A recording over the Christmas period that I’ve just caught up with. I’m not familiar at all with Agatha Christie’s work – I’ve not read any of her stories and not even seen any version of Murder on the Orient Express, for example-but I did see The Witness for the Prosecution which starred Toby Jones a few years ago (was that another Christmas special?) and And Then There Were None, which was a two-parter (or was it three?) on the BBC back in 2015 or 2016. I’m not sure if we are in some kind of revival or if she’s been an endlessly steady source of movie and television adaptations and I’ve just stumbled into watching them at last, but I am beginning to see some appeal.
Clearly Christie’s work is the murder mystery genre, in which there has been a murder with plenty of suspects for the reader and the chief protagonist to examine and deduct a likely culprit with an eventual reveal that has some element of surprise. I may likely be doing Christie a disservice with such a simple summary, but that’s my take anyway. And they do seem to be kind of fun, while its a genre that’s not held much interest for me in the past. Perhaps these most recent adaptations that have turned up around Christmas time are the simplest entry point, as they seem to be very well made with taut scripts, direction amd very good casts.
Crooked House was on Channel Five and seems to be one of that breed of independent movies that are released theatrically in some territories and on television (or Netflix/Amazon) in others. So while it was a Channel Five premiere here in the UK and may seem to be a Christmas tv movie it’s really got a bigger scale than that, certainly on the evidence of its rather remarkable cast. Glenn Close, Gillian Anderson, Christina Hendricks and Stefanie Martini supply the glam and the bitchiness whilst Julian Sands, Terence Stamp and Max Irons headline the male side of the ensemble. Inevitably with such a cast its easy to say the material doesn’t really do them justice- I suppose only Glenn Close and Terence Stamp really leave any lasting impression, more’s the pity. Watching it, I had the persistent feeling that the whole thing was beneath them.
Its hard not to complain that the whole thing felt rather formulaic, but I suppose that’s inherent in the source material/Christies works in general. It seemed well-intentioned and made with some effort but it didn’t really surprise me or really made me care much about anybody. That was most likely intentional of course, as I don’t think any of the characters were really likeable and by the nature of the genre they had to have motive enough to be a suspect. I think I would have preferred more focus on an individual with a chance to empathise with their singular perspective (like Toby Jones’ character in the much superior The Witness For The Prosecution) but that’s probably just indicating my limitations for this genre.
So as a way to spend a few hours over the festive season Crooked House was harmless enough but I doubt it will linger in any viewers thoughts now that Christmas has passed. I suspect the original book has a far more lasting effect.