Agatha Christie's Crooked House is a sumptuous Fifties adaptation with a pleasingly contemporary feel: review
Fans disappointed by the BBC’s shelving of its big festive Agatha Christie offering will have found plenty of consolation in Channel 5’s screening of a terrific new adaptation Crooked House before it goes into cinemas early next year.
We’re used to Christie mysteries being impressively cast but this was, by any standards, a star-studded affair.
Glenn Close, Gillian Anderson, Christina Hendricks… not to mention the glamorous pair taking the principle roles, Max Irons and Stefanie Martini.
Clearly, there was a lot of money behind this elegant production that was adapted (with Julian Fellowes heading up the writing team) for the first time as a standalone mystery. Christie herself described it as “one of my own special favourites”. And it wasn’t hard to see why – the labyrinthine storyline revolving around the poisoning of a wealthy, domineering patriarch was pure Christie: a rambling country house packed with as many likely suspects as red herrings. It also featured one of her more emotionally vulnerable heroes in debonair young Charles Hayward (Irons), an erstwhile junior diplomat turned private detective.
Hayward’s unresolved feelings for beautiful Sophia de Haviland (Martini), the favourite grandchild of the murdered man, was the pivot round which the tangled plot spun, when she asked him to investigate whether one of her own family might have done the dastardly deed.
Certainly the Leonides family was as delightful a collection of selfish, overprivileged nasties as Christie ever assembled. Close was especially convincing as the formidable Lady Edith, blasting moles on the lawn with a shotgun.
Anderson was unforgettable, too, seemingly channelling Claudia Winkleman – or was it Cleopatra? – in an unforgiving black wig as Sophia’s histrionic actress mother Magda; while Julian Sands played her loathsome writer father Philip. Christian McKay and Amanda Abbington were prime among the other obnoxious relatives and residents, while Honor Kneafsey had fun as Sophia’s all-seeing younger sister Josephine, and Hendricks gave it the full Marilyn Monroe as the dead man’s former showgirl second wife, Brenda.
Country house mysteries are prone to getting bogged down in their settings but director Gilles Paquet-Brenner kept the pace up admirably, getting the best out of his actors and eye-catching locations. He also upped the glamour factor with some carefully managed anachronism to brighten up the interiors, and an inspired jaunt or two to the bustling, fabulously music and dance-filled clubs of London in the late Fifties.
The only real problem was Christie’s denouement – which perhaps explains why Crooked House has never been adapted before. Suffice to say (for those yet to see it) this was one of her more unlikely endings. But, even here, the writers and director did a fine job of making the most of it, coming up with a climax that, if not entirely convincing, at least had plenty of dash and brio to it.
All in all, a hugely enjoyable, sumptuous adaptation that, while never attempting to break the Christie mould, imbued the story with a pleasingly contemporary feel.