Crooked House

 

 

 

As Kenneth Branagh showed so successfully with his recent remake of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, the film world is still passionately involved with adapting the stories of the prolific Agatha Christie to screen.  The novel CROOKED HOUSE was published in 1949 and Christie has named it, along with ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE, as particular favorites from her extended oeuvre.

 

Private detective Charles Hayward (Max Irons) is visited in his office by the beautiful Sophia de Haviland (Stefanie Martini).  They have a history, an affair in Cairo during the closing months of the war when Charles was a spy masquerading as a diplomat and Sophia worked for the Foreign Office.  Sophia pleads with Charles to visit her family’s country estate where she feels certain that her grandfather, Aristide Leonides, has been murdered.  Three generations of the dysfunctional Leonides clan all dwell under the gabled roof of the grand abode.  Chief among the suspects are the patriarch’s much younger second wife Brenda (Christina Hendricks), an American ex-showgirl with flaming crimson hair and Laurence Brown (John Heffernan), a conscientious objector who has been living in the house as a private tutor to Sophia’s younger siblings Eustace and Josephine.  They are rumored to have been conducting an illicit liaison under the nose of the ailing Aristide, but can Charles assume this to be true?  The gossip is emanating from the other family members who detest Brenda and label her a gold digger. 

 

Among the strange and suspicious relatives are Sophia’s histrionic and dipsomaniac stage-actress mother Magda (Gillian Anderson almost unrecognizable in a Cleopatra black wig) and her loathsome writer father Philip (Julian Sands).  But dominant among the tribe and ruling over the twisted household with a stern grace and aplomb is Lady Edith de Haviland (Glenn Close).  The brusque, no-nonsense, unmarried Edith was the sister of Leonides’ first wife and came to live with the family after her sibling’s death to supervise the children’s upbringing and run the estate.

 

Terence Stamp gives a delightful performance as Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Taverner, Christian McKay and Amanda Abbingdon feature as other Leonides’ relatives and Honor Keanfsey is spot on with her portrayal of the all-knowing child Josephine who listens at keyholes, keeps a journal and tells Charles that she knows the identity of the killer.

 

I did not find that this caught fire at any time as far as genuine suspense or a sense of weighty urgency but it was an enjoyable viewing, if somewhat bland.  Gilles Paquet-Brenner directed and co-wrote along with Julian Fellowes (DOWNTON ABBEY : GOSFORD PARK) and Tim Rose Price.  Much of the film is a veritable treat for the eye.  Production designer Simon Bowles has created character-defining interiors for each of the main player’s rooms and Sebastian Wintero’s camera glides languidly through uniquely decorated chambers and over the wonderful costumes by Colleen Kelsall.  Despite the story being updated to the late 1950’s, there are anachronisms scattered through the narrative but not sufficient to be jarring. 

 

Definitely not the finest Christie screen adaptation of all time, but a worthwhile visit for fans of the genre and it has a cracking denouement that you may not see coming. 

 

 

 

 

 





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