Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Tom George
Stars: Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, David Oyelowo, Adrien Brody, Harris Dickinson, Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, Charlie Cooper, Shirley Henderson, Pearl Chandra, Tim Key, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, Lucian Msamati, Paul Chahidi.
London 1952. Agatha Christie’s long running murder mystery play The Mousetrap has just celebrated its 100th performance in London’s West End, and a party is held to commemorate the landmark. The show’s producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith) has brought along obnoxious blacklisted Hollywood director Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody) who is preparing to make a movie adaptation of the play. But Kopernick argues with pretentious scriptwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo) over the direction of the play. Kopernick wants to add in more action thinking that a drawing room mystery will not excite audiences. But there is also a clause in Christie’s contract that stipulates that no film version can be attempted until six months after the play finishes its theatrical run. (Note: the play is still running in London over six decades later.)
When Kopernick turns up dead, beaten to death with a sewing machine, there is no shortage of suspects. Enter cynical and world-weary Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and his overly eager and enthusiastic assistant rookie Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan), who jots down every skerrick of information in her notebook. They probe the cast and production crew trying to unravel the myriad motives and alibis to identify the killer.
See How They Run is a crowd-pleasing comedy whodunnit that plays the formula of the murder mystery and the very conventions of the genre established by Christie herself for laughs. It follows in the footsteps of such comedies like Neil Simon’s 1976 broad, star-studded parody Murder By Death, which played the traditional whodunnit for laughs.
First time feature writer Mark Chappell comes from a background in television, but he has a lot of fun with the material/ The self-aware script Is full of meta in-jokes, witty puns, cinematic references, and knowing allusions to literary figures and the world of live theatre (for example, the character of Stoppard is a clear reference to celebrated Tony award winning playwright Tom Stoppard, who wrote the 1968 one act murder mystery The Real Inspector Hound, which was a parody of The Mousetrap). But the script also pricks the pretentions of narcissistic filmmakers and artists. Most of the gags land. For example, just as Cocker-Norris criticises the use of flashbacks as a slow and lazy device, the film jumps straight into a flashback sequence.
This is the debut feature for Tom George, who also employs split screen to good effect. He maintains a brisk pace throughout. George has assembled a stellar ensemble cast to bring to life the characters, who are a mix of real-life people, like actor Richard Attenborough who appeared in the original London production in the role of Trotter, and fictitious characters like greedy theatre impresario Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson, recently seen in True Things, etc). Brody is great as the unlikeable Kopernick, whose voice over narration opens the film, and sets the scene. Ronan rarely does comedy, but she is excellent here as Stalker, who is prone to jump to conclusions during the investigation, and her comic timing is superb. Rockwell plays his role as the jaded Stoppard deadpan and is effective, and he and Ronan develop a nice odd-couple dynamic. Harris Dickinson (recently seen in The Kings Man, etc) acquits himself well in the role of Attenborough. However, with Rockwell and Ronan front and centre for much of the film’s running time many other characters are given less screen time.
The characters are summoned to Winterbrook, Christie’s country house, for its denouement, and Shirley Henderson contributes a nice cameo here as the grand first lady of crime Agatha Christie herself. The production design from Amanda McArthur is superb and the sets and costumes all evoke London of the 50s. The film even faithfully recreates the stage setting for Christie’s play in a couple of scenes. See How They Run was shot during the pandemic lockdown and the production effectively used some of London’s closed theatres as sets, adding a level of authenticity to the backgrounds.
A clever comedic murder mystery See How They Run is a lot of fun and will certainly please older audiences. However, a lot of the jokes and references may go over the heads of younger audiences.