stefanie Martini, Honor Kneafsey, Christina Hendricks, Terence Stamp, Julian Sands, Gillian Anderson, Christian Mc Kay, Amanda Abington, Preston Nyman, John Heffernan, Jenny Galloway. Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner. 115 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes, sexual references, coarse language).
Another Agatha Christie murder mystery.
This is one of her stand-alone novels, a young private detective involved in an investigation, not relying on her super-sleuths Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. The setting is England in the late 1950s.
The film opens with the news of a murder, the private detective, Charlie Hayward (Max Irons) seeing the newsreel about the death of a millionaire from Greece who came to settle in England. His granddaughter, Sophie (Stefanie Martini) who had had a romance with Charlie Hayward in Cairo but broken it off, comes to his office (a bit poor and seedy with few clients) and invites him to come to investigate the death – the audience having seen only a hand an alarm in the filling a syringe and it being inserted into the old man’s arm in bed.
The first part of the film, as expected, is the detective going to the mansion where three generations of the family live. It gives the opportunity for him to meet each of the suspects and for the audience to get some information, begin to get suspicions, start to make a preference list of who is the most likely murderer and who the least likely.
He meets the grand dame of the family, the dead man’s sister-in-law, Edith De Haviland. We are already on familiar ground because she is played by Glenn Close, at times rather similar to her sinister presence as Cruella de Ville. There are the dead man’s two sons, one bailed out of a bad gambling debt, Philip (Julian Sands) who now lives at the mansion with his would-be actress wife, a sardonic dilettante a and alcoholic Magda (Gillian Anderson). The other son is Roger who manages the family business, although ineptly, (Christian McKay) and his somewhat disgruntled wife, a scientist, Clemency (Amanda Abingdon). Magda has three children, Sophia, her very young little sister, wise beyond her years, Josephine (Honor Kneafsey). She tells the detective that she too is doing her detective work and writing everything in her diary. There is also a handicapped son, Eustace (Preston Nyman), rather bitter and offhand. The millionaire’s young wife, Brenda (Christina Hendricks) whom he met as a dancer at a casino he owned in Las Vegas also lives in the house, resented by everyone, except by Laurence Brown, Eustace’s tutor, (John Heffernan) who is obviously in a relationship with Brenda. Finally, there is the family nurse who looks after Josephine (Jenny Galloway).
And there we are. Whodunnit?
It is rather old-fashioned in its visual style, dialogue (with Julian Fellowes, the Downton Abbey, is one of the writers).
Each of the characters, of course, has suspicious moments. The film consists of a lot of interviews with each of the characters, and there are some red herrings about the dead man’s links with the CIA and anti-Communist movements.
Terence Stamp also appears as a detective from Scotland Yard. He has ups and downs with Charlie Hayward but, eventually, there are some arrests. Or are they wrong arrests?
The payoff and the murderer is not bad – depending on how high the suspect was on your list of most probable released probable.
Perhaps best recommended as an entertaining Agatha Christie night out for those who are more senior rather than those who are more junior.
Released May 10th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.