No Mourning Period for Murder (Film Review: “Crooked House”)

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An eccentric yet strangely enthralling entry in the ‘Mansion Murder’ genre (co-written by the creator of Downton Abbey), Crooked House is a twisty adaptation of the 1949 Agatha Christie novel that was a personal favorite of the Queen of Crime herself.

 

SnapShot Plot

The impeccably cast Glenn Close leads an impressive ensemble that includes Terence Stamp, Gillian Anderson, Christina Hendricks, Julian Sands, Max Irons and the young up and comer, Honor Kneafsey in 2017’s Crooked House.  The plot follows classic Christie form, with the ‘off-screen’ death of Aristide Leonides (an aged and powerful Greek immigrant patriarch) shrouded in mystery and intrigue. The patriarch’s tight-fisted and sadistic control over his extended family of spoiled and neurotic offspring – including his sister-in-law and young American wife – make for a steaming brew of jealousy, frustrated passions and bad intentions. What’s worse, they all reside under the same roof of the sprawling family estate in the English countryside, where everyone’s secrets are inevitably exposed despite the spacious grandeur surrounding them. When news hits of Leonides’ death, the beautiful Sophia (Stefanie Martini) beseeches her former lover, private detective Charles Hayward (played by a young Hugh Grant-type Max Irons), to personally investigate the death of her grandfather. With a mixture of curiosity and dread the young man begrudgingly arrives on the scene, unprepared for the bizarre cast of decidedly un-mournful characters that somehow passes for a family. He’s first greeted by the shotgun-wielding and crusty matriarch, Lady Edith de Haviland (divinely played by Glenn Close) who with one thrust of her firearm firmly asserts herself as one not to be trifled with. As he proceeds in interviewing each increasingly peculiar member of the Leonides clan, Charles finds himself at a loss to pick just one likely culprit for the (now certain) murder of Aristide, as they each seem to hate him in equal, yet diverse, measure. Again, classic Christie.

 

 

Parting Shot 

Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner who co-wrote the adapted screenplay with Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) and Tim Rose Price, Crooked House remains largely true to the original novel, whose ending was considered by its publisher too shocking even for Agatha Christie standards, yet the author prevailed and the novel was hailed for it’s defiant resistance to the norms of contemporary plot conceits. 

Although Crooked House seems steeped in the contrivances of the Mansion Murder genre (at times feeling like a reboot of the Clue boardgame), still it captivates due in large part to impeccable production, set design and costuming, making it a visually delightful period piece of a film. Add to this the sinister original score by Hugo de Chaire, which served the direction so well. Still, without an exceptional cast, the movie may have come across too arch, whose characters present as period types rather than fleshed-out people. In fact, if there is one casting misstep here, it’s in the choice of Gillian Anderson; the character was written too flamboyantly for her trademark finely nuanced portrayals. She came across as bizarre and unbelievable. Otherwise, the casting worked, proving that most script challenges can be overcome if you’ve got a cast with the acting chops to pull off the emotional commitment to the words, whether they’re deliberately over-the-top or not.

So if you’re in the mood for a Downton-like mood piece set to the hallmark Agatha Christie murder mystery dial, you won’t go wrong with Crooked House. Just remember not to trust the labels on the medicine bottles.

Crooked House is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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YouTube Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=So0CVMmv8dA

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