We all know the story where the butler did it. But Agatha Christie’s Crooked House isn’t like that. Published in 1949, the novel was one of the author’s favourite stories. This is also a beautifully-shot period film. It’s an adaptation that leads you down the garden path and around the maze of an eccentric family’s country house.
This adaptation is directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner and comes in the aftermath of the recent, Murder on the Orient Express. Crooked House is co-written by the former along with Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) and Tim Rose Price.
Max Irons stars as Charles Hayward, a former-spy-turned detective. Irons’s performance is quite bland and he lacks chemistry with Stefanie Martini, who plays his former flame. The latter’s character is Sophia de Haviland. She is the granddaughter of the wealthy, Greek businessman Aristide Leonides (Gino Picciano), a diabetic whose death was originally ruled as due to natural causes.
Sophia suspects foul play. She enlists Hayward to do some sleuthing. What he uncovers is a privileged family of intense eccentrics. They are all holed up in a gorgeous country house and ruminating. Over the course of this slow-burning film, almost every family member’s motive for killing Aristide reveals itself.
The obvious suspect is Aristide’s second wife, Brenda (Christina Hendricks, in bombshell mode). She was a former Las Vegas dancer who seems like a gold-digger. There are two sons played by Julian Sands and Christian McKay. They both need cash, because one is a terrible businessman and the other a starving artist.
Glenn Close meanwhile, plays another fine villain in a long career of playing such thankless roles. She is a gun-toting granny named Lady Edith de Haviland. This elderly woman helped raise Aristide’s children and grandchildren because her late sister was his first wife.
This adaption is lacking the nuance and character development that the book has. At times the personalities feel a little cookie cutter. It also has a rather swift and at times rather unsatisfying ending. But despite these minor hitches, this is a clever story because Christie’s story is a well-told one. There are some excellent self-reverential asides and complex observations, which highlight the real tragedy of power and lies.
Emotions run high even if time sometimes moves slowly during Crooked House. Anger, resentment and bitterness are terrible bedfellows and Aristide pays the ultimate price with his life. This is one melodramatic mystery that keeps you guessing so much that by the end you’ll understand who put the “what” in Watson.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Crooked House is available on DVD now.