Crooked House – movie review

by James Robins / 24 May, 2018
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Crooked House is a Christie adaptation with a bleak reveal.

Charles Hayward (Max Irons) is a hard-up private detective in post-war London. A woman from his past, the beautiful Sophia Leonides (Stefanie Martini), tells him she suspects her business tycoon grandfather, Aristide, has been poisoned. She asks him to look into the case – or, as the police chief (Terence Stamp) will later demand, “Find out who killed the bloody midget!”

As befits an Agatha Christie adaptation co-written by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, there is a grand country manor, the Leonides’ lair. All kinds of sinister secrets lurk within.

Hayward begins quizzing the clan, one by one. Among them is as Lady Edith (Glenn Close), who is introduced in tweeds, blasting moles to bits on the front lawn. “A shotgun best expresses my feelings,” she says menacingly.

Gillian Anderson, in a severe goth bob and crimson lipstick, is a deliciously boozy and laconic Magda. Christina Hendricks appears as the seductive and much younger wife of the “bloody midget” (though one hopes that, at some point, she will get a role that doesn’t rely exclusively on her capacity for sultriness).

Lady Edith describes the titular house as a “hothouse of suppressed passion”, though the “suppressed” bit is stretching it: no character tries to hide a hatred of the patriarch that often seems hysterical. They’re all slightly ridiculous, and equally distrustful and untrustworthy.

Things proceed in the approved Christie manner: a series of interviews, thwarted suspicions, and conflicting allegiances. Unlike Christie’s other sleuths, Hayward doesn’t deduce so much as stumble upon crucial information. As detectives go, he’s certainly no Hercule Poirot.

Christie said Crooked House was one of her favourite novels, perhaps because of its portrait of an extended family corrupted by petty jealousies and its decidedly bleak reveal. We’re not approaching the same level of moral torpor as in, say, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, but for Christie adaptations, it’s as twisted as it gets.

Director Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah’s Key) captures the mood well. And above all, Crooked House succeeds where recent adaptations, such as Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, failed: the how is just as important as the who.

Video: Sony Pictures Entertainment

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★1/2

This article was first published in the May 26, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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