Cinema Review: Crooked House

I don’t know about you, but if I were a potential suspect in a murder case and found myself in possession of an incriminating diary, I’d burn it immediately rather than bury it in a bucket of lime in the potting shed. That second option might seem dumb, but as a plot-point in this ripping who-done-it, it is forgivably implausible. Julian Fellowes, so at home in an English manor house – he wrote Gosford Park (2001) and much of Downton Abbey – has adapted Agatha’s Christie’s uncommonly spiteful novel and, with director Gilles Paquet-Brenner, transformed it into a movie of seething jealousies and lasciviousness – ie, one that, though set in 1949, is perfectly suited to the twenty-first century. In order to keep the scandal out of the public eye, Sofia (Stefanie Martini) employs her former lover and ex-spy, Charles (Max Irons), to investigate the poisoning death of her grandfather, the humungously wealthy Aristide Leonides, under whose roof the freeloading clan live. Any one of the family members might be the killer, for they are all nasty types and none of them are without a motive. There is a wannabe screenwriter and his dipsomaniac wife, a son who has failed in business, Glenn Close as a spinster with a shotgun, a couple of grandkids who need a good clip under the ear, and even Sophie herself. It is classic Christie, as red herrings and subtle clues are threaded throughout, but it might have been improved by the involvement of a more imposing sleuth. The wishy-washy Charles is not in the same street as Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, so it’s up to the evergreen Terence Stamp as Chief Inspector Taverner of Scotland Yard to bring some focus to proceedings. Location shots were done at a number of lordly estates, including the obscenely grand Minley Manor, and production values are of the highest order, with gorgeous interiors and fabulous frocks. The unforeseen and genuinely shocking ending is nothing like what you would expect from dear old Agatha, but it works a treat.

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