ⓘ Crooked House (film)

                                     

ⓘ Crooked House (film)

Crooked House is a British-American mystery film directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, based on Agatha Christie’s 1949 novel of the same name. The film stars Max Irons, Terence Stamp, Glenn Close, Gillian Anderson, and Stefanie Martini. Principal photography began in September 2016, and the film aired in the UK on Channel 5 on 17 December 2017.

                                     

1. Plot

The granddaughter of late Greek-British business tycoon Aristide Leonides, Sophia Leonides, visits private investigator Charles Hayward in his office. Sophia wants Charles to investigate Aristides death, for she believes he was murdered by a member of his sprawling and idiosyncratic family. Sophia notes that Aristide regular insulin injection had been laced with eserine from his eye drops, causing a fatal heart attack. Sophia believes this was deliberate, not accidental. Charles reluctantly takes on the case, in part because he had a brief love affair with Sophia in Cairo. Charles seeks the consent of Chief Inspector Taverner of Scotland Yard to look into the case, utilising his personal connection with Taverner, who had served with Charless father, a decorated former Assistant Commissioner who was murdered.

At the Leonides estate, Charles interviews the various members of the family, finding motives for each of them. All of them get substantial bequests from Aristides estate. All of them knew about the eserine: Aristide talked about how it could be used to kill him. All of them resented the way he bullied and manipulated them.

Lady Edith de Haviland was the sister of Aristides late first wife; she moved in to care for her motherless nephews. She despised her brother-in-law as a parvenu and for his callousness towards his grandchildren. Edith stalks around the grounds, blasting moles in the lawn with a shotgun.

Aristides elder son, Philip, hated his father for passing him over as successor to the family business, and for refusing to fund production of a screenplay Philip wrote for his wife, Magda, a fading theatre actress.

Philip and Magda provided Aristide with three grandchildren: Sophia, Eustace a teenager crippled by polio, who believes his grandfather despised him, and Josephine a clever 12-year-old, who spies on everyone and writes it down in her notebook.

The younger son, Roger, is managing director of a major family business, but is a failure, requiring multiple bail-outs from Aristide. His domineering wife Clemency is a plant biologist with extensive knowledge of poisons.

Aristides second wife, Brenda, is much younger, a former Las Vegas casino dancer. The others suspect her of killing Aristide, especially Roger, who denounces her as a gold-digging slut and certainly guilty. She did administer the fatal insulin injection. Also, she is having an affair with Laurence Brown, private tutor for the Leonides children. And when Aristides will is produced, it is unsigned. Thus he died intestate, and Brenda will inherit his entire estate.

Charless inquiries meet with hostility from most of the family. Josephine hints that she has found clues she does not disclose, to Charless irritation. Events take a new, horrific turn when the ladder to Josephines treehouse is sabotaged and she falls from the tree, being hospitalised as a result. Charles suspects that this was due to Josephines habit of spying on the other family members and the killer thus wanting to silence her.

Charles suspicions even extend to Sophia after a new, properly signed will is discovered, leaving the estate to her. Eustace even suggests that Sophia hired Charles to investigate the murder due to their personal history, knowing he would never accuse her due to their romantic past.

After those developments, Taverner arrives in person to take charge of the case; he feels Charles romantic history with Sophia does not make him objective enough to solve it. The discovery of love letters between Brenda and Laurence gives Taverner enough evidence to arrest them for Aristides murder and the attempt on Josephine.

Charles, however, remains unconvinced that Brenda and Laurence are guilty, noting Brendas childlike intelligence and Laurences pacifist, left-wing views as making them unlikely candidates for being a murderer. Sophia and Edith seem to agree. Sophia notes that the letters could have been forged, and Edith insists on "the best lawyer" to represent Brenda and Laurence. In the meantime, however, Charles returns to London. Edith visits a London doctor, and learns she is dying of cancer. Charles returns to the estate when Josephines nanny is fatally poisoned by hot chocolate that she had prepared for herself and Josephine.

Charles implores Josephine to name the killer, as he has worked out that she knows. Again, Josephine smugly refuses to tell, even when Charles warns her that she is in danger. Edith collects Josephine, and drives out of the estate supposedly for ice cream, lying to get past the police at the gate.

The coroner finds that the nanny died of cyanide poisoning, Charles suspects Edith, who used cyanide to kill moles. He searches Ediths garden shed, and finds a bottle of cyanide; also Josephines missing notebook, buried in quicklime that would have destroyed it.

Just then, Sophia tells him that Edith has left with Josephine. Charles and Sophia take off in pursuit of Edith, who left a note for Charles to find in his car. Sophia reads Ediths note: it is a confession to the murder, but Charles doesnt believe it.

Sophia then starts reading from Josephines notebook, and discovers the horrible truth: Josephine murdered Aristide. He had stopped her ballet lessons with insulting comments, and she was bored. Josephine also staged her fall from the treehouse, poisoned the nanny, who had begun to suspect her, and forged Brendas love letters. Lady Edith had worked out that Josephine was the killer. She confessed to exonerate Brenda and Laurence, and perhaps to spare Josephine a life in psychiatric institutions. But Edith isnt taking Josephine for ice cream. As Charles and Sophia catch up, she drives off the edge of a quarry, killing herself and Josephine. The film ends as Charles comforts a shocked Sophia at the edge of the cliff.

                                     

2. Production

The mystery drama is based on Agatha Christies novel of the same name. Principal photography began in September 2016. Part of the filming was done at Kings College Londons Maughan Library. Other parts were filmed at Tyntesfield, near Bristol. Minley Manor near Fleet, Hampshire, was used as the location for the external shots of Crooked House. The look of the movie was created by award-winning Production Designer Simon Bowles.

                                     

3. Changes from source material

Whilst the film remains largely faithful to Christies book, there were some changes, among them:

  • The film adaptation portrays Brenda as a dancer, rather than a waitress and the book says nothing about her being American.
  • Charless father, Sir Arthur Hayward, is deceased. He is referred to as an Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard but was murdered. Chief Inspector Taverner assumes some of the qualities and the role played by Sir Arthur.
  • Sophia takes Charles to a London nightclub, where Tommy Steele and the Steelmen are playing their 1956 hit, "Elevator Rock".
  • Lady Edith addresses her confession note to Charles instead of Taverner.
  • The conversation with the lawyer mentioned that the will was signed in 1957.
  • Charles and Sophia are no longer in a relationship. Their love affair beginning in Cairo ended when Sophia refused to introduce Charles to her family and after she found out he was spying on her for the Foreign Office due to their interest in Leonidess business affairs. The ending of the film is open-ended as to whether they will reconcile.
  • The story is set a decade later, in the late 1950s; one character refers to the execution of murderess Ruth Ellis in 1955.
  • In the book Josephine is knocked out with a heavy ornament; in the film she falls from her treehouse.
  • Lady Edith does not leave the second letter for Charles and Sophia outlining Josephine as the killer. Instead, Charles finds Josephines notebook and that is used for Charles and Sophia as confirmation that Josephine is the killer.
  • Charles Haywards automobile, a Bristol 405, was not introduced until 1955.
  • The ages of Philip and Roger are switched around. Philip becomes the eldest son, this forming part of his motive to kill Aristide as he had been passed over to run the family business for his younger brother, Roger.
  • Nanny is poisoned by cyanide, not digitalis.


                                     

4. Reception

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 56%, based on 25 reviews, with an average rating of 5/10. On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 59 out of 100, based on 8 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews."